Wireless telecoms services are now considered a mainstream utility around the world following years of investment by operators to ensure robust ubiquitous coverage. However, despite these large-scale infrastructure deployments coverage provision indoors and for high-density venues still proves extremely challenging, and the situation is becoming worse as reliance on data services continues to increase.
Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) has long been seen as an excellent solution to the problem, but in some markets deployments have been held back by issues including cost and the changing needs of operators. The problem is particularly acute in large multi-purpose venues with extreme usage peaks and troughs.
By developing an intelligent DAS - idDAS -, Cobham Wireless has created a robust solution that allows operators and infrastructure providers to dynamically move capacity around a building or area to serve a number of needs, reducing both CAPEX and OPEX.
This White Paper outlines the problems the industry faces in the provision of high-density capacity in challenging environments and how, by using intelligent DAS, the economics and techniques of coverage provision change for the benefit of operators,venue owners – and ultimately service users.
Why read this White Paper?
Cobham Wireless has a 40 year history of providing market-leading DAS solutions to the cellular and critical communications industries and, following ongoing investment from parent company Cobham, has developed the world’s first intelligent digital DAS solution.
Its products have been used in some of the most challenging and prestigious venues around the world including: The Pentagon, The new World Trade Centre, Heathrow Airport, The Burj Khalifa, The Channel Tunnel and Nelson Mandela Square in South Africa. Cobham Wireless was also instrumental in the deployment of the world’s largest DAS project at the London 2012 Olympics, where the network provided seamless cellular coverage for spectators, athletes, officials and media across the Games venues.
Its work with facilities owners, managers and the world’s largest mobile operators puts Cobham Wireless in an unparalleled position to discuss indoor coverage needs across the world in 2015 and beyond, including how intelligent DAS solutions can revolutionise the provision of robust coverage in the most challenging environments.
Breaking down the coverage walls
Building materials old and new provide a range of issues that inhibit the propagation of indoor cellular coverage. From RF-blocking stone and marble to modern structures made of reflective materials, getting signals inside from masts outside has always been a challenge.
This was difficult enough for basic voice and SMS services, but now data usage has also become widespread, providing patchy coverage anywhere on the network is simply not accepted by end users and businesses. Poor signal quality has a direct effect on the network capacity and reduces data throughput dramatically. Seamless four-bar data coverage is therefore central to the user experience, and to high data rate throughput. However, this desired four-bar data coverage is still lacking in a large range of venues, including train stations, large office facilities, airports and stadia. Consumer demand has forced indoor coverage to the top of the priority list for telecommunications firms and facilities managers alike, and in order to enable services in these venues, increasingly sophisticated methods are required.
Rewind five years and the main challenge for carriers was how to extend coverage into venues to allow subscribers to use basic voice and messaging services. With the widespread proliferation and demand for mobile data services, this need has now evolved away from basic coverage towards the provision of adequate capacity to allow bandwidth-intensive services, ranging from email and social media, to secure enterprise apps, cloud server access and HD video calling.
This has become a pressing issue. Whenever network connection is inadequate,subscribers become frustrated and blame either their mobile network operator or the managers of the facility they are in. From the venue owner’s perspective this is likely to mean less time (and money) spent inside if this is a leisure facility or hotel, and office owners are faced with business tenants demanding solutions. The operators have to face complaints that they are not delivering the range of services that they have sold, potentially leading to unhappy customers, churn and regulatory fines.
Solutions must go further than simply enabling 3G and 4G mobile internet services.Installed infrastructure must continue to support legacy services but also be completely future-proofed in order to deal with the technological requirements and rapid increase in data usage expected as operators begin to introduce LTE-A. The spectre of 5G on the horizon further emphasises this need. By 2020, the introduction of 5G and an explosion in the Internet of Things is predicted to provide further expansion in the number of devices accessing networks, alongside the perceived higher bandwidth requirements of these connections.
The success of future ‘always connected technologies’ is completely reliant on strong and reliable coverage access both indoors and outdoors. By selecting an indoor solution fully able to support future technologies, operators can ensure they are ready to take full advantage of this revolution.
Investing for success
During 2014, operators internationally spent a combined figure of £145 billion upgrading networks to support new services to improve technological ability, capacity and coverage provision. This outlay is set to continue unabated and, as discussed,will not stop at the provision of 4G. Despite this ongoing investment, many operators have been accused of continuing to neglect the indoor market where around 80% of data usage currently takes place.
According to the GSMA’s 2015 state of the industry report, The Mobile Economy 2015, the number of subscribers using mobile internet services reached 2.4 billion at the end of 2014. This is predicted to rise to 3.8 billion by 2020, driven by growth in developing markets and further uptake of online services in developed wireless markets. The impact of this rapid increase is that the volume of mobile data required is set to grow ten-fold by 2019.
Technological advances have allowed carriers to promise users reliable access to increasingly complex and bandwidth-heavy services such as HD video and high-quality music streaming services, wherever they are. The world, and industry, has moved away from low-bandwidth, high-latency packets of traffic towards reliance on high-bandwidth and low-latency services such as mobile video streaming and HD voice calls. As VoLTE services begin commercial launch and usage of high definition mobile multimedia services grows further, providing a seamless user experience both indoors and out will become even more critical.
Supplying critical capacity
It is not just within the consumer sector that there is a need for strong indoor LTE provision. Many commercial and business-critical applications now require access to mobile data services to operate effectively and efficiently.
ABI Research predicts that 26% of the workforce will be mobile by 2019, and as a result reliant on robust, widespread connectivity. This usage is not just focussed on the use of smartphones and tablets for email, it also encompasses enterprise cloud and hybrid cloud and its associated rich range of applications. Business-critical information needs to be accessible at any given time, so there’s a real need for low-latency, highly resilient coverage, both inside and outside of the office.
This need is at its most critical in the public safety communications sector, where the deployment of high-speed mobile data enables a range of rich applications that can enhance the abilities and reaction speed of emergency services. The use of LTE for public safety communications is already beginning, with FirstNet deployments under trial in the US and other markets also beginning to roll-out the technology. However, given the mission critical nature of its applications, the allocated LTE frequency needs a complete coverage footprint prior to deployment.
Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are already used very effectively by the mission critical sector, private organisations and managed venue complexes to supplement capacity provided by traditional base stations. Key deployments include many of the world’s metro systems, rail networks and sporting venues such as the FIFA World Cup stadia in Brazil.
Many modern buildings are now constructed with DAS systems installed at the same time as the building’s other utilities,including The Shard in London and The Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This increases the appeal of the facility for businesses and enhances emergency service support.
Evolving dynamic DAS
In locations where coverage demands are fairly constant and at a predictable level,legacy DAS is an excellent solution. However, in larger facilities where there are sporadic or seasonal demands for coverage, the ability to switch capacity around thevenue using intelligent DAS provides a wide range of business benefits. Dynamic DAS solutions can have a significant OPEX impact and prevents a situation where one base-station has under-utilised capacity while a nearby facility is failing to keep up with demand.
Multi-use venues are an excellent illustration of these requirements. Imagine a business park, concert venue and office space within one area – for example London’s O2 venue. In such a venue there are very clear spikes in demand for services at specific times. While network facilities serving the business area and office space are likely to be heavily congested during the daytime, the area will be almost empty at night. Simultaneously the concert area is likely to be extremely busy in the evening if there is an event taking place.
Using traditional DAS the capacity for each area would need to be hard-wired into each separate venue. In reality this often means operators invest in a solution which is ‘redundant’ a large proportion of the time: they choose to pay the running costs to provision the whole facility at maximum capacity to cater for the worst-case scenario.This results in infrastructure which is significantly underused.
The development of intelligent DAS solutions adds another layer to the abilities of DAS. Using idDAS, for the first time managers are able to divert capacity to other connected facilities in the area. This can be either done on an ad-hoc basis or by using pre-programmed capacity switching based on perceived requirements around known events or seasonality.
Facilities can be scaled-up as far as a whole inner-city area, where coverage can be dynamically moved to shopping facilities, leisure centres, hotels, offices and a range of other high-demand situations.
Cobham Wireless’ idDAS solution is based on advanced digital communications and our innovative signal processing and filtering techniques.
As discussed above, the system can be configured to allow mobile network operators and facilities managers to dynamically reallocate capacity around a venue or series of buildings in a local area, dependent on the perceived need or according to pre-set boundaries.
idDAS effectively pools base station resources and reroutes capacity so it can be moved to wherever there is the greatest need. This vastly reduces OPEX for multi-use venues and areas which require maximum provision for specific parts of the day, including sports venues, offices, shopping facilities and universities.
The system is configured to deliver unrivalled uplink low noise performance resulting in increased base station throughput and, as a result, the best performing DAS solution available. idDAS operates with every major wireless technology, including GSM, UMTS, WCDMA and LTE, and supports all major frequency bands used by mobile operators across the world, including emerging technologies such as LTE-A.
To increase the ease and speed of deployment, the system is designed to be completely cable agnostic, supporting both single mode fibre and multi mode fibre, as well as CAT 5/6 and copper and ideally should be installed at the point of construction, however it can also be retro-fitted. Embedded 1GB IP back haul is supported for each remote, allowing the use of one common cabling infrastructure throughout the complex, which can then also be used for Wi-Fi and other IP traffic.
idDAS adopts a modular and flexible ‘plug-and-play’ approach to support a range of cable types and full MIMO compatibility. The ability to support MIMO using a single fibre provides the operators with maximum flexibility and enables them to deploy MIMO links on demand wherever and whenever they require without making any change to the idDAS cabling infrastructure.
idDAS fibre infrastructure can serve as the ‘last mile’ backbone for various IP devices such as Wi-Fi access points, small cells and IP surveillance cameras. This saves significant costs when compared to the deployment of specific ‘last mile’ IP backbones.