While small cells are frequently touted as an enterprise solution, due to their ability to deliver dedicated capacity, they are not ideal because they are a single operator and, at most, two frequency solution. As such, small cells are not an ideal fit for enterprises endorsing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Conversely, small cell architecture, such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) – which involves remote antennas that direct mobile signal around the enterprise to wherever it is needed – provide proven efficiencies and economic benefits for multi-operator, multi-frequency applications; all that is needed is a radio frequency (RF) source to ‘feed’ the DAS.
Combining small cells and DAS
The problem is that traditional solutions for the provision of the RF source that ‘feeds’ the DAS either don’t provide dedicated capacity, or are prohibitively expensive and take up a lot of real estate. These two seemingly rival technologies – small cells and DAS – are not truly competing and should, in fact, be viewed as complementary solutions. Together, they can overcome the limitations or challenges of using small cells or DAS alone, while providing strong and consistent mobile service in the enterprise. This is done by using small cells to provide the RF signal and use the DAS to distribute that signal throughout the building. In those instances, where a building requires more capacity than can be provided by a single small cell, or when more than one or two frequencies must be supported, multiple small cells can be centrally located and easily fed into the DAShead-end.
Here’s how this combination solves the problems of using small cells or DAS alone:
- Small cells cost significantly less than base stations
- Using small cells saves on space, power and cooling
- DAS overcomes small cell frequency limitations
- Interference concerns are mitigated in the office building
- There’s no need to add small cells for higher capacity requirements in high-density areas
- It’s much less expensive to deploy a DAS for coverage and capacity in a large building
- Backhaul costs are lower
DAS is popular in the marketplace, not least because it’s the most efficient and economical way to provide multi-frequency in-building wireless coverage in larger buildings and venues. Small cells are a preferred solution for residences or smaller buildings, but given their current limitations, they will struggle to replace DAS in larger enterprises. Therefore, combining small cells and DAS together can reduce the cost of deployment in the future, especially in terms of equipment, cabling and real estate. As such, companies can cost-effectively embrace trends such as BYOD that will become critical in the run up to next generation services, such as 5G.
Slavko Djukic, is the CTO at Zinwave.