While the industry conferences focus on small cells, there is another type of in-building wireless coverage which is quietly rolling out and taking care of capacity and coverage issues. Distributed Antenna Systems are becoming big business, with a global growth rate of 20 percent this year, and higher numbers in key markets like North America.
Why is DAS important? It touches many different parts of the mobile network:
DAS can include Wi-Fi. When Active DAS is used with fiber connectivity, it's possible to build a Wi-Fi AP into each remote antenna unit, or simply put a Wi-Fi AP next to each remote antenna unit.
DAS is preferred by city government. When asking for city approval for construction permits, most DAS integrators are finding that cities have figured out the DAS game: They will approve your DAS system if you include their public safety systems for free.
Small Cells make great signal sources for DAS. As small cells with reasonable capacity become available, we see opportunities to replace the big cabinets normally used as a signal source. Why not use a smaller, cheaper small cell instead?
Small Cells can also use DAS as backhaul. Think about it: If you have a fiber distribution system, owned by somebody that has relationships with the mobile operators, why wouldn't they use that fiber to carry small cell backhaul traffic?
Outdoor DAS is quicker than towers. Outdoor DAS is actually growing faster than indoor DAS in the U.S. market, because LTE roll-out needs to happen quickly and new towers are not quick.
Mobile Operators are spending on DAS. Verizon will double their DAS budget between 2012 and 2014. Sprint will spend over $300 million on DAS this year. AT&T has been spending at that level for several years. The story is different in China and Europe...but in the USA, DAS is growing quickly.
The bottom line is that a big part of the world needs DAS. The industry has started with stadiums and airports. As we run out of stadiums to cover, we will be turning to convention centers, shopping malls, hotels, hospitals, college campuses, and other areas. Over time, Mobile Experts predicts that the cost of DAS equipment will come down, making the ROI more attractive for building owners, operators, and the neutral hosting companies. There may be only about 100 blockbuster stadiums in the world, but there are millions of buildings that fall into the other vertical markets.
It's difficult for mobile operators to address a million buildings with the internal resources they have. We expect the DAS ecosystem to provide the capital, the RF planning, and the installation technicians to make Carrier Wi-Fi and Small Cells a bigger success.
Joe Madden is Principal Analyst at Mobile Experts LLC. Mobile Experts is a network of market and technology experts that provide market analysis on the mobile infrastructure and mobile handset markets. He provides market forecasts for handset, DAS, small cell, and base station markets, with in-depth research down to the nitty gritty details of frequency bands and power levels. Mr. Madden graduated, cum laude, from UCLA in 1989 and is a Silicon Valley veteran. He has survived IPOs, LBOs, divestitures, acquistions, and mergers during his 24 years in mobile communications.