Deconstructing the Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) Network and Small Cell Technologies

In the world of convention centers, providing wireless networks and cellular coverage to a large audience is no easy task. Hundreds of people gather in one place expecting to be able to make phone calls, access the web, and check email, all from their mobile devices. But in buildings where signals are often blocked by modern construction, this can be a tall order. Pair that with a network that is unprepared to handle thousands of simultaneous user connections and you have a recipe for disaster.

That’s where the Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) Network comes in – to avert disaster and keep users connected. A DAS network boosts mobile broadband in large areas or places where objects such as steel columns or concrete can interfere with wireless signals. It connects to multiple wireless services and rebroadcasts those signals throughout the areas where it is installed. Essentially, a DAS is a collection of small antennas spread out over specific areas that are connected back to a central location thereby improving cellular connectivity throughout the facility.

What are the components of a DAS?
A DAS is made up of three parts:

  1. Remote communications nodes
  2. A high capacity signal transport medium, which helps connect each node back to the central hub (coaxial cable and fiber optic cable)
  3. Radio transceivers or head-end equipment that process the signals transmitted and received through the nodes, which in turn transport those signals to the respective cellular carrier

What is the capability of a DAS Network?
Indoor DAS Networks can support a wide variety of frequency bands and thousands of devices. Outdoor networks typically have a range of less than half a mile and can also support a wide variety of frequency bands and devices.

Why use DAS and not small cell technologies?
A DAS Network is flexible and can be used to accommodate multiple devices for two or more service providers. It is easily equipped to handle 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies. Small cell technologies, on the other hand, are implemented one at a time to either enhance a single carrier’s technology or provide coverage in smaller areas. Microcells, picocells and femtocells are examples of small cell technology.

What are the differences between a microcell, picocell and femtocell?
All three solutions are classified as small cell technologies; however, each solution is unique in its capabilities.

A microcell is an outdoor, short-range radio transceiver. Generally installed on the side of a building or utility pole, it is used to improve network capacity and coverage in a specific area. Microcells are the largest of the small cell technologies and can accommodate up to 200 users at a total range of two miles.

A picocell is a type of small cell technology used both indoors and outdoors. Often utilized by wireless service providers to fix coverage gaps in high-traffic areas such as bus terminals and railway stations, picocells can support up to 80 users.

Femtocells are the smallest of the group and are geared towards improving wireless reception inside homes or small office buildings. It uses the subscriber’s Internet service to connect to a network. Typically, a femtocell can support 2 to 6 connections in a residence and 20 or more in an office.

The installation of a DAS encompasses more than just its technical elements, however. There are multiparty negotiations to be had with building owners, cellular carriers, integrators, and DAS technology providers, and these negotiations can be a lengthy process. Yet, DAS networks are becoming the new frontier of technology to keep thousands of users connected in convention facilities. As a result, all carriers in the US have developed a DAS policy and are actively engaged in joining the many forms of DAS networks that are being built currently. Smart City Networks continues to work with its facility partners to implement DAS solutions that will improve customers’ ability to stay connected in our mobile world.

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