In a previous article, we detailed how 5G networks will increase the number of antennas in and around our cities, towns and common areas. Building out the infrastructure to support 5G will present challenges for both mobile network operators and the municipalities they serve. For this article, we will focus on how Distributed Antenna Systems (or DAS), both indoors and outdoors, can address these challenges and play a major role in the 5G rollout.
One network, all operators
As mobile network operators deploy their 5G network, the number of antennas required will create aesthetic concerns and increase the disruptions caused by site construction. This is where DAS can help.
DAS has been the de facto standard for deploying multiple mobile network operators in a common location for 15+ years. DAS allows a common network infrastructure and antennas to be shared among all operators, meaning one antenna in a DAS provides signals for all operators.
The benefits of this concept and the implications for 5G are easy to recognize. Without using DAS, if Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint want to deploy their own networks, each operator would need to install their own cables, hardware and antennas. The amount of equipment and the disruption this causes is multiplied by four. Most people never notice a single DAS antenna but if four or more were clustered near each other, it would difficult not to notice.
Because DAS can handle multiple operators on a single system, it also cuts down on the amount of infrastructure that needs to be planned, project managed, installed and maintained. The benefits of installing one system versus multiple systems minimizes the amount of disruption to people and existing infrastructure in a given area.
Not in my backyard
The irony of good wireless coverage is that the public will grumble about poor coverage but at the same time complain when cell sites are built in their neighborhoods. With 5G networks aiming to increase the number of antennas and the FCC pushing to make it easier to deploy mobile networks, mobile network operators and municipalities are going to have a real challenge on their hands.
With the 5G rollout, each mobile network operator will be submitting requests to install fiber optic cable, electrical power plants, antennas, cabinets and other street furniture. The number of antennas alone could increase by 10 - 50x. If cell sites are a concern, imagine the impact of seeing communication equipment covering most utility and light poles.
Municipalities will be dealing with a barrage of requests from mobile network operators. But by adopting outdoor DAS (oDAS), municipalities can take control of the network density required for 5G networks. Not only can oDAS provide a common antenna for all operators, it can be deployed once and the antennas can be hidden or shrouded to comply with the local aesthetic requirements.
Instead of each operator deploying parallel networks, oDAS means a single network can be deployed and managed. Operators would not be required to deploy their equipment at all oDAS locations. They would simply need to deploy their network components at a common head end location. The oDAS handles distribution of these signals to each node in the network.
The higher the frequency, the greater the loss
New spectrum will be auctioned for 5G networks in the 24 - 100 GHz range. Simple math and the law of physics show that the higher the frequency, the greater the loss. In practical terms, this means 5G signals will not travel as far and will not penetrate buildings as well compared to today’s 4G networks deployed at lower frequencies. Therefore, indoor DAS (iDAS) networks will be required for 5G networks to operate indoors.
Similar to the outdoor environment, iDAS is an appropriate solution to solve the 5G challenge as it allows all operators to operate on a single system. iDAS is already extensively used indoors to augment the outdoor network. As 5G networks begin using these new frequencies and as mobile operators increase their network capacity, the importance of iDAS will likewise continue to increase.
Controlling your own destiny
The biggest value of DAS, whether used indoors or out, is the ability to control your own destiny. Your city, your town, your real estate asset are valuable and you want to keep it that way. Making sure mobile devices have connectivity in any environment is important these days. Equally, keeping our surroundings free of clutter and construction disruption is just as important. Sure, you’ll have to begin managing these networks or engage a 3rd party operator, but controlling a potential “free-for-all” certainly has sustainable value.