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Smarts to Parts: Entering the DAS Business
By Scott Gregory
In-building communications has hit its stride, from “four bar lifestyles" to new public safety requirements to BYOD, and the demands on networks keep rising as a result. Distributed antenna systems (DASs) create an access network within a structure that enhances cellular and Wi-Fi signals and as such have become an essential component of today’s in-building communications, increasing service availability for users and providing valuable capacity offloading for carriers. DAS is opening new opportunities for traditional networking VARS and integrators, and is creating an entirely new segment for newcomers. With strong growth and tangible skill set requirements, DAS is very attractive; however, even seasoned players will find the leap into DAS a challenge.
To most, DAS business will feel like your traditional communications projects and to some degree it is. But don’t be fooled — there are some significant differences. So what does it take to get onboard? What do you need to know to deliver a turnkey DAS? There are three key areas to focus on:
1. Environment: “It takes lots of wire to make DAS work!"
Sounds funny but nothing is truer. It takes copper and/or fiber connections from antennas to radios and from radios to the repeater to make it all work. DAS, however, is not as easy as just pulling cable. The challenge for most comes when dealing with the RF requirements presented by each deployment. Site surveys are critical. You need to map cellular signal levels, assess interference levels and sources, identify dead zones, locate equipment closets and the headend. Building density is also a significant obstacle when designing a DAS network. The more walls, floors and square footage you have, the more access points/antennas that will be required. A comprehensive understanding of the client’s requirements is a must.
You will also need accurate building architectural drawings that indicate materials used in construction. These are a must when establishing your radio frequency (RF) requirements, as well as fire ratings for all walls, floor and ceilings to accurately address cable and management materials, and fireproofing core sleeves.
New construction projects may also require public safety access to the network as first responders move from the old wired solutions to in-building wireless solutions. IFC 510 — the section of the International Fire Code that pertains to emergency radio coverage for first responders — sets the bar high. You will need to check your local jurisdictions for their requirements and work with your client, building owner and local government throughout the project. This will no doubt include a final inspection to obtain a certificate of occupancy for new construction.
2. Carrier Coordination: Spectrum, Approvals, Schedules
DAS deployments include carriers. In larger projects, you may find that the carrier is the prime running the project. These are typically larger venue rollouts like campuses, arenas and stadiums. In smaller public venues and larger enterprise settings, you may be the prime and your coordination with the carrier(s) will be required throughout the project, from developing requirements and system design to installation and commissioning.
It is not uncommon for a DAS deployment to support more than one carrier. Since each carrier utilizes unique spectrum, each carrier engagement will need to be coordinated. This includes registering the network and executing retransmission agreements with the carrier, obtaining the necessary equipment and design approvals, scheduling installation of carrier equipment, establishing headend or BTS configurations, and coordinating radio commissioning and system turn up.
During the design phase, you will need to work closely with the carriers. Based on requirements, your system design will include the point-to-point donor antenna to carrier tower design or coordinating an onsite BTS installation with a wired backhaul. When you’re commissioning your DAS network, you are essentially connecting the DAS to the carrier’s network. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand the importance of working very closely with the carrier.
3. Competitive Business: Comprehensive Design, Documentation and Proposals
DAS deployments can be complex. They support multiple solutions, including in-building cellular enhancement, public safety RF, Wi-Fi and WiMax. To be competitive, you need to create detailed designs, supporting documentation and comprehensive bids. This includes site surveys with heat maps, designs that reference building construction, and installation standards and techniques.
There are powerful tools at your disposal, such as the industry-standard iBwave that predicts coverage for all types of wireless technologies. You will need detailed drawings to fully utilize design software solutions, as they will be the deciding factor for antenna placement, cabling paths, and equipment room locations.
Equally important is an accurate bill of materials (BOM). This BOM will be the basis of your scope of work and your costing models for your proposal. Ultimately, the competitive difference boils down to accuracy and completeness. Key documents in your proposal will include design drawings, installation details with standards, RF signal heat maps, link budgets, interference analysis and equipment submittals for approved and proposed components.
With the deployment complete, you should be prepared to deliver complete post-installation testing results including cable home runs and RF propagation. These reports will be an important part of an ongoing maintenance program establishing baseline RF environment measurements to compare with future RF interferes and ever-changing scenarios.
Bottom line? To be competitive, you need to be complete.
Partnering with a full-service supply chain provider with DAS experience can help ensure your success.
Scott Gregory is the Strategic Marketing Manager for TESSCO Technologies, a premier wireless solutions provider and supply chain partner. He has more than 15 years of telecom experience supporting VAR and carrier ecosystems and technologies from legacy infrastructures to today’s wireless networks including 4G/LTE, Wi-Fi, and Passive and Active DAS deployments.