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@ PCIA: 4G networks will be macro, micro, DAS and more : Tower firms think of network holistically

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—Distributed antenna systems, rooftop antennas and macrocellular towers will be key building blocks when deploying next-generation wireless networks. As such, today’s infrastructure providers are offering a wider array of tools to help build out these networks.
Top tower company CEOs speaking to RCR Wireless News at this week’s PCIA Wireless Infrastructure 2010 show agreed that DAS networks have moved beyond niche applications in areas where it is difficult to get wireless coverage to a more ubiquitous offering as a capacity play. Wireless operators are under pressure to be able to handle the huge surge of data traffic on their networks.
“Traffic continues to impact the network,” driving femtocell, microcell and macrocell deployments, said TowerCo L.L.C. CEO Richard Byrne. “The network needs to get closer to the end user. 4G demand is going to be beyond anyone’s expectation,” he predicted. Byrne noted that it took 25 years for the industry go get 250,000 cell sites built, but some predictions have 2.4 million cell sites deployed over the next 10 years.
Put another way, the last decade was about mobile voice, but the next decade will be about mobile data, said American Tower Corp. CEO James Taiclet.
“It’s an exciting time for tower companies and mobile operators,” said Steven Marshall, president of U.S. operations at American Tower. Beyond the increased traffic from people, Marshall noted that machine-to-machine communications also will drive the sector. “These machines will talk to each other much more than even the most talkative humans.”
Marshall noted that early on in LTE deployments, operators will seek to cover the densest urban areas with macrocellular deployments. Then, once wider coverage has been fulfilled, operators will use microcellular technologies to improve in-building coverage. Because operators are spending on new capital, tower companies need to find ways to help them reduce their operating expenses, Marshall said. Operators are becoming more open to sharing common resources, like on-site generators, he noted.
Operators are looking at a number of alternative architectures given the different geographies they are addressing, agreed Crown Castle International Corp. CEO W. Ben Moreland, including DAS networks and even offloading traffic to Wi-Fi networks.
The rise of smart phones has driven the need for a denser footprint, which operators can address with towers, rooftops and DAS, said Mobilitie’s Gene Beall, senior VP of strategy and services. These tools mutually complement each other. “One doesn’t replace the other.”
Two companies – Crown Castle and SBA Communications Corp. – have recently invested in DAS network companies as they see the need for DAS deployments grow. Crown closed on the acquisition of NewPath Networks in September, while SBA has taken an equity investment in ExteNet Systems, although all of the larger tower companies have a DAS business. “DAS is complementary to our business model,” said SBA CEO Jeffrey Stoops.
“We have to think about networks holistically,” said ExtaNet Systems CEO Ross Manire. People will communicate on LTE networks indoors so in-building coverage becomes very important.
Rooftop antenna assets will be an important component of 4G deployments, noted Marc Ganzi, CEO of Global Tower Partners. GTP recently closed on three acquisitions, including one that increased its rooftop assets to 8,800 sites.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Tracy Ford
Former Associate Publisher and Executive Editor, RCR Wireless NewsCurrently HetNet Forum Director703-535-7459 tracy.ford@pcia.com Ford has spent more than two decades covering the rapidly changing wireless industry, tracking its changes as it grew from a voice-centric marketplace to the dynamic data-intensive industry it is today. She started her technology journalism career at RCR Wireless News, and has held a number of titles there, including associate publisher and executive editor. She is a winner of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Silver Award, for both trade show and government coverage. A graduate of the Minnesota State University-Moorhead, Ford holds a B.S. degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis on public relations.

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