Although refrains such as “DAS is dead”, and referring to new in-building wireless technologies as “DAS killers” have become fashionable, both phrases are used more as clickbait than actual market analysis. In fact, when it comes to making in-building wireless more robust to meet the demands of the IoT and/or Industry 4.0 eras, DAS will have a crucial role to play.
At the same time, it cannot be argued that DAS can be seen as prohibitively expensive for mid-sized commercial office buildings and sports/entertainment venues. With that in mind, technology suppliers, infrastructure construction companies and building owners alike are beginning to consider DAS investments from a longer-term TCO perspective – as opposed to shorter-term ROI metrics – as a way of taking advantage of technology advancements that will help make DAS a more viable solution for these venues.
Two key technology vectors that help make DAS more viable as a long term investment include the ability to deploy fiber deep within a building, and deploying radio technologies that will enable a smooth migration path to 5G.
Deep fiber providing much needed deployment flexibility
In some ways, the case for fiber is self-evident: it supports higher throughput. While this is not to be discounted, there are other reasons why fiber is seen my most as the preferred cabling for DAS in the 5G era. Case in point, the more fiber that is available throughout a structure, the more deployment flexibility is afforded to DAS solutions. There is little doubt that DAS remains the most effective way of providing wireless coverage in an in-building scenario. However, in order to being the costs of supporting a DAS deployment down to the point where it becomes a realistic option for the aforementioned mid-sized venues, the ability to centralize and/or virtualize key RAN functions is key. Additionally, the ability to optimally site antennas is also critical to be able to optimize the amount of equipment necessary to cover the venue. In these cases, this level of deployment flexibility oftentimes hinges on the amount of fiber availability in the building.
Another important reason, beyond enabling higher throughput rates, is that fiber provides the ability to support a more flexible set of frequency bands than copper. As such, if 5G is going to require a comprehensive set of spectrum options (i.e. low, mid, and high-band spectrum), then fiber becomes a somewhat logical choice to help support operations in a broader set of frequencies that will eventually allow gigabit speeds to be delivered to individual end-user devices.
4G-to-5G migration path
While it is popular in the industry to point out that 5G is more than just a new radio access technology, it is important to concede that radio network evolution will have a substantial impact on the migration from 4G to 5G. To this end, when deploying a next-generation in-building wireless network, leveraging the latest LTE advances with respect to carrier aggregation, and the ability to operate unlicensed spectrum will be critical.
For example, using technologies such as LTE-LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) can help enable gigabit throughput rates by aggregating spectrum in unlicensed bands. In turn, this helps to give network operations professionals experience in operating networks that not only utilize carrier aggregation, but also does so by using a mix of licensed and unlicensed spectrum. At a more practical level, deploying advanced LTE equipment provides a software migration path to supporting 5G capabilities. Additionally, once the hardware is sited, this can offer co-siting opportunities to support 5GNR for, say, mmWave coverage.
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