Real estate owners are slowly realizing that if they want better cellular service in their buildings, they will probably need to pay for it. But convincing them to actually invest is a huge challenge, especially when the decision-makers are often unfamiliar with cellular technology.
"This whole educational cycle that we're all going through is a little more monumental than I think any of us would like, or anticipated," said Zinwave CEO Scott Willis. Zinwave makes a modular distributed antenna system that it says can support all four nationwide carriers as well as public safety frequencies. The company targets building owners rather than carrier customers.
But if carriers aren't paying for a system, how does a building owner know the carrier will connect to it? That is the multimillion-dollar question facing vendors as they try to sell equipment directly to enterprise customers. It's a problem Zinwave hopes to solve through an alliance with a company called Cheytec.
Cheytec has agreements in place with both Verizon and AT&T, as well as with Ericsson and Nokia. The partnerships with Ericsson and Nokia enable Cheytec and its vendor partners to guarantee customers an RF signal source. Cheytec has teamed with Zinwave and other distributed antenna system vendors because these companies are already talking to the enterprise customers Cheytec wants to reach.
"The distribution partners like Zinwave are critical to success, for us and the whole ecosystem," said Cheytec CEO Jarrett Bluth. Cheytec's other vendor partners include ADRF and SOLiD.
Other DAS vendors have also turned to alliances to address the in-building market. CommScope purchased Airvana in 2015 and Corning bought SpiderCloud Wireless last year. Now both CommScope and Corning can use small cells as RF signal sources for distributed antenna systems.
For small cell vendors, these business combinations have created a new use case for their products, and opened up a new path to market. SpiderCloud said that being part of Corning has changed the way customers view the company.
But all providers of in-building solutions continue to face challenges when it comes to educating their potential customers. Cheytec's Bluth said some building owners still think the carriers will solve their coverage problems, especially if they have an existing relationship with the carrier.
Bluth said that even if a company can convince a carrier to invest, the problem usually isn't solved, because most large companies need good in-building coverage from both AT&T and Verizon.
"Even with large hotel chains, where there is carrier money to be spent, it only covers a fraction of the cost, and it's not both carriers at the same time," Bluth said. "The plan of record build that the carriers are committed to fund is a small portion of what the market need is, and the alignment of where Verizon and AT&T both agree 'That's a building I need,' is a smaller fraction."