CW Seminar – DAS and Enterprise Small Cells – Competition or Collaboration

CW logoI helped organise and chair another successful Cambridge Wireless Small Cell SIG event, this time looking at whether DAS and Enterprise Small Cells were competitors or complimentary.

Hosted by Huawei at their UK Headquarters in Reading, the event was a sellout with over 80 registrations. This style of event is very popular, attracting mostly UK industry participants including vendors, system integrators and property developers. Networking opportunities are good, partly because of the event size and partly down to the pragmatic type of delegate. It’s less about marketing gloss and more about addressing the issues.



Huawei set the scene

Ray Williamson, Director of Product Management (RAN Europe) from Huawei set the scene, quoting industry statistics and trends:

  • 90 operators now offer unlimited service, often bundled with Netflix
  • European roaming charges have been scrapped, resulting in 300% growth in European roaming traffic in the past 12 months
  • Average consumption is 1.9Gbytes/month forecast to be 15.8Gbytes by 2022. Finish operator Elisa is already running at an average of 18GB/month. This translates to the lowest revenue per bit but huge data consumption has seen 10% top line revenue growth.
  • Indoor services are typically higher bandwidth, with the highest usage associated with low mobility. Operators are making use of all available spectrum and investing strongly in MIMO. 4T4R is a popular baseline with some going to 8T8R and 256QAM. Modern inbuilding systems are 2T2R with many older installation still using SISO (ie not MIMO yet).

Industrial IoT is a strong contender for Small Cells.

He believes the days of Passive DAS are over – it’s now past its sell-by date. Medium to large buildings require their own in-building solution and as you’d expect Hauwei Lampsite fits those requirements. The use of structured cabling, Cat5 or 6, simplifies deployment considerably.

Co-Working is a rapidly expanding

Graham Payne of OpenCell highlighted the growing trend of Co-Working. Large (and small) office spaces are being created to serve the growing number of self-employed and remote/home workers. People still like to “go to work” rather than be stuck at home on our own, so they can socialise and separate work/home life.

By 2020, 40% of the workforce will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solo-preneurs. By the end of 2017, around 14,000 co-working spaces will be in operation worldwide with many more in the pipeline. 67% of people use a personal device at work to some degree, making excellent wireless communications an essential tool for this environment.

OpenCell take a different approach from the larger DAS deployments, installing a set of enterprise femtocells on each floor of a building (one for each network operator). This is very cost effective, claiming up to 75% lower cost compared with a full DAS solution. While not aimed at the very highest traffic applications, this can provide more than adequate coverage and capacity for typical mutli-tenant residential and enterprise use.

Segmenting by building size

Bob Slorach, CTO of the Wireless Infrastructure Group, drew some clear guidelines about building size, pointing to the needs of buildings between about 50,000 to 300,000 sq ft. This represents a huge un-met demand of around 2 billion sq ft in the UK alone.

He thinks that 100-300K sq ft justifies a 5 Watt distributed RF solution, with buildings below 100K sq ft satisfied with a lower power sub 5W radio  distributed through IT cabling (i.e. Cat 5/6 cables). It has to be a “host neutral” approach supporting multiple operators.

The Operator Perspective

Adis Omeragic, Special Projects Manager at EE, shared his side of the story. Only about 5% of DAS deployments in the UK have all four operators connected. Even the prestigious DAS system at Wembley does not yet have that despite a full “Open Book” on costs (some of the other operators remain connected to an older DAS system onsite).

DAS displacement by small cells has been slow for several reasons:

  1. Carrier Aggregation across 4G
  2. SON features
  3. Multi-technology and Multi-band
  4. Deployment and Operations impact

Operators have paid a lot of money for the right to use spectrum and so want to see it being deployed everywhere – both indoors and out.

OSS (Operators Support Systems) for small cells can't scale for "Business as Usual", so there is a lack of critical mass for new business/technical models.

Authentication and security challenges exist with Internet based backhaul. EE only have a very few IP addresses exposed to the outside and deployment of the ESN (Emergency Services Network) will only make that more difficult.

EE have over 100,000 femtocells today but have switched to promoting Voice over Wi-Fi for residential coverage blackspots. This is only available to their own direct postpaid contract customers on specific smartphones, and not available to pre-paid or MVNO subscribers.

 Panel Question/Answer Session

There was a lively panel Q&A session supported by all speakers.

While the consensus agreed that Passive DAS was dead (for new deployments), this didn’t apply to Active DAS where the simpler cabling requirements simplify installation.

EE don’t see so much value in small cell urban outdoor because the lower RF power/high frequency reduces in-building penetration. It may have some uses reaching into retail areas from the street.


There was plenty of useful discussion during the breaks and after the event. In particular, one property developer explained to me that finding a budget to fund an in-building system was much easier at the outset of a project than near completion. If a building were to cost say £100 million, then adding a few hundred thousand to the budget during inception isn’t unrealistic. However there are limits to such budgets and the high costs of DAS combined with uncertainty that all four networks would connect to it are  reasons why so many buildings are constructed without adequate provision today.

There was also plenty of discussion around EE’s position that all their spectrum had to be made available indoors. This is a similar statement to what I’d heard at DAS Congress the previous month. If operators could agree to a simpler spec for Enterprise/Residential building which have lower traffic demands – for example, restricting to just 1800 and 2100MHz bands only – then this would greatly help the business case. It would need some investment and planning/management by operators, but they’d save considerably on radio equipment costs in the field.


I sense that DAS and Small Cell vendors and neutral hosts are becoming more aware of the potential of each approach. Ultimately success for all parties requires a lower cost, streamlined approach to Enterprise cellular deployment.

That will require some co-operation from operators and for them to agree to simplify their requirements. Once the goals are set, vendors can develop more products optimised to address the market.

There was much more to absorb than this short meeting report can cover, which makes the value of this type of event very worthwhile attending.

Thanks to all those who spoke, asked questions, hosted, administered and participated in this very successful event.

Slides from all presenters should be freely accessible from the Cambridge Wireless resource page shortly for a period of  2 months, thereafter only available to members.

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