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DAS in Action: AT&T talks DAS, small cell, Superdome deployment

NEW ORLEANS – AT&T prefers to build neutral-host distributed antenna systems, and actively plans deployments to accommodate other carriers in terms of space, power and location, according to the company.

“We’re out there building networks as a neutral-host provider,” said Chad Townes, VP of AT&T Antenna Solutions Group. “Ultimately, that means I spend less money on DAS networks.”

Townes spoke at the DAS in Action conference this morning in New Orleans. The event was hosted by the HetNet Forum, formerly the DAS Forum.

Townes said that some of the factors AT&T considers for a DAS deployment are a venue’s size and capacity, data demand, carrier market share, its spectrum position in the market, sectorization, and future tenants that are likely to join it who would ultimately spread the cost of the system across multiple carriers.

He noted that in determining the size of a system, AT&T doesn’t merely plan for itself, but for likely tenant candidates – even if it has a good spectrum position in a given market that could allow it to build a smaller DAS, Townes said, the carrier may opt for something larger that would be attractive to another one of the major carriers with fewer spectrum holdings.

“When placing gear when we go to deploy, we don’t just get space for AT&T … when we can, we always reserve the space for other carriers. We might not always pay for it up-front, but we make sure it’s available,” Townes said.

He said that such systems mean that AT&T spends more up-front, but that it saves money in the long run.

“By the time you get to that second or third carrier, the savings pays for itself on the back end of the network deployment,” Townes said.

Townes pointed to the local in-building DAS deployment at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans as a particularly successful accomplishment, that continued to operate and provide about 99% successful voice and data connectivity and continuity despite power loss to the stadium (the system has its own dedicated power line separate from the venue, and its own back-up generator – which did not have to be used). The crowd inside and outside the venue that generated 388 gigabytes of data over the course of the game, plus 73,000 phone calls.

“We did not skip a beat” during the Superbowl,  Townes said.

The installation, which serves all four national carriers, cost about $12 million.

AT&T is operating on a three-year cycle for network technology, Townes said, installing systems that it plans to maintain as-is for coverage and capacity for three years before upgrades or replacement. He added, however, that some retrofits have been necessary as AT&T has rolled out LTE in its network.

Townes said that in terms of a campus approach, colleges and universities often want to force the carrier to install DAS, but that his preferred approach is to install rooftop antennas for primary coverage, DAS where it is needed for in-building coverage, and small cells to fill in coverage gaps in small areas.


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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