Let’s start with DAS. Here’s the thing, I have been reading how the CBRS spectrum is going to kill DAS or replace DAS. Hey, that is not going to happen. Even if the FCC eventually released the spectrum, there is more at play here. This question is the wrong question. CBRS is going to work with DAS and open up new doors for business and technology.
So, DAS is a crucial element is larger venues. It is needed to handle each carriers’ spectrum. I see the CBRS helping out DAS systems. I see it as an add-on for the carriers to have additional spectrum available for loading. Able to perform a little better than Wi-Fi since it will be on the licensed spectrum, not shared.
People say that it will replace DAS because they think that the carriers are going to use CBRS as a shared system. Look, the reality is that smaller carrier DAS systems are no longer being deployed because the cost is prohibitive. Small cells, CBRS, and Wi-Fi, (yes Wi-Fi), are replacing the smaller DAS and repeater systems in small offices and shared areas where loading is not an issue. Today’s data-centric networks don’t need voice carriers anymore. Data rules and voice is over data, so it’s all data, right?
DAS is needed in heavily loaded venues, usually a stadium or convention center. These are so heavily loaded they are going to pull out all the stops, DAS, Wi-Fi, and now they can add CBRS. They will all work together and compliment each other.
The other thing people ask is, “will CBRS replace Wi-Fi?” Probably not anytime soon. Wi-Fi is cost-effective and everywhere. Who doesn’t love their Wi-Fi? We rely on Wi-Fi, in fact, we expect it, usually for free. Don’t we all need Wi-Fi at home? Who plugs into a network connection anymore? The only time I plug in is when I am in a corporate office, and the high-tech corporation has shitty Wi-Fi, the wired connection works better. You know why? Some corporations that want everyone to go to the office is too cheap to upgrade their Wi-Fi to modern-day standards, yet they want people in the office. Can you imagine in today’s world a corporation insists that people go to the office? What a waste of time, resources, and fuel. If companies want collaboration, then they should build and upgrade the network to support it! See, here is an example of where we rely on Wi-Fi, it’s only as good as the team that designs, builds, and maintains it. If it sucks, I am sure they would point to a budget, but who am I to judge.
Back to CBRS. The thing I see CBRS doing is opening up new private LTE system so that things like smart manufacturing can take off or very secure private networks can blossom. Imagine, less latency than Wi-Fi with minimal, if any, interference. That would make systems so much more efficient without sharing spectrum.
The DAS systems of today do more than they ever have. They handle all the carriers, use fiber for the fronthaul now, and they perform quite well. It’s a local CRAN system. One that will allow multiple carriers to share resources. The day will come when they start putting the BBUs in a remote location and feed the stadium or convention center from an off-site location miles away. That way the carrier can work on their equipment without entering the stadium or convention center during an event.
The biggest problem with a shared DAS system is paying people to support, maintain, and upgrade. There are always upgrades. At one time the DAS systems could carry any spectrum. Now, carriers are pushing more and more data on new spectrum annually. Now they require dedicated radio heads and soon, active antennas. The DAS vendors could just be the power suppliers, data room designers, fiber mappers, and end to end system designers with the support of the carriers to provide the end gear with commissioning and integration. It all adds up because systems are way more complicated than they used to be. DAS is still needed and growing but used in fewer and fewer mid to small venues. People that do DAS services will be kept busy with the upgrades, but will they be working for the carrier or the DAS vendor? We’ll see.
DAS is necessary for the stadiums, sports venues, larger corporate parks, convention centers, meeting places, and some hotels. However, it has to be offloaded by small cells to make it cost effective. Those small cells are going to be carrier specific or CBRS. If you look at the cable companies across the USA, they rely on Wi-Fi to handle the offload. After all, most traffic is data now. Why waste time on other systems? Wi-Fi is cheap and works quite well in a small area.
So, looking at it from this angle, are we asking the wrong question? Are we too focused on DAS, should we look at Wi-Fi as the real target? Wi-Fi is very limited in coverage, but it still works after all these years. It’s more reliable than it ever was, and it sees the CBRS and licensed small cells as a threat. I would make an argument that 5G small cells could kill Wi-Fi, that makes more sense to me. It could be CBRS, but in reality, it could be licensed or unlicensed spectrum using 5G NR. I think Qualcomm is going to push to make that happen. They love 5G NR because they hold most of the patents and stand to make a fortune off of the new systems. They are positioned to do so. They know the end game is to dominate. This way, they make more money off the patents. They are on the edge of a 5 to 15-year victory. Go Qualcomm, go!
What do I have to go on here? I would point to Sprint’s Magic Box. It is a femtocell that has a wireless backhaul, and both are on the licensed spectrum. Imagine if they could add CBRS to that thing? It would be better than it is now. They already pushed out over 200,000 boxes! WOW! That is going to be the killer of unlicensed products! If they can have something like that with the throughput of a 5G NR system with wireless backhaul, why bother putting anything else in? It would only slow you down. Your smartphone will pave the way for broadband technology. I see this as one more tool that T-Mobile wants to exploit when they take over Sprint. (If they do, it’s not final yet.)
DAS systems are here to stay. Wi-Fi is doing more than ever and expects to have more license-free spectrum from the FCC soon. Hopefully, the CBRS should be released soon in the US and either stand as a model for the rest of the world or a warning not to do it. When it’s released, we’ll have one more tool in the wireless Arsenal.
The one thing I do know is that if 5G is adequately deployed, we should see throughput grow exponentially. We should see the splicing of networks that bring new applications. IOT should take off across terrestrial and satellite systems. 5G should make LTE and Wi-Fi systems look slow (if the FCC releases enough bandwidth to make that happen). That will make CBRS spectrum critical in deployments for everyone. Like anything, when CBRS starts, it’s nice to have, an add-on, but eventually, it becomes engrained in the network, then it becomes a necessity that we all rely on. Remember when Wi-Fi was nice to have? Now we expect to have it everywhere. CBRS has the chance to make a real difference if and when the FCC finally releases it.
Hey, in 5 years this could make wired connections seem archaic for anything but backhaul. Fiber systems should be improving to average over 1Tbps, that’s right, a Terra bit per second. When we speak of a wireless connection, they will be 100Gbps and fiber should be synonymous with 1 to 100Tbps. Yes, I have a dream, and that is it! Well, that’s only one of them. If you dream, dream big!
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