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The mobile landscape is expanding. With the growing number of subscribers and mobile devices in use across the country, current cellular networks are experiencing a tenfold increase in the capacity requirements in dense urban areas and retail shopping centres. This increase has been driven by the heavy demands placed on local networks by Smartphones, tablets and any other device that accesses a cellular network. It is estimated that at the current rate of growth, network capacity requirements will soon reach 100 to 300 times what they were a decade ago.

As consumers, we are driving this demand for increased cellular capacity and expanded coverage through our desire for faster upload and download speeds to take advantage of the features and functions of our new devices. Over the last couple of years, cellular capacity in densely concentrated areas such as high-rise buildings and retail shopping centres began to swamp traditional donor sites (where service is fed from a rooftop antenna and distributed throughout the building). Wireless carriers have re-engineered their networks in core urban “high subscriber” areas, which has caused coverage challenges in high-rise buildings, primarily on the upper floors. Since current network configurations can no longer support our requirements in areas where there are large concentrations of subscribers, service providers are expanding their network reach by installing new and upgraded in-building Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS). Systems are being implemented in large office buildings and in larger shopping centres. The change is essentially twofold: coverage and capacity. These two elements have a close relationship to each other, and carriers now need to essentially create new micro cell sites in buildings and malls to solve the demand on their networks. LTE requires robust networks to function to the specifications it promises.

WHAT IS LTE?

LTE, or “Long Term Evolution” (also marketed as “4G”), is the next wave of cellular systems. It was introduced by the prime service providers (Bell, Rogers and Telus) as the next generation of wireless technology and as an ongoing standard that will improve and evolve over time for continued support of future requirements. LTE boasts much faster speeds for uploads and downloads, which are largely dependent on network capacity. For example, while older systems may offer download speeds of 2 Mbps (Megabits per second), LTE offers speeds up to 75 Mbps. Because of these significant increases, LTE will provide a better user experience for browsing the Internet, streaming video, uploading and download video or images, VoIP, and any other IP-based services.

LTE in-building installations use a fibre fed DAS systems that provides a more streamlined installation by utilizing a bank of head end electronic equipment and nodes which are distributed throughout a building. The nodes feed via coaxial cable to streamlined antennas that are mounted in ceiling tiles or flush to a wall. Antennas will be visible to the naked eye as they need to be free from obstruction.

Due to the nature of LTE technology, the design requirements for an LTE DAS are much more complex than the requirements of older technologies. Whereas older systems required in-building antennas to be installed every 60 metres within the building, LTE systems feature additional infrastructure and require antennas every 15 metres to provide optimum coverage, drastically increasing the overall number of antennas. These systems support LTE and are also backwards compatible for users of older CDMA, GSM, and HSPA platforms.

TELECOM SERVICE PROVIDERS

Telecom Service Providers (“TSPs” or “carriers”) recognize the importance of upgrading their technology to support LTE, and many carriers are already actively involved in building indoor systems within shopping centres and large commercial buildings across Canada to support the rollout of LTE coverage. From a monetary perspective, upgrading and installing LTE systems is expensive and labour intensive, with capital costs routinely exceeding $1 million in a large building. As there is  only long term payback associated with these upgrades, carriers are forced to largely swallow these costs. However, upgrades are essential to providing the best and most convenient services to customers, allowing for faster, newer, more innovative services (through LTE, the opportunity will exist for carriers to track client patterns and promote geo-marketing programs such as mobile couponing) and ultimately increasing customer satisfaction.

Additionally, with the new 700 MHz cellular band being rolled out in 3-5 years, the upgraded in-building networks will support future bandwidth requirements without significant reworking. With the auction for the 700 MHz band being held in 2013, carriers are already planning for the future of their services.

Due to the size and scope of in-building DAS designs for LTE networks, it is impractical for multiple TSPs to operate separate systems within the same building. The solution to this issue is called a “neutral host DAS”, wherein one carrier takes the lead on the installation and operation of the system but builds in the capability for multiple carriers (and sometimes private radio and public safety applications) to operate and provide their services on the same DAS. The lead carrier will typically negotiate a fee that the other carriers will pay to use the neutral host DAS. This allows multiple carriers to co-exist cooperatively on common infrastructure to minimize costs and the overall impact on the building.

LANDLORDS

Landlords may not immediately see the benefit of having a  neutral host DAS network in their property. On the surface, installations are complicated and disruptive for both the building and its tenants. Installations can take many weeks to complete and must be done after hours to minimize the impact on businesses and the public. However, carriers will be required to pay the landlord a standard licensing fee through the negotiation of a Telecom License Agreement (“TLA”) for the space they are using. As this new infrastructure is more complex and takes up more space, this can result in increased revenue for the building.

Additionally, landlords cannot underestimate the benefits of a  DAS systems as it relates to improved user experience and consumer (and tenant) satisfaction within the property. For example, if we look at a shopping centre an  enhanced DAS (as opposed to an internal shopping centre operated WiFi network) will offer a seamless transition of data services for users entering the building. It will also provide the best possible data speeds for the shopping centre’s businesses and clientele.

WHY RYCOM TPM?

RYCOM TPM’s combined experience with DAS installations and landlord-TSP relations gives us a unique position as trusted advisors and project consultants for upgrade projects in commercial buildings and retail shopping centres. We can facilitate the process of ensuring that a neutral host DAS is properly installed and will assist in negotiating new TLAs between carriers and landlords, helping to ease relations between the two (or more) parties and create a mutually fair and beneficial outcome. As the installations of DAS systems is large and complex, mitigating project implementation issues should be paramount to the project, and having professional assistance in this part of a project can prove invaluable.

If you have been approached regarding next generation wireless cellular services like In-building DAS systems, it is important that you are prepared and knowledgeable about the technology behind it and what these upgrades mean to your building and tenants. If you have questions, let RYCOM TPM be your trusted wireless consultant.