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In-building Wireless Supply Chain Changing to Meet Enterprise Demand

By J. Sharpe Smith — 

Five years ago nearly all of the enterprise and venue deployments were funded by carriers, which demanded total control over these systems that used their precious spectrum and also conveyed the carrier’s image for coverage and capacity before millions of patrons every year. But two things are changing as the enterprise wireless market evolves: enterprises want more control of wireless on their premises and carriers are more open to having someone else foot the bill.

Enterprise Wireless

Enterprise Wireless

“The enterprises have become savvier,” Stephen Kowal, vice president, Global Partners, CommScope, told AGL Small Cell Link. “They don’t want to regenerate just one carrier’s signal, so they implemented systems that are neutral host. With demand for public safety and first responder in-building coverage because of changes in local building codes, the in-building systems became more complicated.”

Additionally, as increased smart phone use makes BYOD policies a must, enterprises are demanding more control over those systems, according to Kowal.

Traditionally, CommScope has sold directly to the carriers for in-building systems in the enterprise space. In response to the market evolution toward enterprise-funded in-building wireless, CommScope developed an installation partnership program known as PartnerPro Network and 30 systems integrators have been added during the last 18 months.

“It became evident that the carriers were becoming more open to different funding mechanisms, allowing enterprise owners to pay for their own wireless in-building networks, we realized quickly that you have to address that differently,” said Kowal, who heads up  CommScope’s post-manufacturing supply chain.

Supply chain characteristics have changed dramatically as the manufacturer sells to the enterprise, he said. Carriers are likely to plan deployments at a number of venues during a certain period of time, giving the manufacturer a good forecast for its equipment production.

“Going from a small list of carriers to thousands of end users, you have to deal with stocking issues through the distribution channels,” Kowal said. “You have to deal with the education process of the enterprise owner, concerning BYOD and public safety issues, there is a lot of mystery in that. You also have to do things the right way to get the carrier to allow you to use their spectrum over the system.”

CommScope Names First Companies to Expanded In-Building Wireless Partner Network

To help venue owners and wireless operators find system integrators, CommScope has expanded its in-building wireless partner network to include Black Box Network Services, DAS Simplified and RF Connect and designated them as In-Building Wireless Premier Partners because of their ability to commission and optimize a CommScope DAS solution, managing a project from start to finish.

“We decided to differentiate ten percent of our partners, which have hit this high, high level of skill where we see the repeatable quality from them,” Kowal said. “The ability to work with multiple parties including venue owners and network operators while deploying a technologically complex in-building wireless system is a refined skill, which some companies do better than others.” CommScope is willing to stand behind these premier installation partners, adding a second year of warranty on the equipment.

More Wi-Fi, DAS Convergence in the Enterprise

As the wireless world shifts its attention to commercial buildings, OEMs are coming out with products designed specifically for in-building wireless in the enterprise space. At the Mobile World Congress last month in Barcelona, Spain, CommScope launched a unified wireless infrastructure platform designed around an IT-based structured-cabling architecture, attempting to bridge the gap between in-building wireless systems and enterprise cabling.

The ION-E integrates licensed wireless and power with Gigabit Ethernet for Wi-Fi into one unified wireless network, which features multi-band, multi-operator and multi-technology capabilities and uses cabling common to most commercial buildings.

The ION-E was four years in the design and engineering phase and took advantage of CommScope’s enterprise structure cabling expertise as well as wireless and DAS experience, according to Matt Melester, senior vice president and general manager, Distributed Coverage & Capacity Solutions, CommScope. The OEM has a billion dollar business supplying cabling to enterprises.

“We wanted to leverage the penetration that we have in the enterprise market with a product that would have a better fit,” he said. “What is the ideal product for this market? Answer, it had to be a lot simpler than what the current wireless solutions are. If we use a structure cabling approach, we could leverage the installers that have been working in the enterprise for the last 20 years.”

The ION-E is a simplified, optimized solution that can be deployed by IT professionals who are not wireless experts. Implementation is simplified by using the structured cabling systems familiar to IT installers, along with providing a simple user interface for setup and configuration with minimal input.

“The world lacks people who have RF design expertise. This limits the deployment of traditional DAS networks at a time when deploying indoor networks within enterprise buildings is increasingly in demand,” Melester said.

BYOD = Multi-operator, Multi-technology and Multi-band

Trends in the enterprise market, such as bring your own device (BYOD) policies, are increasing the demands on in-building wireless systems to support multiple operators, technologies and frequency bands.

“We see BYOD as a positive trend because of our emphasis on multi-operator systems,” Melester said. “The days of a carrier signing up all the employees of a company to its handsets are gone. You don’t have a homogenous mass of phones.”

Cloud Radio Access Network

Commercial buildings require flexibility to handle floor space layout changes, the relocation of users, or other changes that would require an extensive rework of the wireless system. The ION-E employs a standard grid approach and supports on-demand software-defined frequencies to flexibly adapt to changing requirements.

Base stations can be located off site, and IT professional can shift network capacity to meet changing usage patterns with a click-and-drag in a graphical user interface.

Will the ION-E kill the stand-alone DAS network?

Because ION-E is low-power and designed for indoors, it will not compete with products such as the ION-U, CommScope’s high-power indoor/outdoor DAS product

“The ION-E is ideally suited for the enterprise, not shopping malls or stadiums,” Melester said. “There may be some overlap in high-rise buildings that need higher-power DAS to combat outside macrocellular signals.”

What’s Next?

In the next several years, Melester sees a convergence of platforms, with consistent headends and a consistent distribution methodology across all the platforms. Currently, the networks are evolving to integrate base station with the DAS through a CPRI interface.

“We expect to see more announcements like the one between Alcatel-Lucent and TE Connectivity,” he said. “It’s a positive step. A lot of money is being wasted because base station manufacturers have been reluctant to decouple the base station from a macrosite. High-power base stations in DAS networks are creating a lot of heat, wasting power and taking up a lot of space with the attenuation panels.”

Corning Converges Too

In May of last year, we reported that Corning had launched an all-optical, converged in-building wireless system at CTIA 2013, which is targeted at enterprises, hotels, convention centers and other venues that need high-speed, high-capacity wireless hubs.

Built on an optical backbone, Corning’s ONE wireless platform is designed to handle core cellular technologies and enable multiple applications, including wireless LAN, public safety and location-based services. In addition, it offers Wi-Fi support through its built-in gigabit Ethernet and power-over-Ethernet capability.

The platform leverages fiber-to-the-edge technology to deliver more bandwidth, services and applications. Along with greater data speeds, capex and opex are decreased and disruptions for upgrades are reduced.

Active Components Improve BTS-to-DAS Headend Integration

Although it has been somewhat ignored in the past, base transceiver station-to-DAS headend connectivity is now getting a lot of attention from manufacturers.

“Given the prevalence of DAS deployments, and multi-operator DAS installations in particular, BTS-to-DAS solutions are critical,” John Spindler, TE Connectivity director, product management, in-building DAS, told AGL Small Cell Link.

Historically, integrating base transceiver stations into DAS headends was done in a couple of ways. One was to take a hodgepodge of attenuators, splitters and combiners from different sources and assemble the cables and components on-site. Later the packaging was improved when manufacturers began assembling the parts and delivering them to integrators in a box, which made it easier because it reduced the installation time.

But both methods were passive. Any attenuation had to be made by manually turning the knobs, and there was no effective way to monitor it remotely.

The development of active integration panels (AIP) provides a new era of connectivity between mobile operator base stations and DAS with features such as remote monitoring and software configurable controls that improve system management, according to Spindler.

“In a multi-operator scenario, monitoring the downlink allows you to make sure that a single operator does not take more of the composite power than the other operators,” he said. “With a user- configurable automatic limit control on the downlink, you can avoid overdriving the DAS headend.”

With remote monitoring, in the case of a problem, the system may be fixed without sending a service tech. Diagnostics may be performed over the Internet, and adjustments may be made to the systems, Spindler said.

“If you cannot monitor these systems remotely and diagnose the problems, they are hard to maintain. This is a big step forward,” he said.

Active integration panels offer space savings, which may reduce the footprint in the headend by as much as 75 percent compared with traditional, passive attenuation panels. This solves the problem of space, which can be both expensive and scarce.

“You’ll see racks and racks of attenuation panels in large venues,” Splindler said. “Space is huge. Getting enough space for the DAS headend can be problematic in some places. With an AIP you get real estate savings from an opex standpoint plus the reduction in installation time and cost.

Active integration technology also reduces passive intermod by eliminating cabling and connectors and using components are low PIM, which is essential for LTE operations.

“With the advent of 4G and LTE, performance has really come to the forefront. Eliminating PIM is imperative so that DAS performs at its best,” Spindler said.

Are Small Cells Overhyped? The Case for Macrocell Tech Densification

Amid the hype surrounding small cells, Phillip Sorrells, CommScope vice president of strategic marketing, stands out as someone who questions the rush to the new technology.

The problem that needs to be solved is getting capacity into places that are hard to cover with the kind of data throughput and performance that consumers expect today, Sorrells said.  “Our answer often is DAS, especially inside buildings, venues and arenas. It provides multi-operator, multi-technology and dynamic high-capacity solutions.”

There is a place for a pico/remote radio head solution, such as the Ericsson Dot, for smaller buildings or even larger buildings that need a single-operator, single-frequency indoor system, according to Sorrells.

But for other indoor coverage and capacity needs, Sorrells maintains that an outside-in strategy is viable. By outside-in he means splitting the 65-degree beam in a nearby cell tower. A twin-beam antenna results in two 33-degree beams, which doubles the capacity of that sector, increases the gain by 3 dB and improves building penetration.

“Take a college dormitory, for example. One approach is to take an antenna sector that faces the dormitory and do some beam-splitting techniques on that sector to enhance the capacity and efficiency of the coverage going into that dormitory from the outside in,” Sorrells said.

Multi-beam antenna technology can also add capacity for an outdoor system. An existing tower can be “densified” by using beam-splitting antenna technology, which divides one beam into five beams. The technique provides a “tremendous uplift in radio capacity and a 6 dB gain in each beam,” Sorrells said.

Contradicting the Small Cell Conversation

Conventional wisdom these days says that 60 small cells will equal the coverage of 10 macrocells, but Sorrells questions that logic. “Where are you going to get those sites? People answer they will use telephone poles and streetlights. It is not that easy,” he said. “I see several viable paths for wireless operators to explore for expanding wireless capacity.”

One answer to the need for densification is a concept Sorrells calls the mini-macro whereby a remote radio unit, antenna and other RF path equipment are concealed in one monopole-type structure. In fact, three mini-macros will provide the coverage of six small cells.

“We are exploring different ways to interface the radios and the antennas to make the overall size small and easier to implement,” he said. “We think using fewer sites is almost always going to be preferred.”

A mini-macro would be a 20-watt radio, 10-watt radio or 5-watt radio, and it would look like a macrocell to the operator, with all the usual radio/handoff management parameters.

“All the radio parameter complexities of the picocell, which cloud its introduction into the radio architecture, are eliminated,” he said. “With the concept of the mini-macro, you use the same well-known radio technologies. What you are really doing is packaging it so that it is easier to implement it.”

The other theory Sorrells is advancing is that capacity can be improved by using a more sophisticated antenna than is available with a picocell.

“Down-tilt and pattern management capabilities, we believe, allow you to build half the number of new small cell sites,” Sorrells said. “The question becomes one of economics. The math will prove that building three mini-macros, which are a little bigger, will make more economic sense than six small cells.”

In the world of network optimization, down-tilting an antenna’s beam is about 60 percent of the techniques. “It is a very important to tool for optimizing any network antenna,” Sorrells said. “When compared with one-element dipole omni, a quasi-omni with three sectors and a 16-degree tilt offers a 36 percent improvement in network capacity.”

Business is Booming for Small Cell Infrastructure

Antenna OEMs are seeing the fruits of the growth in in-building wireless, small cells and outdoor DAS and are responding with new products and increased distribution. For example, Radio Frequency Systems (RFS) experienced double-digit growth for several of its North American product lines in 2013, following a record-breaking year in 2012. The vendor responded by expanding its product line and doubling its nationwide distribution capability.

RFS booked 45 percent growth in 2013 for its in-building broadband wireless communications products, and has invested in product development in anticipation of additional growth in 2014, adding the LTE-ready I-ATO2-698/2700JPL PIM-certified omnidirectional antenna and the ICA LITE (ICA12-50JPLLW) ½-inch aluminum plenum-rated wideband coaxial cable.

Another rapidly growing segment for RFS in 2013 was the in-tunnel market, which included large deployments of RFS technology into major projects such as Phase 2 of Transit Wireless’ extensive Distributed Antenna System for the New York City subway (RFS announced its successful deployment during Phase 1 in 2012) and Phase 1 of BAI Canada’s project to build a shared wireless Wi-Fi and cellular infrastructure for Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) underground subway stations.

To support this growth, RFS has doubled its distribution centers nationwide with a new distribution center in Ontario, Calif., and expanded distribution via its partnership with KGP Logistics in Warsaw, Ind. Furthermore, RFS has expanded its installation services to support increasing deployments of HYBRIFLEX.

Wireless Sales Up at CommScope

CommScope, which completed an IPO last fall, also reported growth. Its wireless segment net sales increased 3 percent year over year to $553 million in the third quarter. The net sales increase was primarily driven by ongoing capital spending by U.S. wireless operators at macro base stations as well as robust deployment of small cell DAS solutions that support capacity and densification of the wireless network. The company reported lower wireless sales in the Asia Pacific region, which were offset by higher sales to a major Middle Eastern wireless operator. Wireless adjusted operating income rose 16 percent year over year to $116 million, or 21 percent of net sales.

Sales of tablets and smart phones, as well as the impact of BYOD, have created a greater need for a mobile Internet, according to President and CEO Eddie Edwards.

“Operators are deploying more cell sites and new technologies globally to meet this demand,” Edwards said. “We believe we are in the early innings of a long-term, global growth cycle in LTE, which includes coverage, capacity, optimization, small cell DAS solutions, backhaul and seamless in-building cellular.”

To help speed the deployment of DAS, CommScope launched the ION platform, which features integrated guidance and intelligence, enabling wireless network operators to design, plan, deploy and optimize a DAS more quickly and efficiently and at a lower total cost of ownership.

Late last fall, CommScope’s technical support team helped a U.S. carrier complete the first customer installation of the ION-U in a congested downtown area of Dallas as part of an outdoor coverage and capacity upgrade.

CommScope also branched into the concealment business with a family of equipment-integrated, modular solutions called Metro Cell Concealment Solutions, which hide the key RF path equipment in a structure that more easily meets zoning restrictions.