Boingo Wireless, a provider of DAS, small cells and Wi-Fi that serves consumers, carriers and advertisers worldwide, has deployed a Wi-Fi 6 network at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, Calif. The launch is part of a commercial trial to test next-generation Wi-Fi capabilities and marks the first known Wi-Fi 6 deployment at a major airport.
“Wi-Fi 6 is a strategic pillar of Boingo’s technology roadmap to elevate wireless performance and equip airports and other large venues with connectivity solutions for the 5G world,” said Dr. Derek Peterson, chief technology officer, Boingo. “It meets key 5G requirements to power a broad range of connected use cases in dense environments with greater capacity, speed and scalability. We’re pleased to be among the first to put Wi-Fi 6 in action and work alongside the team at John Wayne Airport to move the technology from lab to real-world launch.”
Wi-Fi 6 is a new industry standard that was developed to advance Wi-Fi capabilities to effectively handle growing traffic demands. It is based on the 802.11ax specification and introduces new features to deliver faster speeds, higher density and faster throughput. Boingo deployed Cisco Wi-Fi 6 technology in SNA’s administration building. To test the network, Samsung Electronics provided SNA staff with early release Samsung Galaxy devices with 802.11ax chipsets. The Samsung Galaxy S10, which launched in February 2019, is the first family of smartphones with Wi-Fi 6 support. Staff used the Galaxy devices to carry out day-to-day administrative tasks and stream high bandwidth content, experiencing Wi-Fi 6’s high data rates and ultrafast speeds firsthand.
“This trial is part of our commitment to innovation and adopting technologies that are essential to providing a superior guest experience,” said Barry Rondinella, Airport Director, John Wayne Airport. “The Wi-Fi 6 network impressed our team, giving us wireless connectivity with no lag, no buffering and incredible speeds.”
Panelists at the Wireless West Conference last week agreed that the wireless industry is shifting its small cell deployment into high gear, discussing both the reasons behind that growth and the issues that might hinder it.
Several factors are driving the deployment of hundreds of thousands of small cells annually, according to Jeff Lewis, president and founder, Verticom, who moderated “Small Cells, Big Market,” from general economic momentum to positive telecom industry trends. Specifically, he also cited the growing number of 5G use cases plus clarity surrounding timelines for 5G NR standards and deployment. Additionally, mobile edge computing is a key component of scalable 5G architecture.
“In addition to FirstNet, you have the TV repack and relocation initiative. You have incremental industry spend of $2 billion. Throw in regulatory and tax reform and you have another $2 billion of free cash flow,” Lewis said. “With the successful 5G trials going on nationwide, ROI models have begun to factor in less risk, which increases the project approval rate. Any time you have less risk and a more predictable deployment model, capex increases.”
One carrier, T-Mobile, has a “robust small cell program,” planning on deploying 25,000 small cells in the 18 to 24 months, according to Hollie Maldonado, site development manager, T-Mobile. She contrasted that number to the 20 years it took for the carrier to build out its current lineup of 60,000 macrosites.
Crown Castle, which as 50,000 small cell sites, is in the process of 5,000 more sites in the western market. “We are seeing enormous growth in small cells,” said Dan Schweizer, Crown Castle International government relations. “We are trying to build as many of them as we can.”
Kishore Raja, Boingo Wireless VP engineering, said there is an additional catalyst for small cell growth, noting they can now be deployed in two different ways on unlicensed spectrum as well as licensed, bringing with it new business models. “Now, there is a third avenue: the 150 megahertz at 3.5 GHz of spectrum in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service,” Raja said. “This opens up small cells to neutral host operators sharing spectrum with the incumbents.”
Opening up New Markets
The panelists discussed new markets that small cells bring to their companies. T-Mobile is currently deploying small cells to offload 4G LTE capacity from its macrosites, but the same sites will bring 5G services as close as possible to users. Crown Castle will use hyperdensification for offload of fiber data traffic and carrying mission critical Internet of Things data in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Small cells give Boingo Wireless an additional tool to solve issues in its current venues and also allow it to serve additional venues that before did not make economic sense. ExteNet uses small cells to densify the networks of carriers.
The challenge, according to Raja, is creating the user experience. “Whether the deployment is New Radio, millimeter wave, 4G, 4G advanced, Wi-Fi or any others, the goal is a clean, seamless user experience as they move from network to network,” he said. “Virtualization will be very key to managing these networks, both in terms of capex and opex.”
Opposition from Municipalities May Be a Drag on Small Cell Deployment
While the panelists agreed on the need for small cells to the future of the wireless industry, they also agreed that without streamlining of the municipal zoning processes the idea of deploying 100s of thousands of them seems impossible.
“We know one of the keys to achieving that goal is working with local governments. We have our work cut out for us,” Maldonado said. “We have launched a hefty site advocacy campaign in several markets to ensure that groundwork has been laid to execute quickly.”
Extenet is trying to drive down costs and streamline processes in the rights of way at a local level with the municipalities, according Greg Spraetz, SVP & GM enterprise solutions, ExteNet Systems.
Schweizer noted the work done by states and the FCC facilitating small cells. “Texas, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico have all passed streamlining bills. Hawaii and California are pending,” he said. “I don’t believe we should have put small cells through zoning. There should be an agreed-upon form factor with the city, the industry has to do its part to build attractive sites that are compatible with existing residential areas and we should be able to pull a permit like any other right-of-way user.”
Recent rules adopted by the FCC, which exempted small cells from NEPA and SHPO regulations, will save the industry a lot of money and deployment time, according to Raja.
Schweizer cautioned streamlining regulations and legislation do not replace good relationships with municipalities. “There is no silver bullet,” he said. “Good state regulation does not obviate the need for government relations and being a trusted partner.”
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.
DALLAS — May 25, 2016 — One of the sessions at the Wireless Infrastructure Show dealt with emerging technologies and their implications for wireless infrastructure. Ron Mudry, president of Tower Cloud, led the session. He described how backhaul is evolving to meet the needs of emerging technologies, saying there is adequate backhaul in most markets and even in rural areas.
“What we’ve seen lately is Verizon moving from lit service to dark fiber,” Mudry said. “Many dark fiber builds are going on around the country. It’s a big initiative that is putting a lot of infrastructure in the ground. The previous fiber build is nearly 20 years old, dating to the dot-com era.”
Mudry said wireless carriers have been densifying their networks because of capacity constraints. “They’ve added a lot of macro towers,” he said. “That’s provided a lot of the growth for backhaul providers and others in the industry. Now we’re seeing that shift a little to bringing capacity with small cells and mini-macros and centralized radio access network (C-RAN) technology.”
Dr. Rikin Thakker, a research assistant professor at the University of Maryland, said that cellular network operators have enough RF spectrum to serve their networks, for now. He said that operators say they need more spectrum because of a forecast rise in data demand. But research indicates other substitutes for spectrum.
“Macrosites are not going away, even though we are talking about the Internet of Things, 5G cellular technology and small cells,” Thakker said. “Macrosites will play an important role, and that could be a good substitute. Increases in efficiency with technology decrease the burden on spectrum. Wi-Fi offloading has kept the demand on licensed spectrum lower. Just increasing macrosites by 5 percent could lower the need for licensed spectrum by 98 megahertz.”
Aaron Blazer, a senior partner at Atlantic ACM said the network operators’ end-user revenue comes under pressure as competition increases. The result trickles down into infrastructure. “Operators pay attention to operating expense and the ability to deploy capital on infrastructure,” he said. “When spectrum is tapped, you look for the most efficient way to boost the network. Deploying more macrosites is a business model that carriers understand. The economics of backhaul and macrosites are well understood.”
Blazer said that when macrosites aren’t enough, non-macro densification emerges in the form of small cells and outdoor distributed antenna system (DAS) networks. He said another alternative is C-RAN technology, where operators use remote radio heads with a centralized baseband unit to make more efficient use of spectrum. He explained that a heavy fiber component changes the cost structure, especially a dark fiber component, and sometimes fiber is not available.
“After that, we see operators looking to Wi-Fi and other offloading strategies to support the network,” Blazer said. “But Wi-Fi comes third because it is not always seen as a carrier-grade technology.”
Rich Grimes, the chief operating officer of the DAS and Small Cell Group at InSite Wireless, said the carrier market for in-building DAS is finite. According to Grimes, from a carrier perspective, venue revenue-sharing is questionable. He said there is higher scrutiny for lower-capacity venues, and more cost-effective solutions will be used.
“In the forecast for DAS, capital spending for this year is pegged at about $4.8 billion and rising about 28 percent per year to more than $16 billion in 2020,” Grimes said. “A focus we’re all seeing is on reduced cost for in-building wireless systems. Also, fiber will become increasingly available to commercial buildings, and third parties in the enterprise will take a greater role in deploying DAS with the carriers’ focus being more on the capex for the LTE-Advanced roll out and small cell preparation for 5G.”
Kishore Raja, director of strategic programs at Boingo Wireless, categorized emerging technologies in three domains.
“Number one is the process of natural evolution within the licensed spectrum,” he said. “You have macro towers, and you have DAS, which augments existing towers. You have small cells, which augment by adding capacity and coverage. Number two is emerging technologies on unlicensed spectrum, such as seamless Wi-Fi access to networks. Number three is emerging technologies in the area that bridges licensed and unlicensed spectrum, such as LTE-U[unlicensed], LAA [License Assisted Access], LWA [LTE – Wi-Fi Link Aggregation] and muLTEfire. MuLTEfire provides LTE-like performance with Wi-Fi-like simplicity.”
Robert Long, director of sales at Crown Castle International, said that regardless of the path it takes, the need for more infrastructure will continue. “By 2018, 4G data use is expected to increase by a factor of 10,” he said. “Cell phone data use will increase by a multiple of six. Add the Internet of Things, smart cities and autonomous vehicles. Providing a solution that’s sharable, whether it’s fiber, towers or small cells, if it’s sharable, it’s much more economical for the service providers.”
Yohannes Cramlet is director, business development for Boingo Wireless. He is responsible for assisting venues as varied as hospitals and stadiums identify wireless coverage and capacity solutions while also soliciting carrier interest and participation. A few of his projects include Philips Arena DAS and Wi-Fi, John Wayne Airport DAS and Wi-Fi and Airforce Academy DAS and Wi-Fi. He has also served as Manager, Project Deployment and Business Development, Acela Technologies; Regional Project Manager,T-Mobile; and Director of Development Services, Celcite Management Solutions.
August 13, 2014 — BlueStream Professional Services, which provides planning, implementation and maintenance services for wireless, wireline and data center networks, has purchased assets of Tempest Telecom Solutions’ DAS and Small Cell Division, further enhancing the scale and capabilities of its wireless services. Terms of the transaction were not released.
“This acquisition provides us with the opportunity to increase our scale, while further diversifying and extending our market coverage for DAS and small cell services,” said Trevor Putrah, president of KGP Companies, parent of BlueStream.
The deal is a part of the ongoing consolidation of the DAS ecosystem of smaller regional companies, which is a sign of the maturation of the marketplace, according to Joe Madden, Mobile Experts.
“There’s a long list of small companies with expertise in DAS deployment … that are recognizing the new emphasis on in-building mobile infrastructure by the major operators, which requires a nationwide footprint and a deeper bench when it comes to the talent pool you have to put out into the field,” Madden said.
BlueStream Professional Services provides cell site solutions, including installation and upgrade of technology and equipment, structural capacity analysis and antenna repositioning. It also provides data center planning and deployment, as well as customized outsourced services.
“Before buying Tempest, Bluestream was involved in DAS, but they were not as prominent. This allows them to expand beyond their focus on data centers and other areas [such as cell site services and muli-switching centers],” Madden said.
DAS integration companies are growing in market coverage through acquisitions. Goodman Networks acquired Cellular Specialties last year. Black Box bought InnerWireless in 2012. H&M NetWorks picked up a DAS design and engineering firm, In-Building Wireless, in 2011. Crown Castle purchased Next G Networks in 2011 and NewPath Networks in 2011.
Others are growing more organically. American Tower began developing DAS networks in 2001 and claims to have the most neutral-host indoor DAS networks in the industry. InSite Wireless built and launched its first DAS at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in 2001, which was the first independently owned, neutral-host DAS in the United States.
Mobilitie, after selling off its assets to SBA Communications, is building out neutral-host DAS, small cell and Wi-Fi networks. Boingo Wireless is building out DAS and Wi-Fi networks across sporting venues, airports, convention centers and office buildings. ExteNet Systems is growing steadily through high profile deployments in high-rise office buildings, such as the Willis Tower in Chicago and the Empire State Building; sporting venues, including the University of Michigan football stadium, Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center and Miami’s Marlins Park; hotels, such as the Omni Severin; and healthcare facilities, such as Banner Health.
“It’s an ongoing process. Companies have been scaling up in the last five years,” Madden said. “Eventually we will reach the point where we have companies that are sophisticated with RF planning models and have people in every major market in the United States. That is an important part of developing a mature ecosystem that is capable of deploying small cells and DAS in the millions. The operators don’t have the manpower to put a million small cells into the field.”
Another firm developing a nationwide footprint is Connectivity Wireless Solutions, which has implemented more than 2,500 DAS networks in 49 states. It has offices in Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; Chicago; San Francisco; Orlando, Florida; Frederick, Maryland; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Anaheim, California. Other key players in the DAS integration space include RF Connect and DAS Simplified.
Tempest Telecom grew in 2011 when it purchased Leaf Communications Services, a West Coast DAS integrator. A year later, it hired Darlene Braunschweig from Corning MobileAccess as president of its DAS and Small Cell Division. She will become the general manager for the BlueStream DAS and small cell business unit.