The rise in digital offerings created to meet heightened consumer expectations across many industries have carriers and venue owners scrambling to provide ubiquitous connectivity to support these needs in buildings. Luckily for carriers and venue owners, several wireless technologies, such as small cells, repeaters, and DAS, are available to address network coverage issues for consumers across varying enclosed locations, such as stadiums, hotels, concert venues in both urban and rural areas. For many years, the telecom industry has questioned the future of distributed antenna systems (DAS) in the wake of newer technologies and alternatives, but the reality will be much more collaborative. No two deployments are the same, and more options means better cost efficiency for each unique project.

A common example of this position is how small cells will eventually phase out DAS by providing a better in-building alternative. Yet, the DAS market contradicts such notions and is estimated to grow from USD 8.2 billion in 2018 to USD 13.7 billion by 2023, according to Markets and Markets. When DAS is coupled with small cells it creates stronger LTE, 5G, and even private LTE networks for those in the surrounding area or venue.

Small Cells, Limited Coverage, Bigger Costs

Small cells are effective in both outdoor and indoor deployments but are not always a cost-effective solution as a standalone offering for certain in-building, rural area, and 5G deployments due to its limitations in offering a multi-carrier option and its short frequency range and coverage.

Small cells function by using the available spectrum from nearby cell towers to expand coverage and capacity in the area, and have a shorter range of 10 meters in an urban setting to a few kilometers in rural areas. Outdoors, small cells can easily address coverage and capacity issues in dead zones by feeding off of the nearby network. But, in some indoor settings, multiple small cells may be needed due to the limited range and low capacity with 6-64 devices supported, which adds to the carrier or building owner’s costs.

Combining DAS and Small Cells

Unlike small cells, DAS can be shared by multiple carriers and works by effectively creating one large cell by repeating signals throughout a building or venue. To fix infrastructure and network architecture challenges in smaller in-building use cases, pairing DAS and small cells together is the most viable option for a robust network. By having a DAS feed off small cells, in-building stakeholders can implement a cost-effective network that can handle a low capacity of multiple visitors and residents without the use of a base station.

An example can be seen in Kansas City, Missouri at the 570,487 sq. ft. Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. In this building, coverage was a greater need than high capacity due to the size of the building and the average number of people within it. As such, system integrators opted to use a small cell as a signal source to feed the DAS instead of a base station to provide a cost-effective solution with a single carrier.

Connecting to CBRS and 5G

Another way to combine DAS and small cells is to use DAS to support wireless capacity and use small cells to bring CBRS coverage for areas with high data usage.

New 5G bands and CBRS are simultaneously adding diversity to the telecom ecosystem and setting high expectations for the new opportunities they enable, including the creation of a connected world with the rise of IoT, smart cities, and autonomous vehicles. But growing pains will undoubtedly exist, leaving stakeholders to turn to different solutions that cost-effectively address 5G’s short frequency and range.

Smart cities are already being built from the inside out, with many smart buildings and stadiums popping up across the United States. These venues connect various aspects together to monitor traffic, energy usage, and HVAC systems as well as enable public safety efforts that alert emergency response professionals when an intruder or fire occurs. 5G is enabling these types of IoT connections and many more with its ultra-fast speeds, and by 2022, 70% of wide-area IoT devices will use cellular technology. This change, however, will not be possible without network densification that addresses 5G’s connectivity challenges, and DAS is in the perfect stance to enable new connections.

In the case of CBRS, DAS and small cells provide solutions to connect venue owners to their own private LTE networks as well as carrier networks. CBRS has many use cases for IoT, manufacturing facilities, and stadiums, to name a few, but will ultimately need a wireless solution that can connect users seamlessly to the private network. By using a DAS to connect to the CBRS band, stadium owners can implement a private LTE network that enables them with a secure network where their information can be handled internally, while still allowing stadium attendees with connections to their wireless carrier providers. This helps stadiums and any venue owner that deploys the CBRS band, with a single technology that connects to private and commercial LTE.

The wireless landscape is constantly changing, but DAS is here to stay and can offer venues and carriers the connectivity that they need to meet increasing consumer demands.