The Good Stuff
The Executive's Guide to a Distributed Antenna System (DAS): The What, Why and How
- 10 min read
Are you ready to get more connected? Most business leaders underestimate the importance of airports, bus terminals and transit hubs; and when emergencies strike, they use public safety DAS networks to ensure strong signals for critical communications. DAS also has a key role in sports and entertainment, delivering connectivity at stadiums, amphitheaters and arenas to improve the mobile fan experience. Healthcare is no exception — a good DAS allows doctors and hospital staff to update charts, monitor equipment and provide modern care. Now more than ever, businesses are prioritizing digital transformation and depending on reliable internet coverage with DAS solutions both for their bottom line and for customer satisfaction. If digital transformation matters to your organization, continue reading. Connectivity is essential to business in the 5G era and we’ve put together a no-nonsense, straightforward explanation on DAS that cuts to the chase for you, whether you’re a CEO, technological innovator, or simply curious.
WHAT IS A DISTRIBUTED ANTENNA SYSTEM (DAS)?
A distributed antenna system, or DAS, is a critical component of modern cellular and internet connectivity. A DAS is built out of a network of antennas that offer full wireless cellular service for spaces and buildings. This technology was born out of mobile signal issues and “dead zones” building owners and businesses face. DAS are systems made up of a progression of radio heads on antennas strategically placed around a specific location that needs more cellular coverage. Each radio head in the DAS system is then routed to a hub by fiber-optic cables. Cellular base stations receive and boost the cell signal.
HOW DAS WORKS
DAS are distributed strategically around a specific location, be it an airport, office building or a sports stadium. There are indoor and outdoor installations of antennas. Outdoor antennas are generally placed on the roof of a building or close to a window. This allows them to bring the signal into the building. For interior transmission, antennas are usually installed on the ceiling or walls. This allows them to transmit a strong signal to mobile devices. Leading DAS providers work with architects to ensure equipment doesn’t interfere with a building’s aesthetic and overall design. DAS distributes a cellular signal from Tier One carriers that include AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. The signals are usually fed via off-air, an onsite Base Transceiver Station or small cells. Once they’ve received the signal, it must be distributed throughout its target location. Active, using an ethernet or fiber optics cable, passive, hybrid and digital are the main ways of distributing signals.
WHY DAS MATTERS
Without DAS, many businesses struggle with low-quality wireless and cellular coverage. When it comes to buildings, many use modern materials and technologies that can block cellular signals, making it challenging to have quality, consistent coverage. With how dependent people are on good internet signals, low-quality coverage can directly impact a business’ bottom line. Take venues like concert amphitheaters as an example. A huge part of the modern entertainment experience is connected to people being online via their smartphones. A venue with poor wireless coverage would garner negative reviews, from both concert-goers and performers alike. Poor coverage directly impacts their ability to draw audiences and performers for those audiences. Our culture has evolved to where people are connected via cellular signals and wireless internet. A business that does not provide a strong, consistent signal for themselves and their customers may be left behind.
INDOOR VS OUTDOOR DAS
There are two types of DAS systems, indoor and outdoor. Outdoor DAS (oDAS) is used for outside facilities like parks. Indoor DAS (iDAS) is more common than outdoor DAS and is used to support and improve coverage for indoor facilities like airports, transit centers, hospitals, office buildings, malls, stadiums, and auditoriums. Indoor DAS uses a single fiber to send multiple signals through. iDAS requires a lower RF power, which means it can use weaker cellular signals and strengthen them to improve the quality of mobile connectivity inside the building. oDAS provides outdoor spaces with smooth and uninterrupted coverage. Many wireless technologies are supported by oDAS, like Public Safety bands. Because of its great level of complexity, oDAS is harder to deploy. Using weather-proofing, Remote Radio Heads (RRHs) can be used to expand coverage.
Technology has continued to advance in DAS systems. Small cells are the latest example of these advancements. There are several variations of small cells which include femtocells, picocells, and metrocells. These are variations of the same small cell technology and they create a secure tunnel back to the carrier’s network over a normal internet connection. This allows them to generate a high-quality wireless signal.
There are three main business models for DAS networks.
- A third-party operator-funded model is an attractive option for many organizations. Under this approach, a venue contracts with a third-party provider, like Boingo, to fund, design, build, manage and maintain the DAS. Recurring revenue generated by the network is often shared between the third-party provider and the venue at an agreed upon rate. For a venue, this approach is no-cost, turnkey and can generate meaningful, long-term revenue over the duration of the partnership. Another major benefit of this strategy is that it is truly neutral host – a third-party provider will manage negotiations with the wireless carriers, maximize their participation, and advocate for the best experience for all of a venue’s end users.
- A venue-funded model is best-suited for organizations that prefer to use their own capital to fund the project. While the funding is provided by the venue, the design, build, management, maintenance and carrier negotiations are often contracted out to a third-party operator so that a venue’s internal resources are preserved. Recurring revenue generated by the network may be shared between the venue and the third-party provider at an agreed upon rate.
- A carrier-funded model offers some similar benefits to a third-party operator approach. However, a system that is funded and led by a single carrier is not considered neutral host. As a result, the network may favor certain carriers over others, leading to a lower quality connectivity experience for some end users and deprioritized coverage areas (such as back of house operations).
HOW DAS IS IMPACTING INDUSTRIES
With DAS, passengers and travelers can have good wireless coverage that they need and have come to expect. Planes, trains, and subways can now offer travelers wireless internet. This increases the attractiveness of public transport, which can mean more funding for a city. During busy times of the day when there are a lot of passengers using public transit, DAS systems allow for adequate coverage for the larger number of passengers so they can stream and browse on their mobile device with ease. The aviation industry has been greatly impacted by DAS. Airports across the world are investing more money into their DAS networks to accommodate the wireless needs of millions of travelers. Connectivity solutions like DAS also enable airports to seamlessly roll out touchless experiences amid the global pandemic. DAS can work behind the scenes to power contactless concessions, contactless ticketing and more.
2. Sports & Entertainment
Sports stadiums and entertainment venues attract crowds of people numbering in the tens of thousands, and most of them have a smartphone with them. Using a smartphone to document an entertainment event has become as integral as the event itself. The crowd at Super Bowl 54 used over 26 terabytes of data during the game. For concertgoers, consider how much data is being used by them during the show. They aren’t just texting, searching, or calling. They are filming and streaming the event live via social media. Performers rely a great deal on their fans promoting them via social media and the internet. Having solid coverage at events like these is crucial to guest satisfaction and their bottom lines.
3. Commercial Real Estate
An enterprise and corporate campus are as good as their wireless coverage. Many businesses operate almost entirely on the cloud, which means that they need reliable and fast internet coverage to conduct business. It’s not just a matter of the bottom line. Public Safety communications are also essential.
Digital transformation at hospitals and medical centers is speeding up. A record 93% of healthcare executives state they are innovating with a sense of urgency. As health systems race to make progress, challenges include aging infrastructure, privacy and cybersecurity concerns, and cost. DAS networks can help healthcare leaders overcome these obstacles. With next generation connectivity, hospitals can create intelligent buildings that realize the potential of digital health apps and devices, software deployments, automation, robotics, machine learning and more.
5. Public Sector
DAS systems allow agencies in the public sector to do what they do best; serve the people. Having adequate coverage allows governments on the local, state, and federal levels to conduct their business more efficiently and deliver a better guest experience, thereby allowing them to serve their constituents better.
USE BOINGO FOR YOUR WIRELESS SOLUTIONS
Do you want your business or venue to be more connected? We have been in the business of connecting people and things for two decades and counting and serve as the largest provider of indoor DAS networks in the U.S. If you’re ready to get more connected, let us know. We’d love to discuss creating a DAS solution that’s right for your organization.