April 5, 2022
ADRF on 5G, open RAN and indoor wireless networks
An oft-repeated phrase in the wireless industry is that 80% of all smartphone usage happens indoors. It’s difficult to track down the source of that statistic, but many of the companies operating in the indoor wireless industry take it to heart.
“Carriers still spend a tremendous amount of capex on indoor and outdoor DAS [distributed antenna systems],” said Arnold Kim, ADRF’s COO. Kim’s comments on the topic carry some weight: He has been ADRF’s COO for a decade, and the company traces its corporate origins back twice that far.
During that entire time, ADRF has focused squarely on the business of building wireless networks inside buildings, which often rely on DAS equipment as well as repeaters and other types of radio equipment. According to Kim, there have been plenty of changes in the industry during ADRF’s two decades – but the importance of accessing indoor Internet connections has only grown.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes over the past 20 years is the mix of ADRF’s customers. Kim said that, when the company started, big network operators like Verizon were the only ones paying to install DAS systems inside big buildings like hotels and sports stadiums. “It was a simpler time,” Kim reminisced.
But it’s different now. “There was a recognition that in-building [wireless networks] was an incredibly important space for enterprises to invest in,” Kim explained. He said big wireless network operators like AT&T still pay for DAS systems inside some big buildings, but a major source of ADRF’s current revenue mix now comes from building owners themselves. After all, smartphones are today so ubiquitous that the absence of a cellular connection indoors is concerning to most people, whether they are sports fans inside a stadium or white collar workers inside a corporate campus.
“The enterprise sector is incredibly robust,” Kim said, explaining that today there are roughly 6-8 million commercial buildings in the US, and only a small percentage operate indoor DAS networks.
Another change in the sector that Kim pointed out: indoor wireless systems aren’t necessarily cost prohibitive. “This is something that we battle every single day of the week and twice on Sunday,” Kim said, arguing that ADRF’s new DAS offerings are affordable for most big enterprises, particularly given the importance of having indoor cellular connections. “It’s much, much more cost effective.”
But those aren’t the only factors driving ADRF’s business. Kim said a major new source of attention within the company is private wireless networks – networks that are owned and operated by a utility, enterprise or other customer. Indeed, ADRF recently announced it would support Anterix – a major emerging player in the private wireless networking industry – with its equipment.
“Private LTE is a great driver,” Kim said.
However, the same cannot be said for open RAN, according to Kim. “I think it’s still quite a ways off until reaching maturity,” he said of the technology, which promises to allow operators to mix and match products from a variety of vendors thanks to standardized hardware interfaces. “It’s exciting. It’s the future. But it’s very early.”
Kim said ADRF is investing in the open RAN space but doesn’t expect to support the technology any time soon.
Finally, Kim said that 5G is growing into a major talking point for ADRF. “5G is incredibly relevant to us,” he said. After all, a large portion of ADRF’s existing customer base uses 4G networks that eventually will need to be upgraded to 5G. “It’s something that’s very necessary.”
“It’s going to take ten years,” Kim said of the 5G upgrade process for indoor networks. “It’s still very new.”
— Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano