If you’ve been following the progress of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cells and find yourself with more questions than answers you’re not alone. Many very knowledgeable people I speak with on this topic find it difficult to define with any certainty precisely what is going on in this environment.
First of all, distributed antenna systems are more akin to distributed transceiver systems these days as in many systems a remote unit is actually a transceiver to which an antenna or antennas are connected. Second, where does the line between small cells (those being anything smaller than a macrocell) began in a DAS take over? Or will they both work together depending on the environment, and more likely outcome.
And then there’s the issue of Wi-Fi, which has already taken on a new persona in the form of hundreds of thousands of hotspots provided as a value-added benefit to cable customers. Telcos and cable companies have actually developed roaming agreements for Wi-Fi so that we can all be authenticated and roam effortlessly like we do on carrier wireless systems. As Wi-Fi is essentially ubiquitous, it must also be integrated with a DAS system and perhaps even with small cells.
The situation got so confusing that the DAS Forum changed its name to the HetNet Forum so as not to be caught up short in covering every conceivable type of system designed to provide coverage virtually anywhere, indoors or outdoors. There are also a wide variety of ways to implement a DAS system, from “traditional”: actual cable-based systems, to those using almost exclusively fiber in order to have greater reach. In between are hybrid systems that use both.
Trying to put all this together in some cohesive form isn’t helped much by the Web sites of companies providing DAS systems, which generally don’t get into much detail concerning their hardware, describing their systems in extremely vague terms so as not to give away the secret sauce.
If all of this sounds a lot like the Wild West or the gold rush of ‘49 it’s certainly understandable. With any luck sometime and easily recognizable form will emerge from all of these disparate technologies, hopefully sooner than later.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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