AT&T flaunting its role as a neutral-host DAS provider

Tammy Parker, FierceBroadbandWirelessChad Townes, vice president of AT&T's (NYSE:T) Antenna Solutions Group, says he wants to "clarify the misnomer" that AT&T is not a neutral-host company when it comes to distributed antenna systems (DAS).

"I still think that the marketplace views us as a carrier, not as a neutral-host provider," Townes recently told me.

He emphasized that his group is a standalone business unit within AT&T, with a separate arm that proactively markets and leases DAS space "just like a tower company would or a third-party DAS provider would."

I suspect Townes still has some convincing to do, as not everyone will accept that a carrier can ever truly be a "neutral host" when it comes to building a DAS and leasing space on it to rival operators. On the other hand, it is widely acknowledged that DAS technology has become a crucial tool for many operators when it comes to solving coverage and capacity issues in certain situations.

In 2012 alone, AT&T added nearly 850 DAS to its own network, and all of the Tier 1 carriers are getting in on the DAS action one way or another. For example, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) just gained 6,000 DAS via its acquisition of MetroPCS. Also riding the DAS wave are third-party service providers such as ExteNet and Mobilitie, which some would argue are the true "neutral hosts."

This creates a curious environment that blends competition, cooperation and "coopetition" between multiple DAS players. For more on how all of this comes together, check out this week's special DAS feature.--Tammy

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