There are many different entities involved in the DAS Market. DASpedia focuses solely on wireless infrastructure, specifically the DAS portion of wireless business. This industry is driven by wireless carriers’ spending to upgrade infrastructure and increase capacity in response to customer demand.
DAS market growth is fueled by consumer demand for data. Powerful handsets are the gateway to that data. Tasks such as music streaming, video uploads/downloads, and file sharing were impractical for handsets just a few short years ago. Now consumers are accustomed to such conveniences. 3D videos will be the most bandwidth intensive content and the wireless industry is progressing toward making it a reality in a few years. The ultimate gatekeepers in the US are major wireless carriers like Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. They reap significant revenue selling smartphones and data plans.
The largest wireless carrier in the US is Verizon Wireless. At the end of 2013, Verizon had almost 103 million paying retail subscribers and 70% of them used some sort of smartphone. As a result, Verizon generated $81 billion in revenue from their wireless operations. Today if you try purchasing a simple “dumb” phone from a Verizon Wireless store, you will see very limited options or none at all. This is because smartphones sales generate higher revenues and infrastructure is geared toward the supporting their use.Verizon Wireless is the largest customer in the DAS market. They spend billions each year upgrading their network.
AT&T is the second biggest carrier in the US, with approximately 68 million wireless subscribers as of April 2014. Almost 78% or 53 million of their subscribers have smartphones and 57% have LTE capable devices. AT&T generated almost $70 Billion dollars from their wireless operations in 2013. They also invest significantly to upgrade their network each year.
Sprint is the third largest carrier in the US, with approximately 54 million customers and generated revenue of about $28.6 Billion dollars in 2013. T-Mobile is not that far behind, with about 45 million customers in the US under their T-Mobile, MetroPCS and GoSmart Mobile brands. They generated approximately $24 Billion in revenue in 2013.
As you can see, wireless is big business – in the US and worldwide. We consumers are addicted to our wireless devices and there’s no going back. Wireless companies are making huge investments to upgrade their infrastructure, striving to retain or gain additional market shares. DAS plays a major role. It’s been estimated that within 2-3 years 4G LTE capable smartphone penetration will exceed 90% across all major carriers’ subscribers. This means grandma will soon be too busy playing online bingo on her smartphone to answer your call – if she isn’t already.
Wireless carriers may soon begin offering on-demand data plans to businesses wishing to deliver targeted advertisement to consumers. Here is a simple scenario. Imagine finding an ESPN button on your smartphone screen. You click it and get the latest scores and updates for your favorite teams. The data involved in delivering that content is billed to ESPN rather than you. Businesses will line up to deliver advertising directly to the handsets of millions of wireless subscribers. It’s a new business model for carriers, and a far more lucrative revenue stream than our $150 monthly wireless phone bill.
There is also our private data to consider. More than any other entity, wireless carriers have the ability to collect data about private lives. They know who we call, who we text, which web sites we visit, where we travel, how long our commutes are, which restaurants we frequent. The amount of data carriers have access to dwarfs even the most sophisticated intelligence agencies like the NSA. They will use this massive data accumulation to generate revenue. Marketers will pay hefty fees to deliver targeted ads to our smartphones. In order to facilitate these revenue streams, wireless carriers will continue building more infrastructure which means more DAS installations are imminent. They will respond to this demand one way or another. Here is one more intriguing number: carriers like AT&T experience a volume of wireless data traffic six times higher than voice traffic. Overall, AT&T wireless data traffic grew 50,000% over the last 7 years. It’s all thanks to smartphones and data hungry applications.
The cellular Base Transceiver Station (BTS) market is dominated by a handful of players in the US. They are Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia-Siemens. Due to security concerns, the Chinese manufacturer Huawai is largely sidelined in the US. BTS acts as a distribution hub between a carrier’s central office and a DAS. Its main role is traffic control. It has software controlled functionality which allocates specific frequencies and channels to allow multiple users to communicate at the same time within specific areas designated by an iDAS or oDAS. BTS also perform digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital conversions. Wireless carriers usually have approved contractors who perform the installation and maintenance of such equipment. Both iDAS and oDAS installations require the presence of a BTS. The simplest way to understand BTS functionality is to liken it to network routers or switches deployed by your IT department. The difference is that network routers and switches direct traffic that are all digital. They don’t have to do analog-to-digital or digital-to-analog conversions. Also, typical IT equipment doesn’t perform amplification or attenuation of RF signals like a cellular BTS.
Traditional base stations pump out very high amounts of RF Power in the range of 5 to 80 Watts. This is probably because BTS were initially designed for outdoor environments. Typical macrocell infrastructure requires a cell tower that has high power RF amplifiers and antennas. At the base of these cell towers, you will find maintenance closets where BTS reside. High RF power is needed to power a large area and number of users. iDAS can’t handle such high RF power. DAS Head-End equipment used indoors require about 0 dBm, which is only 0.001 watt (1mW). This means carriers spend a large amount of money on equipment designed to attenuate (reduce in strength) these higher power signals. Costs associated with housing and HVAC can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for large venues.
High power BTS equipment will continue to be deployed by carriers for both oDAS and iDAS environments, but there is change on the horizon. The wireless industry is abuzz with terms like Small Cell and CPRI. Small Cells are low power radio heads designed by traditional BTS manufacturers. They pump out relatively low RF power in the range of 1 -5 Watts. Most importantly, these nodes are connected digitally via fiber optic cables or Ethernet cables via a Base Band Unit (BBU) to a carrier’s central office. Small Cells and CPRI will later be addressed in more in-depth fashion.
This particular category includes a large number of companies. The term DAS Vendor is used by wireless carriers to describe any vendor who provides DAS related products or services other than BTS. This could include a company like Solid Technology who builds multi-carrier DAS systems or Microlab FX, which manufactures passive RF components. RF propagation software creator IBwave or coaxial and fiber optic cable manufacturers like Huber & Suhner can be grouped in a category of DAS vendor. The exact number of vendors is hard to tally because the DAS market has been going through aggressive consolidation during the last few years, but it could be in the hundreds. The most visible are companies building multi-carrier DAS systems. This group includes Solid Technologies, Andrew/Commscope, Corning/Mobile Access and TE Connectivity. They all manufacture multi-carrier DAS equipment designed to distribute wireless signals in iDAS or oDAS environments. Andrew has been a staple of the RF industry for a long time. This company was supplying RF components and equipment to carriers before the concept of wireless even existed. Andrew was acquired by Commscope as the wireless market started to take off and their signature ION Series products have long been a staple of the DAS industry. Andrew used its brand name to gain carriers’ approval and were essentially grandfathered in as a premier DAS vendor to all major wireless carriers in the US.
Tyco is no stranger to the technology business. Back in 2007 Tyco was split, resulting in the birth of Tyco Electronics, also known as TE Connectivity. It later acquired DAS equipment manufacturer ADC Telecom for a hefty sum. They are now the only manufacturers in the US providing CPRI based digital DAS equipment to wireless carriers. Due to their relationship with Alcatel-Lucent, TE Connectivity now supplies the majority of single-carrier CPRI-based DAS equipment to carriers.
MobileAccess Networks was the product of an Israeli fiber optic company called Foxcom. MobileAccess was later acquired by Corning and now does business with all major carriers in the US.
Solid Technology is one of the major DAS vendors in the US. It started as a collaboration between folks who owned a DAS system integration business named Tripower (aka Reach Holdings, LLC) and a South Korean wireless equipment manufacturer called Solid. They produce top notch quality equipment and offer short lead times. Solid is a relative newcomer to the market but mitigate this shortcoming with talented professionals and superior products.
Microlab, FX (part of Wireless Telecom Group) is the premier RF component supplier in the US. They specialize in low PIM, high quality RF components and still build their products in Parsippany, NJ. Their brand name has been synonymous with quality over the years and serves as a benchmark for any vendor seeking to imitate their success.
The DAS vendor field is crowded. We left out many prominent vendors and will surely be fielding calls once this publication reaches certain eyes. We’re putting together a comprehensive directory of DAS Vendors soon to be available at daspedia.com in the coming months. Please check back often as we’ll be updating the list frequently.
SYSTEM INTEGRATORS (SI) & CARRIER CONTRACTORS
DAS system integration is big business in the US wireless market. Basically, system integrators design and implement iDAS systems. Most system integrators work closely with wireless carriers and must be on their approved vendor list in order to do business. Also DAS system integration tends to focus on particular regions rather than the national market as a whole but there are exceptions. For example, the biggest DAS integrators in the US, CTS, Connectivity Wireless and Goodman Networks, do business nationwide and have offices throughout the country.
The DAS integration market was created by sheer necessity. DAS vendors and wireless carriers had no interest in getting involved in the labor-intensive portion of DAS installation for practical reasons. The cost associated with maintaining the required labor force is high, partly because field installers are utilized only when DAS projects become available at a particular venue or location.
DAS integrators are a diverse group, including companies like CTS who employ hundreds and have offices throughout the nation and mom-and-pop types of entities with less than 10 people. Sometimes low-voltage electrical contractors get involved in DAS installation because venue owners want the job performed by a single contractor rather than dealing with multiple vendors.
Typical DAS integrators maintain a core group of employees including RF engineers, sales and marketing professionals and project managers located strategically throughout the country. They employ field installers on a contractual basis and use them as needed to save labor costs. Due to the growth of the wireless industry, DAS integrators have experienced non-stop growth over the last 5 years. Companies like CTS and Connectivity Wireless now employ hundreds throughout the nation.
Competition among DAS integrators is fierce, but the business model is relatively simple. In a particular region, a wireless carrier will announce a pending DAS project to its approved list of DAS integrators. Bids are submitted for each project and carriers award the job based on cost, delivery and merit. Most DAS integrators become Value Added Resellers (VAR) of a particular DAS equipment vendor. They usually purchase DAS equipment and components at a discounted price. Once a DAS project is complete, labor costs are added and billed to carriers for payment.
Carrier contractors are even smaller than DAS integrators and are dispersed throughout the country. They work closely with wireless carriers and mostly concentrate on installation and maintenance of BTS. Again, these contractors must be approved by the carriers to do business and their responsibility usually begins and ends with the BTS.
NEUTRAL HOST DAS INTEGRATORS
Neutral Host DAS Integrators are a relatively unique group. There aren’t many in the US. Their business model is different than traditional DAS integrators. Typical DAS integrators work with particular wireless carriers and install the DAS at selected venues. They get paid by carriers for labor and equipment sourced from DAS vendors. Neutral host DAS integrators work with venue owners. These venues are large or mid-sized establishments such as university campuses, airports, hotels, casinos, and shopping malls. Neutral host DAS integrators strike agreements with venue owners to share the revenue. They design a multi-carrier DAS system for a particular venue and invite wireless carriers to plug their BTS into the neutral DAS. Revenue comes from the rental and safekeeping of DAS equipment and is shared with venue owners. It’s a more capital intensive version of the DAS integration business because everything has to be negotiated and purchased upfront before wireless carriers make any commitments. This is probably why you don’t see many neutral host DAS integrators in the US. The most prominent ones are Extenet, Crown Castle and American Tower.