Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reality Check column. We’ve gathered a group of visionaries and veterans in the mobile industry to give their insights into the marketplace.
Smartphones and tablets are changing the way people communicate. When the macrocellular network initially was built out, people called to talk to each other, often while driving to and from the office. Service providers and tower companies deployed cellular towers alongside highways to mirror the existing traffic patterns. Calling plans reflected those traffic patterns as well, with carriers offering discounted pricing for night and weekend calls.
Today, most wireless calls initiate indoors, with some estimates pegging that number as high as 70%. While people still use their cellphones to call one another, increasingly those phones are used to send texts, share photos and video and access content online. Indeed, more than half of the people in the United States own smartphones today, according to a report from Chetan Sharma Consulting. Uploading photos to Facebook and watching YouTube videos take up much more bandwidth than making a phone call. This love affair with wireless technology is putting more pressure on the network. Wireless service providers are responding to the ever-increasing demand for more bandwidth in a variety of ways, including initiatives to deploy distributed antenna system solutions across their networks.
As more people choose smartphones and tablets as their go-to devices, DAS is being deployed as an unobtrusive solution to bring capacity and more uniform coverage closer to customers. Since DAS is technology agnostic, DAS deployments are attractive for wireless service providers that own spectrum across multiple bands and use multiple technologies or anticipate migrating to new technologies. A DAS can be owned by a wireless service provider, the enterprise customer or building owner or by third-party, neutral-host providers. DAS solutions are being deployed both indoors and outside. In many cases, the DAS network should be part of a holistic approach to delivering improved wireless coverage and greater wireless capacity to an area.
DAS deployments can require large upfront capital investments and be financed in a number of ways. There are three basic ownership models, but all require carrier approval.
–In a carrier-owned DAS, a wireless service provider pays for the equipment and installation costs, as well as any maintenance and upgrades. While often built for exclusive use, the operator may charge other operators to attach to the DAS.
–Building owners and managers also may pay for a DAS. In this scenario, it is important to get wireless service providers to approve the design and installation. In this situation, the building owner is responsible for all costs.
–The third option involves a neutral-host third party provider bearing the costs of the DAS. In this scenario, the DAS company aims to get more than one wireless service provider on the network and split the costs among the service providers attaching to the DAS.
DAS deployments are often associated with large-scale venues and sometimes even specific events. The announcements of DAS installations in Indianapolis for the 2012 Super Bowl are a perfect example. Wireless service providers knew there would be a lot of people uploading video and photos to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. To accommodate this projected spike in data use, providers built out the extra capacity for the event not only at the stadium, but in surrounding hotels, the airport, the convention center and other areas where they expected people to congregate. Those DAS installations will continue to benefit people who attend events at Lucas Field and the surrounding area for years to come.
Along with sports arenas and stadiums, DAS deployments are taking place at healthcare facilities, higher-education campuses, hotels and convention centers and in commercial and residential buildings. The United States represents about 19% of the indoor DAS business, with more than 200,000 DAS nodes installed last year, according to Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts. The company recently released a forecast that estimates global shipments of indoor DAS to reach 2.5 million nodes by 2017.
Along with commercial cellular DAS deployments, DAS is also being installed to help first responders communicate during critical events. Updates to existing building codes require that first responders be able to communicate via voice inside a building during a crisis. Often, this means installing a DAS to achieve that in-building coverage.
The importance of reliable communications will become even more imperative as public-safety personnel use data communications to perform their jobs. Imagine being able to see – in real time – a floor-by-floor map of the building where an emergency has occurred, or watch surveillance video when an alarm has been set off. These data communications will give responders more information about emergency situations, enabling the most efficient response and potentially saving lives.
In short, DAS deployments continue to be an effective complement to the buildout of the nation’s macrocellular network, as well as for public-safety systems and private wireless solutions like applications that use medical telemetry frequencies.