Our friend Tom Crotty at Wireless Information Networks (WIN) has written a terrific article on the state of the Distributed Antenna System (DAS) industry which is featured in the current Realcomm Edge.
The article raises some questions we’re hearing a lot of:
Who should own the DAS? And who should pay for the DAS?
These issues are clearly on the minds of ICT leaders at colleges and universities as we blogged about in our wrap-up of ACUTA Annual Conference.
And it’s also a key point for stakeholders seeking to include public safety service on the DAS.
The Three Flavors of DAS Ownership
Tom’s article in Realcomm summarizes how the industry typically addresses ownership:
While there are several options currently present in the multi-tenant and mixed use markets, it is clear that today there are basically three main options which exist and will continue to evolve as the mobile device marketplace and its associated indoor and outdoor network infrastructures perpetually expand over the next five to ten years:
Option #1: Building owners and managers have the option of capitalizing and owning their own DAS infrastructure and attempting to recoup a portion of these costs from the four major cellular providers. This process can be lengthy and may involve significant staff resources.
Option #2: Building owners and managers could look to a single carrier to capitalize and own the DAS infrastructure, with a contractual responsibility to ensure that eventually all four major cellular providers (at a minimum) will have their respective cellular signals integrated into the initial (or anchor) carrier’s DAS infrastructure.
Option #3: Building owners and managers could utilize one of a number of third-party integrators who provide capitalization and ownership of the DAS infrastructure independent of the cellular carriers, often with a guarantee to provide the integration of all major carrier signals within a defined timeframe.
A Win-Win-Win Model
Last year, we suggested a Shared DAS Model in which the Building Owner owns the DAS, the Wireless Operators pay only for their share, and the Integrator designs, installs and manages the network:
In-building DAS systems (iDAS), once installed, become the property of a carrier, a building owner or a third-party owner (3PO). Inextricably linked to the issue of ownership is the more important issue of control. We shouldn’t cynically assume a desire to control the DAS is only for the purpose of extracting profit or limiting competition. For example, building owners desire control because they feel ultimately responsible for delivering critical services, including public safety and commercial wireless, inside the four walls of their venue. Carriers desire control of the DAS so they can modify and upgrade systems without asking permission or aligning timetables with other carriers participating on the DAS. And finally, 3PO’s desire control of the DAS to generate a return on their investment and ensure they can live up to the terms of any SLAs they offer to carriers who lease space on their DAS.
At SOLiD, we see the tension around DAS ownership increasingly resolving itself naturally through a “Shared DAS” model focused on what each party already owns. In every case, the building owner owns the building and the carriers own the spectrum. Building owners are not accustomed to giving up control or rights to critical infrastructure and carriers guard their networks closely. Both are equally motivated to improve the experience of shared customers within the indoor environment. We see a trend toward building owners owning and maintaining a multi-carrier shared DAS, which is funded entirely by participating carriers.
As in some of the other methods mentioned above, there are two critical success elements in the Shared DAS Model: carrier licensing and DAS management.
Multiple stakeholders could have the responsibility of securing wireless operators to be on the DAS. In the Shared DAS Model, SOLiD often “brokers” the carrier licensing.
Similarly, monitoring, management and support of the DAS could be handled by a mix of qualified participants. In the Shared DAS Model SOLiD typically handles monitoring.
The Future of DAS Ownership
With increasing demand for mobile applications and the need to upgrade thousands of DAS systems to support LTE, we will see a variety of models explored in the name of pragmatism. During the next five years, we expect to see the Shared DAS model, with building owners maintaining control of a DAS funded by participating carriers, come to prominence as the model of choice.
The Shared DAS Model is compelling for verticals such as Higher Education where end users (students) are on the bleeding edge. ICT leaders – who keenly understand the need for DAS – are struggling to figure out ways to pay for it yet still exercise some measure of control over their wireless destiny.
Similarly, this model can also be a catalyst for putting public safety service on the DAS to help make buildings safer. Think about it… The Shared DAS Model enables Building Owners to comply to codes requiring reliable public safety radio coverage inside buildings. And the model lowers the cost burden for cash-strapped local agencies (fire, police,EMS) who are unlikely to be able to fund a separate in-building public safety network.
What are the pros and cons in the who owns and who pays debate?