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Phone, Wallet, Keys.

I must check my pockets for these three items at least ten times a day. We bring them everywhere we go and constantly fear losing any single one. Twenty years ago, things were a bit simpler and you probably only worried about your wallet and keys, but over the past couple decades, the cell phone is becoming an increasingly more critical device that you don’t want to be caught without. We use our phones for seemingly everything we do. From communicating in our homes, to searching the internet about poisonous creatures while out in the woods – we use our phones every day and everywhere. In fact, our phones are so important to us that you may have even caught yourself saying, “I’ll never come back here. I have no service. I couldn’t even load that cute cuddly puppy video that my mom just sent me!” (or was that just me? That video was totally worth the wait. Thanks Mom!)

Stadiums, shopping malls, hotels, and other venues have begun to take notice over the past few years. “Keep the customer happy” is a typical slogan adopted by business owners across the world. With the growing dependencies on our phones, these business owners feel the pressure of providing high connectivity within their establishments to keep the customer happy. As a result, the telecommunications market for “DAS” networks and in-building wireless service has seen major growth in the past few years, especially in stadiums, small retail, and hotels. But who bears the financial burden of installing the network – the carrier or the property owner? It often depends on the size of the venue and how long the owner is willing to wait.

What is DAS? “DAS” stands for “distributed antenna system” which consist of a network of spaced out node antennas that all link back to an equipment area with base stations producing cell signals. There are outdoor DAS systems (oDAS) and indoor DAS systems (iDAS), but let’s focus a bit more on the indoor application. The need for iDAS systems is simple. Your average cell tower was designed with antennas that do not easily penetrate the heavy duty materials that compose most buildings. While you may get some cell coverage at your local mall office building, I’m willing to bet it is less than ideal coverage without the presence of an iDAS network. In these networks, the coverage area of each small node antenna is much smaller than the coverage area of a typical cell tower antenna, so they require much less power and work more efficiently.

Who Pays for DAS? Everything sounds delightful until you run through some economic factors. Both carriers and property owners could benefit from the installation of a new in-building wireless system, but they are far from cheap to construct. So how do you decide who pays for the system? And how do you determine the priority of one building’s future DAS needs over another?

The answer is actually pretty intuitive. In many large sites such as stadiums and arenas, cell carriers have been forking over the money necessary to fund the systems. They want their customers to feel like they have coverage wherever they go, so they will first focus on venues with very high user density. Sites with a mass amount of customers will take priority, and the cell carrier’s budgets are focused more in this direction.

As you look more towards smaller complexes such as shopping malls and hotels, the funding can be more of a waiting game. The property owners would certainly love to have amplified coverage throughout their buildings to enhance customer experience, but it’s not always worth the cost of installing a new system. They may want to wait it out a bit in hopes that cell carriers approach them with a plan to expand their network. In some cases, they may be successful, but the smaller the building, the longer they will end up waiting. If you think on an even smaller scale, maybe a small office building, the waiting game could take much longer.

The recurring driving factor we keep coming back to is that connectivity to a mobile network is becoming more of an expectation than a novelty. As consumers begin to realize that they cannot easily access their mobile network at “location A” as well as they can at “location B,” they are going to start reconsidering where they choose to shop, rent office space, or live. In the end, I expect this conundrum to start pushing small venue owners to fund their own in-building wireless systems. If they don’t build them, people may simply stop showing up.

About James Marooney, PE

James Marooney, PE, is a Regional Leader for Wireless Services in Washington D.C. at Foresite Group. He graduated from University of Maryland with his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a minor in Project Management. James enjoys working with a communicative team in order to get the job done on time. He has a special interest in working with a variety of carriers, especially learning how each carrier implements their systems and methods to complete a job.


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