Broadband Communities

MAY-JUN 2017

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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MAY/JUNE 2017 | www.broadbandcommunities.com | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 67 circle of death when the building is fully occupied and active. e macro network wasn't built to handle all those people occupying the same dot on a map. us, excellent cell coverage (signal strength) does not always translate into excellent cell performance, due to the lack of capacity. e third factor is the increasing user demand for more bandwidth for broader and deeper internet experiences. Users are like a pack of ravenous wolves when it comes to expecting HD, 3D, VR and high information content on cell devices. Nearly everyone assumes carriers will just take care of increasing demand. But carriers have stated it will be impossible for their macro networks to accommodate the increasing bandwidth demand. As a hypothetical, Verizon asked how many additional cell towers it would take, if that were the only means utilized, to cover U.S. usage demands. e answer? ree million. ere are only 300,000 cell towers today. Does anyone believe the citizens of the United States will accept increasing the number of cell towers tenfold? Verizon's plan to meet the demand includes a few more towers, a lot of technology advancements and, for the vast majority of that increased demand, "in-building wireless systems" (IBTUF 10 Conference general session, January, 2016). Yes, Verizon expects building owners to install systems to "densify" its network. So do AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. ey won't thank you; in fact, they've historically made it difficult and expensive to install systems. But they expect it nonetheless. And they won't pay for it in most cases. CARRIER-FUNDED DAS Carriers do still pay for DAS. e builder of a stadium, an arena, a large mall, a massive hotel and conference center, a Wynn-like casino or a major medical complex may be able to attract a benevolent carrier or a neutral host company funded by carriers. Carriers do not have the capital budget to fund every building – and even if they do, they do not intend to pay for the DAS for your 300,000-square-foot building. e ROI models the carriers use in determining to pay for DAS require enough foot traffic to justify their investments. ey measure foot traffic in the thousands, not hundreds, when they generate their payback models. Even then, they often still fight to make a DAS single carrier, if not forever then at least for long enough to recoup their investments. ere are exceptions. I've seen a few cases in recent years in which a carrier agreed to cover DAS costs for a smaller facility – a recent corporate headquarters, for example, that was only 550,000 square feet. However, that carrier is angling for a 4,000-line mobility contract and wants access to the corporation's many other facilities and mobility contracts – and it won't foot the DAS bill for the remaining buildings. DAS OR BOOSTER? If a building owner will have to foot the bill for enhancing cell coverage, why not just put in a booster and some antennas instead of a full-blown DAS? Boosters are best suited to smaller environments – generally facilities of less than 50,000 square feet. e FCC has approved the use of these boosters, and as long as a contractor properly registers these booster installations on the owner's behalf with all four carriers, the cell environment should improve with relatively little cost and no risk. e disadvantages of boosters explain why they're so low in cost. A booster is akin to a massive fire hose of cell signal sprayed throughout a building. ere is no intelligent distribution, no constant measuring of cell activity and adjustment of signal strength and quality between multiple active remote nodes. A DAS is more like a very smart sprinkler system with valves and meters that deliver the precise amount of water to the exact areas needing it. To overcome the passive signal distribution of boosters, contractors often attempt to install multiple boosters in larger buildings. is makes the situation worse. Multiple, unintelligent boosters create oscillation – standing RF waves that cause massive noise to flow back into the macro network. To a cell carrier, it sounds like a microphone stuck in front of a speaker. e carriers will find that system, and they will shut it down. Because they paid billions for the spectrum, they have the right to do so and can have the FCC levy fines on the building owner (not the contractor) in the amount of tens of thousands of dollars per day. If a booster system has been registered with the carriers, they cordially instruct the building owner to shut it down, generally without threatening fines, if they detect any backflow of noise into the macro network. However, if they find a rogue, unregistered, noisy booster or boosters, all bets are off. Depending upon the trouble a rogue system causes, they might decide to make an example of the owner. Finally, boosters do not accommodate RF source inputs from carriers across broadband landlines. In other words, they cannot increase capacity, only coverage. ey can only take what signal is in the air and amplify it. ey increase coverage (along with some noise), but they don't do anything to increase the density of the cellular capacity. e lack of additional capacity may be OK for a while, but sooner or later, owners will want to upgrade to intelligent, capacity-increasing systems. DAS OPTIONS AND COSTS Five years ago, all-in DAS costs averaged $3–4/foot – sometimes more, depending upon what requirements the carriers imposed. It's asking a lot of any building owner to swallow that kind of cost, even for a putative fourth utility. Two significant changes in the interim made the costs much more palatable. First, all the traditional DAS OEMs and a spate of new ones are bringing new, enterprise-centric products to market. ese new products do not have the sophisticated features needed in complex RF environments such as stadiums. But those additional features are completely unnecessary in enterprise

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