Distributed antennae systems (DAS) are enabling a growing number of businesses to enhance mobile signal coverage without engaging their operator, saving both time and money in the process. Scott Baker, head of customer delivery at NG Bailey’s IT Services division, explores what this means for the future of wireless in the enterprise.

Over the past decade enterprise businesses, together with those that manage large multi-tenancy buildings, have struggled to deliver reliable macro network coverage throughout their premises. Why? For the most part, it has been due to a simple matter of economics. In many cases, the firm’s mobile network operator (MNO) hasn’t been able to justify the cost of installing a signal boosting solution to serve a relatively small number of users (relative to base stations, for example, which provide coverage for everyone in a much broader vicinity). On other occasions, the business in question has been resistant to the MNO’s contractual lock-in that will trigger the go-ahead for the install to take place. This deadlock has resulted in the widespread adoption of alternative short-range wireless solutions, like Wi-Fi, despite the much-vaunted security and reliability issues they present.

Wireless appetites

Like everything technology-related, times are changing. Businesses are ever more reliant on wireless data, to support hot-desking, BYOD, tablet adoption, access to cloud applications and, increasingly, Internet of Things implementations. Smart building infrastructures are using wireless to aggregate data from all manner of departments, systems and devices in order to generate actionable insights on a building’s operational efficiency. Data production is rising incrementally faster than IT spend. All of which means that the pressure is on to squeeze every last drop of performance from their existing systems. In other words, ‘make do and mend’ trumps ‘rip and replace’ almost every time.

Against this backdrop, the macro wireless network has serious potential to add value. LTE networks, when available, are both fast and reliable making them great for both day-to-day communications and for backup and business continuity measures. Mobile network authentication, thanks to the trusty SIM, is incredibly secure, and the ubiquitous coverage of an operator’s mobile network means that the end-user’s connectivity experience need not be interrupted by endless Wi-Fi login challenges when moving from one location to another.

The DAS opportunity

All of which brings us back to the thorny issue of in-building coverage. The good news for the enterprise is that new technologies, in the form of signal boosting distributed antennae systems (DAS), are enabling the enterprise to change the game. These operator-agnostic systems, when placed throughout a major building or premises, deliver serious signal boosting capabilities minus the MNO lock-in. This means that all of the major mobile networks suddenly become viable options, putting the enterprise in a commanding position to negotiate across the market when renewing their corporate contract. This, in itself, can deliver significant savings. What’s more, when installed and maintained as part of a managed services contract from a specialist provider like NG Bailey, the capex needed to get the system up and running is reduced and the subsequent integration work is taken care of, together with the operational upkeep of the system.
This isn’t to say that operators are being ‘DAS booted’ entirely, however. On the contrary; there are big opportunities here for them too. The DAS enabled model increases a corporate’s use of their network and connectivity services considerably, especially when you factor in that an LTE signal usually delivers a faster service than that of conventional Wi-Fi, from which the operator is excluded completely.
Ignoring for a moment that 90% of mobile calls are initiated indoors, this is actually a chance for operators to deepen their relationships with corporate customers. More LTE coverage, in particular, means more streaming and more consumption of mobile data, which should enable the operators to sell more comprehensive suites of data services in addition to regular voice contracts. This should come as welcome news particularly when viewed alongside falling device revenues from corporates resulting from the BYOD revolution.

DAS the spirit

So rather than thinking in terms of operator disintermediation, the DAS opportunity is better thought of in terms of a rising tide that floats all boats. Until wireless capacity finally overtakes transmission demands, enterprise customers will always want more connectivity than they can get. They will certainly want more than they’re prepared to pay for. But with industry-enabling technologies like DAS levelling the playing field and providing opportunities for integrators, enterprises and operators, the future’s bright (sic). Most importantly, though, these technologies are delivering an altogether better experience for end-users – something that is easy to lose sight of in the perpetual quest for greater cost efficiency.