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Data explosion driving DAS network deployments in stadiums

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in PCIA’s Wireless Infrastructure 2010 show guide.
As wireless networks continue to need capacity to handle the explosion of data applications, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) networks continue to gain traction as a method to offload traffic from the macro-cellular network.
Vertical market deployments also are opening up new opportunities for DAS system providers as building owners begin to realize that consistent wireless service is as attractive to potential tenants as other amenities. In particular, outdoor stadiums, like Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, are driving vertical-market deployments, along with hospitality, healthcare and retail outlets.
A little history
“DAS used to be very difficult to get into a building, especially for systems integrators because just because it is advantageous for the building owner didn’t mean it was advantageous for the carrier,” said Connie Durcsak, senior director for industry and government relations at PCIA. Today, however, the “market is set to explode” as between 60% and 80% of worldwide data connections initiate inside a building, she noted. “The next bubble for DAS is going to be on the in-building side.”
Stadium buildouts
Stadium buildouts that include DAS are now methodic and comprehensive, Durcsak noted.
In sports arenas, like the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, it has become much easier to deploy a DAS network because the owners want to be able to capitalize on new revenue streams so they likely have installed a lot of fiber in the facility, said Bo Piekarski, VP of Product Management and Marketing for NextG Networks. Cowboys Stadium is said to have millions of feet of fiber. “Jerry Jones is there to make money and so his staff knows that.”
Data is driving everything, of course. “Particularly at sports venues, people want to look at stats in real time or another game or another team,” from their devices, while simultaneously watching the live event, Piekarski noted.
Likewise, AT&T Mobility just deployed a DAS network at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The network, designed by Intenna Systems Inc., is a technological marvel in that it uses sculpted antenna technology to manage soft handoffs over a 500-foot perimeter in an open-air stadium, said Chris Lange, CEO of Intenna Systems, adding the equivalent of three cell towers, which normally would be sited over a five-mile radius. The system uses 132 antennas that only operate in a narrow area so they don’t interfere with each other.
As data demands grow in urban areas, DAS systems are going to have to be used to offload the macrocellular traffic, Lange said. In fact, Lange believes that DAS capital expenses will outpace traditional cell tower expenses in the future. His reasoning: It’s going to be difficult for companies to add a cell tower in an urban corridor that houses six high-rise apartment building or office buildings. Data traffic in the corridor is going to be congested at the same time – either during business hours for office campuses or during evening hours for apartment buildings. The best way to get coverage to people walking and driving outside in the metropolitan area is to offload the wireless traffic in the buildings. “Any time they’re in the building they’ll use the DAS network. That will give the people outside access to the cellular network.”
Universities and hospitality venues
Like stadium owners who want clear wireless signals in their venues, university professionals want their students to have wireless access for safety and convenience, PCIA’s Durcsak noted.
However, deploying DAS networks in a university setting can take a little more coordination because there are a number of people involved in the process, and more internal processes to follow with state-owned facilities. “At the state university level, you have to talk to the IT department, the people who have responsibility for the wireless facilities, public safety, architects, and the schools within the university, as well as the athletic departments, which can have a lot of clout over what happens at their facilities,” Piekarski said. “The challenge for us in wireless is to us wireless means licensed frequencies. For a lot of people at the universities, it means Wi-Fi.”
Nevertheless, everyone at the university has an interest in improving coverage for students and professors on campus,” said Patrick Ryan, NextG’s VP of government relations and regulatory affairs. “Universities are typically space-constrained, with dense, cement buildings that are difficult to cover from the outside.” Another advantage: they have fiber inside the buildings, which makes DAS deployments easier.
Business models
Each DAS deployment is a custom agreement, Durcsak noted, because there are a number of variables. “There are as many business model approaches as there are players in the space.” In April, the DAS Forum launched an in-building working group, she added.
Intenna Systems’ Lange breaks it down to four general models:
1) Carrier-owned DAS systems are deployed by operators that need to get better coverage or more capacity to a certain segment of their network.
2) Multi-carrier DAS systems can be built by the enterprise, a third-party vendor or a consortium of operators. Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia deployed a DAS network that numerous operators have attached to because the hospital needed better wireless connectivity on its campus, Lange said. In this case, the hospital paid for the system. “This was successful because the business model didn’t involve the carriers paying rent.”
3) A neutral-host DAS network is built by DAS providers in a casino, for instance. The DAS operator signs a long-term lease with the building owner and then carriers pay a fee to the DAS provider to attach to the network, and thus, get coverage in the casino.
4) Some companies, like NextG, like American Tower Corp. and Crown Castle International Corp., among others, have taken the DAS model to the next step, attaching to utility poles as a carrier’s carrier and bringing DAS systems outdoors.
“Now a lot of the networks are being built by the enterprise,” Lange said. “One of the challenges is being able to involve the carriers because permission from the carriers is required.” In some cases, however, the enterprise has been willing to foot the bill for much of the network, thus easing the operator’s worry that the network will be built but under-used.
The healthcare and hospitality vertical markets are recognizing DAS is not only important for commercial services, but also for public-safety reasons and as such, expect to see DAS deployments in stairwells, basements and other areas where the larger cellular signal may not provide optimal wireless coverage.

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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