DAS 101 – Not a “Build It and They Come” Model

DAS 101 – Not a “Build It and They Come” Model

DAS 101 – Not a “Build It and They Come” Model

By Will Washburn
published 8.15.17

Distributed Antenna System (DAS)
It is estimated that 80% of wireless traffic originates or terminates within a building. Despite this, only two percent of commercial buildings have dedicated technology to ensure strong and reliable mobile coverage indoors. With data hungry consumers, this poses a substantial problem, as macro cellular networks are not designed to propagate within most buildings. In Building systems are an essential but mostly overlooked technology that most property owners need to address. Now more than ever, high rise buildings, hotels, campuses, stadiums, malls and crowded public spaces need to consider a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) or an Indoor Small Cell technology. Now more than ever, the enterprise markets rely on our data hungry applications and connectivity. Hospitals, hotels, commercial buildings, stadiums, college campuses and retail shopping malls alike, all need cellular coverage to handle their occupants’ data and voice needs. A well-designed DAS network can mitigate these needs. Solutions range from I-DAS ( Indoor DAS)  to O-Das ( Outdoor DAS) to a  combination of Indoor / Outdoor DAS or hybrid system.

In Building DAS
It is estimated that 80% of wireless traffic originates or terminates within a building. Despite this, only two percent of commercial buildings have dedicated technology to ensure strong and reliable mobile coverage indoors. With data hungry consumers, this poses a substantial problem, as macro cellular networks are not designed to propagate within most buildings. In Building systems are an essential but mostly overlooked technology that most property owners need to address. Now more than ever, high rise buildings, hotels, campuses, stadiums, malls and crowded public spaces need to consider a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) or an Indoor Small Cell technology.
Historically, a property would have to deploy multiple systems including Wifi, DAS, and public safety. With a triple play turn-key solution, building owners can deploy a unified system to handle all our client’s needs, while reducing capex and overhead. These systems also reduce head end requirements and space constraints.

Outdoor DAS
Outdoor distributed antenna system solutions enable operators to offer coverage and support capacity requirements in dense areas such as stadiums, malls, campuses and event driven venues. These systems are hi power and hi capacity driven systems, and require flexible platforms to accommodate heavy traffic spikes and extreme capacity issues.
An example of outdoor DAS may be a municipality, that distributes antennae throughout their property or city, and connects to the base station controller, usually with fiber. An outdoor application might consist stealth lamp post strategically located throughout the city to prevent unsightly cell towers, and connect to a single or a cluster of Base Stations to reduce cost and footprint of the head end. Another application may be a stadium that needs to not only improved coverage, but also capacity because of large spikes in traffic during events.

Economics of DAS

Neutral host systems
A neutral host system is a solution installed by the property owner with access made available to multiple carriers. This type of a system consists of a series antennas distributed throughout the structure which are all connected to the head end equipment by cable or fiber. The head end equipment distributes the signal out to the antennae, and the antennae broadcasts signal to the cellular device. Carriers will bring their signal to the head end equipment and connect to the system and back haul to their central office by means of fiber, microwave or by relay to a cell tower.

A neutral host system is generally financed by the building owner or management and space is leased to the carriers. Some of the carriers are willing to pay a small monthly rent to connect to the DAS system if critical mass exists. Although this model has waned for the enterprise class, some carriers are still willing to pay to play in certain hospitality and hospital markets. Carriers will join the DAS in most cases with BTS only agreements, where they agree to bring in the equipment to connect at their expense, but not pay a monthly lease, but is not guaranteed.

Carrier Funded DAS
Carrier funded DAS models exist where a carrier funds the purchase and installation of the equipment and owns the DAS. They may choose to lease capacity on the system to other carriers to defray some of the costs. These projects are generally large capacity sites such as stadiums, college campuses, large malls, and metropolitan centers. Most of the carriers have expressed continued interest in paying to play in this market.

Enterprise Market
The enterprise market has historically subscribed to the theory that cellular coverage on their property is the burden of the cellular carriers, and not their responsibility. This however, is not the case anymore. Today’s consumer of voice and data demand constant connectivity and they rely on mobile devices for productivity. As 80% of cellular traffic is either originated or terminated with in a structure, this is a proclivity that building owners can no longer ignore. In the hospitality industry for example, guests may not rebook if the cellular coverage is bad.

According the Hotel Business Review, “Ubiquitous cellphone reception does more for hotel owners and operators than make guests happy: it meets the new standard of access to technology that helps retain them. A few years ago, at the dawn of the smart phone age, a landmark survey found that 54 percent of affluent adults aged 35-54 might not re-book at a hotel where cell phone reception was poor.”

No longer can hotel owners and management companies ignore the fact that their properties poor coverage, and must shoulder the burden to stay competitive. Hotel properties try to mitigate this phenomenon with WIFI systems. This still falls short of the consumer demand for voice and customers are irritated by the fact that they must pay to get bandwidth comparable to cellular plan. Furthermore, more than 60% of handsets cannot make a voice call over wifi.

Signal Source
One of the greatest misnomers in the industry is that an enterprise client can use a donor antenna and repeat the cellular carriers signal, without their expressed written consent of the carrier. Some integrators would have you believe that you can just repeat a local signal with cheap repeaters. Not only is this illegal, as the carriers own the signal, this type of solution requires a site with strong enough signal and capacity on its network to handle the traffic.
Although these solutions are rather inexpensive, compared to a full-blown DAS system, they require a strong signal, capacity on the targeted Macro site and the carriers must consent. In most cases the carriers are reluctant to consent to directing traffic to an already planned capacity of a macro site which is usually part of a cluster with careful attention to load balancing. A fiber backhaul solution is usually the desired path for the carriers to bring signal to a neutral host DAS system. This is however costlier and a site must qualify in their eyes and represent critical mass for them to allocate budget to each project.

Carrier Negotiations – Site Acquisition
DAS is not a “build it and they come” model, although equipment manufacturers and random integrators would like you to believe that. A project may be too small or not fit with the metrics of a carrier. The process with most of the national cellular carriers is referred to as site acquisition. This is a very comprehensive process and is not without peril. It is important to have the proper representation during this phase or it could be an unmitigated disaster for the property owner, if this part of the negations are not handle prior to capex allocation and installation. I

Each carrier has their own bureaucracy; however, the process is very similar in form. A carrier will first expresses interest in the project. The RF department will determine the market, size of the project, exposure to end users, local capacity on their towers or cluster, and market share. If they are interested in moving forward, the hand off to the site acquisition department and consider what the best way to bring signal, approve budgets and complete the design process. The final step is executing a lease or BTS only agreement with the property owner to connect to the Neutral Host System. After all the administration is complete, the carrier will generally hire a contractor to integrate the system.

In summary, there are many complex components to this process to make these solutions work. It is important to have proper representation through the entire process. A well-qualified vendor can avoid pitfalls of a scenario of “ I built it and they didn’t come”

Will Washburn, is the COO of Combined Operations for Digitechx Inc. a global provider of wireless services to the carrier and enterprise markets.