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DAS in Action: Capex for in-building a tricky proposition

NEW ORLEANS – Capital expenditure numbers make in-building wireless coverage a tricky proposition, according to speakers at this week’s DAS in Action conference.

C.J. Maier of Verizon Wireless told an audience that with a limited budget for DAS installations, Verizon Wireless looks at a series of factors – including how often the venue is used, local network traffic patterns, market penetration and most importantly, return on investment – in prioritizing projects. The carrier has evaluated models for apartment buildings, he said, and “we don’t have so much of an ROI model that would work right now” and avoids them.

Stadiums are a more high-value proposition, with constant traffic, especially compared to something like a low-density rural apartment building, Maier said.

Another challenge with in-building wireless, he said, is that Verizon Wireless has often run into hotel chains which illegally rebroadcast the carrier’s wireless signal, which can be detrimental to the network to the point that it’s worse than having no in-building system at all, Maier said.

Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless said that they prefer neutral-host DAS systems, rather than something carrier-specific, because it appeals to venue owners, as well as the possibility of sharing ongoing maintenance costs.

Rusty Stone, of multi-unit dwelling developer Camden Property Trust, said that with price tags between $350,000 to more than $500,000, a full DAS system is often cost-prohibitive for a developer to take on by itself – but Camden, he said, recognizes that good coverage is critical to selling units and is pre-wiring its new projects for in-building connectivity to make projects easier, less expensive and hopefully more attractive to wireless carriers.

Fernando Perez, representing Marriott International on the panel, cautioned companies who are considering bring-your-own-device for cost savings that the move is more complicated than they might think – that considerations on employee telecom stipends, the cost of enabling multiple devices per user, and more complex security and billing factors can mean that BYOD programs aren’t as simple as they sound.

In other conference news, the DAS Forum announced this morning that its name is now the HetNet Forum, reflecting the role it hopes to take in advocating for rapid deployment of multiple non-macro-cell technologies for heterogeneous networks.

Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of PCIA (of which the HetNet Forum is a part), said that the group has had a series of policy wins recently, from access to pole-tops for small cell deployment, a broader definition of base station by the Federal Communications Commission, and FCC rulemaking on signal boosters that differentiates between consumer and commercial boosters.

“They’re taking what we suggest and implementing it – they know we need to get more capacity up quickly,” Adelstein said.

Also at the show, Commscope announced that it has upgraded its Ion DAS platform with additional features designed for easier integration with the macro cellular network, aiming for a plug-and-play solution.

Commscope said that traditional DAS is great for capacity, but that a “lack of simplification has meant longer time to market, prohibitively expensive engineering skill requirements and notoriously difficult optimization, testing and maintenance. Every stage of traditional DAS deployment can be an exercise in extra expense and delayed ROI,” but operators still use them because they desperately need the capacity.

Commscope said it has included embedded intelligence to guide planning, installation and optimization of the system; remote configuration tools; and built-in monitoring for network quality, interference, and passive intermodulation, among other features.


Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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