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Distributed Antennae System (DAS)

DAS Funding Options, Benefits Plentiful

Kelley Carr
Kelley Carr,
Cellular Specialties, Inc’s
Custom Solutions

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For virtually all building owners, the benefits of an installed Distributed Antennae System (DAS), which boosts on-site wireless coverage, are plentiful. As ubiquitous wireless voice and data coverage has become the standard, more and more clients and tenants expect seamless coverage both at work and at home.

There’s no question that in-building wireless coverage is an asset. One research study conducted by the In-Building Wireless Alliance estimated that the aggregate value of in-building wireless can exceed $5 per square foot, per building, per year. Given that in-building systems typically cost between $.55 and $1.25 per square foot (depending on the complexity of the solution and the feature set provided), the business value to the building owner could be greater than five times the original investment made. From client/tenant acquisition to monetizing coverage through new revenue models to push marketing, the decision of whether to have in-building wireless coverage is quickly becoming less a question of the need and more a question of who pays for it and how?

There are four primary funding models – building owner funded, carrier funded, hybrid funded or neutral host funded. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the needs and resources of the building owner. These include:

Building Owner Funding. Under this option the building owner incurs the total cost to engineer, furnish and install a system. This option provides the flexibility to choose the voice and data coverage required to meet this needs of the building and its tenants rather than having the service provider dictate coverage based on its requirements.  The building owner has the ability to control access to the system, negotiate rates of service and allow multiple carriers to access the system. Some of the ancillary benefits of this funding model are: access to market differentiation; increased ability to attract and retain clients/tenants based on your needs and requirements; improved internal communications; building operations support, and; the ability to introduce increased safety via emergency communications.

Carrier Funding. Under this scenario, the wireless service provider (WSP) shoulders the entire cost of the system including installation as a way to provide additional network coverage for its customers. All major WSPs have some funds available for this purpose because it enables them to grow and retain its customer base. The upside to this option is that the building owner does not incur any costs to install or maintain the system. The downside is the system will most likely support communication for that particular WSP funding the solution and will not allow the flexibility of having multiple service providers, services or applications. In addition, the WSP typically requires a minimum contracted revenue or subscriber commitment, which allows the carrier to offset the cost of installation and earn a return on its investment.

The process for receiving WSP funding is similar among all major carriers. Typically your first inquiry should be through your WSP account manager(s). The account manager will send your inquiry to the WSP in-building team or local network engineering group. These teams will coordinate a site visit by a local installation contractor who will be well versed in DAS installations and design, conduct a site survey and develop a formal quote for the WSP(s). Each WSP will evaluate the system cost as it relates to the existing revenue or potential revenue of your account. Discussions will occur between yourself and the WSP during which you will be asked to review and mutually execute a contract covering the terms of the agreement. Once executed the WSP and their installation contractor will coordinate the install of the DAS. Thousands of DAS systems are installed each year using this procedure and funding methods.

Hybrid Funding. The hybrid model combines elements of both owner funding and carrier funding. Under this model, the building owner, WSP and end-user tenants each contribute to the total cost of the installation. For example, the owner might fund the installation of a DAS in the common areas, tenants might pay for the extension of the antennae system within their particular suites, and the WSP covers the cost of connecting the antennae system to its wireless network. Again, the main downside to the hybrid option is the lack of ownership of the system and the inability to decide which WSPs are able to access it.

Neutral Host. Under the neutral host - or third party owned and operated – model, a neutral host company funds the wireless system installation and ongoing operation. In return, the company receives exclusive rights to lease the system to WSPs. Although not common in office buildings, the neutral host method typically is successful in larger public venues such as airports, casinos and convention centers.

Control Solutions, Inc What’s Determines the Actual Cost?

A number of factors play into final cost of a wireless system. One of the most significant variables is the  type of radio frequency (RF) signals that will be distributed in the building through the DAS. If there is minimal or inadequate coverage to pull a signal from outside the building (the “macro” network) and/or the WSP is concerned about the number of potential users in the building (capacity), the carrier may opt to install a microcell or base station in the building, which serves as a dedicated source to provide coverage inside. These base stations are fairly expensive and can raise the total cost. Further, in order to connect the base station to the carrier’s network, the carrier would be required to incur the additional monthly cost of a leased line into the building (such as a T1). The alternative (and less expensive solution) to a base station would be the installation of a “donor antenna” to pull the RF signal directly from the outside network that connects to a BDA/Repeater, depending on capacity and network coverage.

Typically, an in-building wireless deployment has two options for scalability that allow some financial flexibility. The first would be to install a multi-carrier solution to initially support only one or two WSPs with the capability to add additional providers or services (such as WiFi) as needed in the future. The second would be to install a “modular” system, where coverage was initially only provided in specific areas of the facility, then expanded into other areas as dictated by usage and demand. Please note that both of these options for scalability can be utilized at the initial deployment of the system.

What’s Right for You?

Business owners have a host of options when it comes to deciding what type of solution they need and how best to fund it. The best approach is to explore all of your options and work with an experienced in-building wireless consultant to determine which solution is best suited to meet your current and future needs.

About the Author

Kelley Carr, President of Cellular Specialties, Inc’s Custom Solutions Group, has over 15 years of experience in the wireless industry.


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