Selecting an Enterprise Wireless Solution for the middle ground

Selecting-Enterprise-Wireless-SolutionIn a new white paper published today, we look at the factors involved in choosing an Enterprise Wireless solution. Following on from our previous bottom up Enterprise architecture paper, this takes a top down perspective evolving from the viewpoints of different stakeholders. We've summarised some of the key points in this article; you can download the full white paper directly from our website.

Defining the Middle Ground

There seems to be a general industry consensus that for indoor cellular service:

  • the largest buildings are best served by dedicated DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems), with costs shared by two or more network operators
  • the smallest SOHO/Small Offices would benefit from standalone small cells (formerly termed Femtocells), typically locked to a single operator

In most cases, these would work alongside Enterprise Wi-Fi system.

However there is a lack of clarity about where the dividing line between these two approaches lies and even what form it takes. Several vendors offer technical solutions primarily aimed at this middle ground.

A view of the distribution of commercial building stock by size is shown below

[Source: Rocky Mountain Institute, 2011]

Three Key Players with differing perspectives

  • End-Users want the simplicity, compatibility, consistency, security and mobility.
  • Building Owners favour multi-operator capability (not mandatory for office and other use cases), a revenue generation opportunity (or other value added benefits such as customer profiling) and regulatory compliance.
  • Network Operators want lower cost than from using outdoor equipment, shared with other parties, compatible with existing systems and network equipment. Brand aspects encourage investment at premium sites (eg Superbowl) and/or to deliver higher data rates.

Perhaps what is new is a growing recognition by property owners and tenants of the value and benefit of good in-building cellular service. It's become a competitive advantage and even an essential business tool. The practical limits to delivering high data rates and capacity from outside are not viable to meet burgeoning data demand. Growing adoption of Wi-Fi helps offload but does not yet provide a seamless and reliable experience when out and about.

This realisation is leading to a change of heart, where property owners are prepared to contribute towards the costs of good in-building cellular service. In some cases, this is arranged directly with a network operator. In other cases, a third party independent system integrator deploys and commissions the system.

Decision Factors

For this middle ground, there isn't a single parameter that drives the choice between Small Cells, DRS (Distributed Radio Systems) and DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems). There will inevitably be a trade-off which considers the best fit for any given scenario.

The top five requirements when making a choice are:

1) Multiple operator vs Single network operator
2) Traffic profile/density
3) Building size
4) Total budget and funding sources
5) Internal building construction

Other factors include:

  • Use of local applications and services
  • Device mix between 3G/LTE by typical users and how this will evolve
  • Multiple operator support may be cost effective for smaller buildings using two parallel small cell systems, or achieved by national roaming/network sharing, MOCN or MORAN.
  • Small cells systems with in-building local controllers are effective for between approx 10-100 small cell radio nodes.
  • The Impact of Future Industry Developments

This topic is both fast moving and frequently changing. Commercial, technical and regulatory developments could quickly upset the balance. Perception of the maturity of different solutions will also have a strong effect.

Four developments to watch out for are:

  • Commercial Partnership Agreements. National roaming is rare outside North America, although many networks have closer RAN sharing agreements. DAS systems are often shared. Were Small Cells to be shared using standard mechanisms such as MOCN or MORAN, their ability to offer multi-operator service would make them very attractive.
  • Wider adoption of Offloading Solutions. Wi-Fi offload is popular and has been successful in the home and many office environments. More seamless and quality controlled access in public areas could offset demand for greater cellular capacity.
  • Vendor Interoperability. Proven interworking between RAN vendor equipment should simplify integration and acceptance of new vendors, reducing the risk and encouraging take-up of a wider supply chain.
  • First Responder adoption of LTE. Although something of a side issue, we can see these organisations (Fire, Ambulance etc.) migrating from expensive proprietary radio systems to the LTE standard. This may have implications on how building owners ensure service for those organisations.

You can download the full report from our resources section here.

Selecting an Enterprise Wireless Solution for the middle ground was written and produced by ThinkSmallCell, sponsored by SOLiD.

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