Mobile carriers continue to increase their network footprints and ease congestion on their towers as they march toward 4G. As I discuss in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, distributed antenna systems — or DAS — will play a key role in this by enabling operators to offer better coverage and boost network capacity via mini-networks of small nodes, rather than building new towers or acquiring new spectrum.
A DAS is comprised of multiple small antennas in a specific area. Deployments of it serve two purposes: to fill in holes where coverage is weak (in buildings and densely populated areas, as well as areas where zoning issues or terrain features make traditional tower service difficult) and to boost capacity of traditional networks (in high-traffic areas). Crown Castle brought attention to the quiet world of DAS last week when it completed its $115 million acquisition of NewPath Networks, and other players have also made headlines: ExteNet Systems earlier this year scored a $128 million investment, and San Jose’s NextG Networks — which has seen hundreds of millions of investment dollars since 2008 — announced the launch of DAS site number 5000 in February. Tyco said DAS was a key factor in its move to acquire ADT Telecommunications for $1.25 billion.
While DAS networks are still limited to specific locations in the U.S., the technology will become more commonplace over the next few years as carriers build out 4G networks and mobile data usage ramps up. DAS is certainly no silver bullet for operators struggling to provide quality service to as many users as possible, but it’s becoming an important tool, alongside femtocells and other non-cellular technologies. For consumers, that means better reception without the need for more unsightly cell towers. For players in the space, it means more funding and more consolidation are surely on the way.
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