Distributed Antenna Systems Meet Skyrocketing Mobile Data Demand

By  Gil Shacham — September 19, 2011

Mobile data is growing exponentially for both consumers and business professionals. In 2010, mobile devices generated three times more data traffic than the entire Internet in the year 2000, and Cisco Systems in 2010 predicted that global mobile data traffic will more than double every year, from now until 2014. 
 
So what’s driving this growth? Not surprisingly the rise of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and a host of other mobile devices is enabling individuals to access information from anywhere and at anytime. Increasingly businesses and government agencies are mobilizing their workforces; people no longer are chained to their desktops whether working from their home office, the local coffee shop, or roaming within the corporate campus environment.
 
Furthermore, the change in the type of data that’s being consumed is driving this growth. A shift from traditional voice data to streaming video, work document collaboration, mobile business applications, and telepresence meetings has been driving change in the work environment. 
 
Think about this: smartphones can generate as much as 30 times more data than a standard feature phone.  As devices become more adept at handling larger data loads such as multimedia applications, networks must become stronger and adapt as well. The adoption of video for business—and sometimes entertainment—in the corporate environment is compounding this issue.
 
The challenge for businesses and mobile operators
The explosion of mobile devices and data traffic is leaving employers, building owners, and cellular carriers in a data capacity crunch.  Distributed antenna systems (DAS) are a proven enterprise-ready solution that can help providers manage growth in mobile data and multimedia consumption, allowing them to push bandwidth closer to their end users to boost mobile connectivity and performance.
 
Another obstacle to quality mobile connectivity is that buildings, by design, are built to insulate from the outdoors. The reflective quality of window coatings also happens to block or attenuate cellular signals, and the result is limited mobile device performance inside buildings and hence a poor user experience.
 
As wireless networks become more data oriented, providers increasingly need to off-load this traffic onto the wired LAN, especially within corporate environments where businesses do not want overall worker productivity and performance to suffer. The emergence of fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless provides an even richer mobile experience, but has even greater connectivity demands, which only exacerbate the connectivity issue.
 
Unfortunately many commercial buildings lack an adequate in-building wireless infrastructure to support the new levels of broadband connectivity and speed that today’s mobile workers demand.
 
While Wi-Fi, femtocells, and DAS all play a role in addressing the connectivity issue, they are not all created equal.
 
Wi-Fi is good for addressing specific problem areas or providing hot spots, such as home and small office deployments, but it is not well designed to meet the needs of larger building-wide environments.
 
Femtocells can only have a single operator—such as Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon—support the service. In addition, a femtocell can only support one type of service, such as 3G or 4G—but not both. These limitations pose a problem for users and building owners who typically rely on more than one carrier. Femtocells can complicate larger enterprise environments and they don’t scale as easily because more “boxes” must be acquired to support different mobile operators and service “flavors.”
 
DAS as the solution
DAS solutions enable mobile operators to provide more capacity and deliver optimal service levels in the busiest and most demanding surroundings such as enterprise environments.
 
In today’s dynamic mobile environments, enterprises and mobile operators should see a DAS solution as offering a “flat architecture” approach. This DAS system is comprised of hub equipment that supports a multitude of remote units, all on a single hierarchy. This flat approach to architecture provides a range of advantages from technical and financial perspectives.
 
When looking for a DAS solution, IT decision-makers must consider scalability, capacity expansion, end-to-end management, ability to overlay with existing infrastructure, support DAS upgrade to 4G, and cost effectiveness.
 
Scalability allows an organization’s system to easily grow with the addition of remote units without having to duplicate infrastructure or equipment—and without having to invest in additional CAPEX. 
 
To ensure data rates and capacity, it is critical to support Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) on a single cable. MIMO, one of several forms of smart antenna technology, is the use of multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to improve communication performance.  Note that the terms input and output refer to the radio channel carrying the signal, not to the devices having antennas.
 
The MIMO channels are multiplexed into a single cable and propagated through the system. The MIMO remote unit then retransmits the channels to the air. The use of a single cable infrastructure saves on equipment and installation costs.
 
The DAS system also must support capacity expansion as demand grows. The DAS network is easily segmented using software configuration, without having to tamper with the remote units or infrastructure.
 
Because remote antennas are located throughout the property, radiating RF directly to the antenna, it is critical that the system have end-to-end management capabilities. Each unit is remote controlled and managed and provides the mobile operator with reliable, live information regarding the system’s status ensuring a quality service for customers.  
 
In addition, the new DAS system should work easily with existing infrastructure. Some DAS systems can also be overlaid on an existing cable television infrastructure, and operates seamlessly in parallel to television transmissions. Cabled properties such as hotels, hospitals and office buildings can be covered in a very short time with minimal investment and effort.
 
With the emergence of 4G LTE, IT decision makers must plan ahead so that legacy passive DAS systems can be upgraded to LTE MIMO by installing the equipment on top of existing DAS cabling. The previous DAS investment is therefore protected and suitable for future requirements.
 
Finally, the investment in a system based on a flat architecture DAS ensures that the antenna system is implemented with reduced complexity, lower equipment and installation costs as well as easy operation and maintenance for overall cost effectiveness.
 
Demand for DAS looks strong
The DAS and in-building wireless markets are projected to grow significantly, as mobile data traffic continues to grow. A recent report by ABI Research that focuses on in-building wireless systems (IBW) – including DAS, repeaters, picocells, and femtocells – indicates that the total global market for these systems will be close to $10 billion in 2012.
 
The report also found that that corporate campuses, airports and railway stations, healthcare facilities, and retail shopping centers are leading the adoption of IBW solutions.
 
In today’s mobile environment users expect the performance of a high-speed, wired connection, and the adoption of multimedia and mobile devices will continue to drive demand for IBW solutions like DAS.
 
Gil Shacham is senior director of DAS marketing and business development for Alvarion Ltd., a provider of wireless broadband access technology.

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