This second DAS Congress Europe event moved to a larger and nicer venue in Munich this year and enjoyed a slightly increased turnout. The focus remains very much on the DAS community, although I did present a perspective of both Wi-Fi and Small Cell market development.
The keynote introduction from analyst Earl Lumm covered a lot of ground – he’s very aware of global trends in the industry. The largest markets for DAS recently have been in the US and China, but it’s weaking in the US now that many of the major stadiums/malls have been upgraded. Stefan Teral (IHS) predicts a 20% drop in DAS revenues in the US this year. Europe has still to transition across to LTE (and will catch up with the US by 2020), and accounts for around 25% of the global $2 Billion DAS market today.
Earl's pyramid illustrating building size, technology choices vs cost per sq metre to cover might interest you.
Active DAS vs Passive DAS
There are some very sophisticated DAS systems available. These combine RF signals from multiple basestations/multiple operators and pipe them around a large building or venue, radiated from hundreds of antenna throughout the building. Passive DAS sends RF signals through dedicated (and thick) coax cables. Active DAS converts the signal to a digital one, which is sent via fibre or sometimes dedicated CAT5/6 cable, making the installation easier.
The trouble is that almost no basestation vendor is interested in directly connecting to these Active DAS systems with a digital signal such as CPRI. (Alcatel-Lucent/TE Connectivity are one of the very few exceptions). That’s partly because basestation vendors have little to benefit from this themselves – it’s a relatively small part of the market and they’d rather sell their own remote radio heads or in-building systems (eg Radio DOT, Lampsite) instead.
Operator EE explained that although they’ve been asked to exert pressure on their suppliers, the reality is that they have something like 20K basestations compared to 200 DAS deployments. It’s just not significant enough. This leads to a few very inefficient installations that are power intensive but are easier to manage. One Chinese DAS vendor (Sunwave) is working with a Tier 2 basestation vendor. There was also interest in using low power Small Cells to drive these systems digitally.
Outdoor DAS in US urban districts
Earl reported that several US municipalities have adopted an approach that strongly encourages Outdoor DAS. San Francisco has decided there should be a maximum of one box per street pole, which everyone has to share, forcing 3rd party neutral host and operator partnerships. New York is going primarily for Small Cells with the potential for ODAS, installing fibre to tens of thousands of street locations. They don’t want to allow any wireless backhaul, only fibre, but that restriction hasn’t been seen elsewhere. Numerous cities across the US are still formulating their Hetnet strategy.
In Europe, funding primarily comes from operators. Advertisers JCDeacaux and others have taken an innovative approach to open up access to street billboards and other street furniture. China is unlikely to deploy ODAS because there is no requirement to limit form factor in urban streets.
SISO vs MIMO
One of the useful features of LTE is MIMO (Multiple Input/Multuple Output) where separate signals/codes are used for the same session. I was surprised to hear than many new deployments today still use SISO – it can be very expensive (as much as 60% of the original cost) to upgrade to MIMO later. One explanation given was that SISO provides adequate capacity for many offices and less demanding buildings, but MIMO was a pre-requisite for the more intensive sites. It’s difficult to make a case for more than 2x2 MIMO. Additional capacity can also be achieved on SISO by deploying additional frequencies; the size of some larger MIMO antennas can be an issue with some landlords.
Funding models for DAS deployment
Ultimately the operators have paid for most DAS systems to date, but there are various financial models seen in different regions where building owners contribute up to 100% of the DAS system cost. Usually the operator funds the cost of their own basestations to drive it.
Wireless Infrastructure Group explained that they take a very long term view (20-30 years) and try to get involved at the early stages of building construction. They directly fund all the DAS infrastructure and resell access rights to operators on an ongoing basis. They’ll predict what technology capabilities are likely to be required and pre-install them, taking the risk if they will be needed later. One example is to install MIMO by default, even though it might not be used initially. Craig Birchenough clarified to me that they don’t install or invest in Wi-Fi but would consider any and all relevant cellular architecture choices.
Ben Patullo of Sunrise explained that Australia has never had a neutral host model. Instead, building owners install their own DAS and sell it on to a lead network operator for a nominal $1 fee.
Swisscom take the lid off their latest innovation
You may have read my recent article about deploying Wi-Fi access points underneath (plastic) manhole covers. We thought this was unlikely to be very successful. Swisscom, who own both fixed and mobile networks, have come up with a very efficient and effective cellular antenna that replaces the existing manhole cover. Powered by a 5W remote radio head, initial tests show is can cover streets at ground level up to 50m radius. They’ve been very pleased with results so far and plan to deploy hundreds. With over 300,000 manholes throughout Switzerland, they’ve got plenty to choose from. It avoids site rental fees, has easy access for maintenance and there is plenty of backhaul and power available.
The antenna was productised and manufactured by Kathrein, and it copes with tough outdoor conditions (dust, water, ice, trucks, buses etc.). There are more manholes in the busiest urban areas, so Swisscom think they can target and plan deployment where the traffic is highest for best return on investment.
The costs below show this to be marginally more attractive that their target cost for urban small cells. Bear in mind they use a Remote Radio Head from Ericsson rather than a completely standalone small cell/metrocell. CHF (Swiss Francs) are about parity with USD (US Dollars)
Venue owners want to know more about their customers
There was a very interesting panel session led by SEAT (Sports and Entertainment Alliance in Technology), with members representing stadiums and sports organisations providing concerts, cricket, soccer and rugby. They struggle to make the business case to invest in Wi-Fi; installing poor Wi-Fi service is worse than none at all; finding out who attends (may not be the same as the ticket buyer), where they go and what they do makes the best justification – there’s relatively little return on just upselling merchandise.
This is an area where DAS struggles because DAS systems have no insights about who is using the system – that’s visibly only to the network operators. The relatively larger sectors used by DAS may also make it more difficult to track aggregate traffic movements around large sites – venues want to know which floor each customer is on and whether they go straight to their seat or not.
Around 30% of stadium visitors might connect with Wi-Fi, the most seen is perhaps 40%, compared to virtually 100% onto cellular networks. A Korean delegate suggested that in the long term most users would stick with LTE only (as seen in Korea), and only those with little money to spend remain on Wi-Fi. When I asked why visitors choose to connect via Wi-Fi the panellists weren’t entirely sure: some smartphones just do it automatically (eg Telefonica subscribers), some may be to save money (younger audiences on a lower budget). The Cricket stadiums want to geo-fence some of the video available so it’s only available within the stadium – they don’t have rights to distribute more widely.
Shifting around the capacity
Rami Hasarch, Strategy Director at Cohham (formerly Axell Wireless), explained how a centralised digital DAS system could be configured to pipe capacity to different sites at different times of day, servicing the stadium during weekend events, the conference centre during weekdays etc. Where I disagree with this approach is that operators don’t really want the complexity of manually reconfiguring DAS systems on a regular basis – Richard Hargrave from EE said as much during his presentation. While external SON systems could potentially automate some of the DAS reconfiguration, there is no open standard API or method of achieving that today. With the cost of baseband processing continuing to drop, the argument to manually manage it as an extremely precious resource (rather than just install lots of it at the edge in small cells) is more difficult to justify. Several DAS vendors have held back from investing in digital DAS systems until they can see there is greater demand for it.
What we all agreed on is that there are huge swathes of buildings with demand for better cellular service. Anister calculated there are over 5 Billion square meters across Europe which remain unaddressed.
Funding for in-building systems may come from a number of different business models with a greater share coming from building owners directly, perhaps spread into an OPEX model by a neutral host.
DAS still seems to be a fairly specialist business. Unlike Wi-Fi which has the Wi-Fi Alliance and WBA, the small cell industry with its Forum, there seems to be no organisation co-ordinating and championing the DAS industry. With revenues of $2 Billion, you’d think that would be more than justified.
Europe could offer some opportunities for the DAS industry to compensate for reducing demand in the US. There should be a lot of LTE migration/upgrades, which could be delivered by Small Cell overlays rather than complete DAS rip and replacement. Outdoor urban may be one market opportunity in both continents driving by planning authorities, but would require extensive availability of fibre at all locations.
I'll leave you with a view of Munich from my hotel window. A mix of some ugly urban blocks and woodlands across a wide, flat open industrial landscape.