My family will back me up on this: If I tell you that, until very recently, I’d never seen a TV commercial for distributed antenna systems (DAS) before, it’s not because I don’t watch much TV.
No, AT&T began airing ads touting its DAS and small-cell deployments this year, as a competitive claim to a higher-quality network. But the tectonic shift that would usher in DAS ads on TV, or (possibly) the term DAS permeating the mainstream lexicon, goes far beyond AT&T. DAS has definitely become a lot more visible in the past year or two. With greater attention these days to densifying networks and penetrating indoor commercial spaces, it would be odd for DAS not to enjoy at least some of the hype being showered upon small cells.
That point only becomes clearer as some equipment vendors have blurred the lines between DAS and small-cell solutions. Huawei’s LampSite, Ericsson’s Radio Dot System and Nokia’s indoor Flexi Zone all bear resemblance to DAS, with their distributed architectures for permeating building interiors. Vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent have also proposed hybrid solutions including DAS and small cells together. Even when the picture starts to sharpen for a moment, it soon gets blurry again: For example, one day, Ericsson and Huawei both agree that DAS will continue to be the best choice for the largest buildings, with their distributed small-cell solutions occupying the middle market (say, four- to 20-floor buildings). The next day, Huawei positions its LampSite for any size building.
Since DAS and small cells will increasingly intersect going forward (most immediately in that middle market that represents the low end of the DAS business today), vendors know that DAS needs to evolve. That evolution is just getting started, and you don’t have to watch American TV to see it happening:
- Multiple new DAS innovations made waves at this year’s Mobile World Congress, including CommScope’s ION-E and Alcatel-Lucent’s jointly developed solution with TE Connectivity.
- The DAS Congress became the DAS & Small Cells Congress last year (in fact, the annual conference is being held in Las Vegas this month, the week after the Small Cells World Summit in London; these events will likely compete more directly with one another than small-cell and DAS networking solutions will).
- The DAS Forum, a U.S. industry trade association, has become the HetNet Forum.
- DAS vendors including SOLiD and TE Connectivity have joined the Small Cell Forum, though the Forum’s definition of “small cell” doesn’t seem to include DAS. I suspect the group will consider broadening its definition at some point.
Hopefully DAS players won’t get big-headed from their new place in the limelight. (Notice how snooty the DAS expert is in that AT&T ad?) I was in the CommScope booth at MWC when the vendor unveiled the ION-E. There were ladies in white togas playing violins — really. It felt like something from the high-flying late 1990s. So, yes, although it might sound strange to put the words “DAS” and “hype” together, we may soon get used to it.