In mobile ecosystems where DAS has reigned supreme for coverage fill-in and capacity growth, small cell equipment sales are expected to catch up quickly to DAS and disrupt that dominance. The two technologies, however, are more likely to complement each other rather compete, according to an ABI Research report entitled, “The Future of Active vs. Passive DAS, Repeaters, and Threat from Small Cells.”
While awareness of small cells is increasing, most DAS vendors don’t really see small cells as a threat today. But they are resigned to the fact that small cells are here to stay, said Aditya Kaul, practice director, mobile networks at ABI Research.
Currently, the enterprise small cell equipment market is roughly one-third of the DAS, but by 2016, the two are both projected to even. The ABI Research believes that DAS and small cells will inhabit different market niches for the most part. DAS will be deployed in large and medium-sized public buildings, mostly more than 150,000 square feet, while enterprise small cells will see most of their deployments in smaller buildings below 100,000 square feet, according to the report.
“While enterprise small cells are mostly going to sit separate from DAS in two non-overlapping building segments, the trend of public access small cells that are targeted at public spaces like airports, shopping malls, hotels and even stadiums could see some revenue moving away from DAS,” Kaul said.
Small cell’s biggest impact on DAS may be in a support role. ABI Research estimates that one-fourth of distributed antenna systems will eventually be fed by small cells, because they are smaller, cheaper and easier to install than macro sites, repeaters and remote radio heads.
“Most likely we will see an intersection of the two technologies where DAS is fed by small cells especially in medium sized buildings,” Kaul said.
Seth Buechley, president, SOLiD Technologies, told DAS Bulletin that it will be a long time before small cells are going to begin to affect DAS.
“I think we will see DAS continue to grow,” Buechley said. “Eventually, some of that growth will be offset by the introduction of small cell architecture, but we are a long ways from the point where small cells are going to meaningfully impact DAS. There must first be standardization of the ecosystem. Additionally, the wireless industry must define the term “small cell,” as to whether it is an architecture, a product or a complete network, he added.
ABI Research also compared the market for active DAS with passive DAS. Active DAS is expected to make up half of the $2 billion global market for in-building wireless equipment in 2013. The other half of the market includes passive DAS, repeaters, cabling and antennas.
“While active DAS is where the action is, traditional passive DAS and repeaters will continue to see demand, especially in Asia Pacific and some parts of Europe because of their cost-effectiveness and operator familiarity,” Kaul said.
The active DAS equipment market is growing at a 20 percent annual rate in North America, well above the passive DAS equipment revenue growth rate of 6 percent, according to ABI Research statistics.