The quality and capacity demands on enterprise wireless networks at the mobile edge have never been more critical, particularly as 4G rolls out and 5G is on the near horizon.
For years, enterprises with large buildings, industrial sites, and campus environments have relied on carrier-supplied Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to close the coverage gap.
But now, a major market shift is underway. Faced with the increasingly high expense of deploying wireless infrastructure for enterprise clients, carriers are steadily backing away and expecting enterprises to take greater responsibility for funding their own DAS networks at the wireless edge.
One DAS integrator at the forefront of this trend to so-called “Bring-Your-Own” enterprise DAS solutions is New Jersey-based Intenna Systems. Now joining us to discuss the issue in-depth is Intenna’s Director of Enterprise & Carrier Solutions, Jeff Reale.
Dan Baker, Editor, Top Operator: Jeff, to begin it would great to understand a bit about Intenna Systems’ background and where you’re positioned in the DAS market.
Jeff Reale: Sure, Dan. Intenna Systems has been a DAS integrator since the late ‘90s. Back then, we enabled carriers to extend their in-building wireless service in places where network coverage was poor. But now, with evolution into 4G and 5G, it’s far more important to densify and create a high capacity environment as opposed to merely bridging the coverage gap.
We’re very specialized here: all we do at Intenna is design, deploy, manage and maintain DAS for the wireless service providers, and in recent years we’ve started doing lots of integration work directly for enterprise customers.
So the market shift you talked about, Dan, is very real. Enterprises are starting to realize they must fund their own infrastructure if they want to achieve the high quality, high density solutions their user bases are demanding.
Bridging the carrier and enterprise wireless worlds. Sounds like that requires a bit of technical agility.
It absolutely does. The market is very fluid especially since carriers change the way they manage their spectrum assets and deploy their technology from year to year. The change occurs when there’s a generational shift from 2G to 3G to 4G and 5G. Each of the carriers has access to a finite amount of spectrum assets, so they often need to repurpose that spectrum from one technology to another.
This is not a simple process: you need to manage your DAS components and independent signal sources to match the rollout of carrier changes on the spectrum side.
And as you push to deliver a solution to the enterprise at a palatable price point, that is sometimes at odds with what the carriers require, all of which points to why partnering with an experienced integrator is key.
I recently interviewed Wilson Pro who provides passive DAS bidirectional boosters to the market. Do you integrate that kind of solution?
Dan, quality concerns generally discourage the use of bidirectional amplifiers in campus and large scale facilities. It’s crucial to optimize the radio link to create a strong communication between the mobile device and carrier network.
For example, one carrier may have its tower located to the west, while another’s tower is to the east.
So you just can’t deliver good quality with a wideband solution. And more often than not these days, the carriers don’t like deploying bidirectional amplifiers anyway. They would rather go with a base transceiver station (BTS), or other piece of electronics that directly connects with their core network.
That way they can inject direct capacity inside the enterprise or campus and not have to share that capacity with the surrounding geographic area.
Yes, we occasionally deploy bidirectional amplifiers in some suburban or rural environments, but in a dense environment, we would never deploy bidirectional amplifiers. It’s always the carrier BTS signal source in those cases.
How has the DAS business evolved in the past several years?
Twelve years ago, DAS was a small technical niche with only a few active vendors. Then, between 2010 and 2014 the market rapidly expanded when AT&T and Verizon turned it into a kind of arms race.
But today, we’re seeing the DAS market contract a bit as carrier funding steadily disappears. So it’s now time for enterprises to step in and drive the next generation of growth.
Today’s business is especially tough on the carrier side because that’s where lowest cost has generally become the deciding factor — and that wasn’t always the case. Fortunately now, as we sell direct to enterprises, the value proposition is mostly about managing, maintaining and deploying the best solution possible for the enterprise’s specific environment.
What are the different types of enterprise customers expecting for a DAS solution?
Dan, the kind of facility usually dictates the kind of solution that gets deployed.
For instance, if it’s an office building, small warehouse facility, or small manufacturing plant, that’s typically where a carrier comes in, gets 3 to 5 bids from DAS integrators, and selects the one with the lowest cost.
Airports are a tough market because they really don’t feel like they need to spend anything and the carriers come with individual solutions that may or not provide holistic coverage of the whole facility.
Where I spend a lot of my time is with major medical centers and large enterprise office towers — enterprises where they want to manage their own infrastructure and are willing to fund the deployment. Then we work with the carriers to bring high caliber signal sources to the table.
The best opportunity for Intenna is to manage an enterprise’s solution over a longer period of time, say 10 to 12 years, where we maintain and upgrade them periodically. These days, relying on the carriers to do the upgrades is problematic because you’re dependent on the carriers’ spending priorities.
When an enterprise funds the solution, they’re in control of the upgrade process and that’s a better fit.
Just down the street from me is the University of Georgia campus with 35,000 students. It would be interesting to know how much of their traffic is moving via cellular versus wireline and WiFi.
I suspect there’s been a pretty significant shift in recent years. Most universities are cutting the chord on landline services these days because students these days carry their mobiles with them.
Voice over Wi-Fi is certainly available and some mobile operators like to pushing their traffic there, but at the end of the day there’s just not enough spectrum in the WiFi bands to accommodate the crush of capacity needed at big state and private universities.
Certainly Voice over WiFi works well in special cases, but cellular networks carry a lot more voice traffic and tend to push a lot more data traffic, especially between buildings. The other issue with WiFi networks is you have to manually log in, not to mention significant quality of service and security issues.
Does a carrier come in and try to “own” the full solution at a university or large campus?
It depends on the corporate relationship that exists between a specific enterprise and the carriers. Often these days it’s more common for enterprises to have a Bring-Your-Own philosophy.
In any big campus deal, I’d say 9 times out of 10 a multi-carrier, multi-technology solution will be far more powerful and attractive than what any single carrier can deliver for a campus environment.
What’s your value proposition at Intenna? How do you differentiate yourselves in the market?
Well, I think it’s a combination of our experience — 20 years in the DAS industry — and the engineering expertise we bring to the table.
Our construction management team is experienced at managing large scale projects plus we have a strong design capability that’s certified at the highest level in that realm.
We enjoy ongoing DAS maintenance agreements with many of our customers that have us proactively monitor, maintain, fix, repair, and upgrade their systems every year to keep them running at full capacity.
Jeff, thank you for this informative briefing. What’s your future outlook on the DAS solutions market?
Dan, I’m very optimistic. I think that DAS solutions will enable a foundation for technology in the 5G world, especially at large facilities. Looking forward, the decade from 2020 to 2030 is going to be an exciting time for wireless and DAS deployments.
But to make that vision happen, enterprises need to step up and take responsibility for their campus and large building solutions. As I’ve said before, the carriers are no longer willing to invest their own dime on deploying high quality DAS solutions for enterprises. Their investment priorities lie elsewhere.
Bring-Your-Own DAS enterprise solutions are clearly the future. The DAS will join other enterprise-owned and maintained infrastructure such as the internal wireline network, internal WiFi, and security systems.
So I think the best bet is to hire integrators like Intenna Systems to design, deploy, and optimize their systems — and maintain that crucial and constantly-evolving connection to the wireless service provider networks.