The Ultimate Guide to Distributed Antenna Systems
Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of Americans replacing landlines with wireless phones is increasing. In fact, during the second half of 2018, 57.1% of American homes had cell phones only and did not use a landline.
With so much of the nation depending on cellular connectivity, individuals and businesses alike understand the frustration of weak cell signals, dropped calls, and the inability to get online. Just as smartphone technology has evolved, so too have the solutions for keeping the masses connected. Read on to learn all about some cellular connectivity solutions called distributed antenna systems.
What are distributed antenna systems (DAS system)?
Using cell phones for both personal and business purposes, consumers have come to expect five-bar, reliable service. Fortunately, cellular network engineers have developed numerous solutions to meet modern cellular connectivity needs. Whether in remote areas or inside structures made of signal-sapping building materials, there are a variety of choices to improve cell signal and decrease dropped calls. Passive and active distributed antenna systems (DAS) are the most popular go-to solutions.
DAS addresses cellular connectivity problems for both large and small spaces in outdoor and indoor venues. In fact, despite the perception that DAS is designed only for arenas, stadiums, airports, hospitals, and other massive places, 90% of the DAS system cellular solutions in use today are primarily used in smaller spaces.
How do distributed antenna systems work?
A distributed antenna system (DAS), sometimes called a distributive antenna system, enhances cellular wireless signal with the installation of antennas and other components.
DAS systems can be classified as active, passive, or hybrid. While smaller places with lower capacity needs may consider alternative wireless connectivity solutions for their businesses or homes, the decision for commercial users often comes down to two DAS cellular options: passive or active. Passive DAS takes an outside cellular signal, brings it inside, and distributes it throughout the building.
What is the difference between passive and active DAS?
While integrators typically understand the difference between passive and active DAS, it can be challenging to explain to customers which one is the better choice. The following sections outline the differences and benefits of each solution.
What is active DAS?
An active distributed antenna system (DAS) is a robust, infrastructure-intensive cellular connectivity solution for large areas. It’s commonly the first solution integrators and users turn to – but is it the best option?
An active DAS system creates cellular signal to provide coverage. The system distributes the signal between a centralized signal source and remote DAS nodes placed around a building. An active DAS system accommodates large areas, such as airports and arenas, where thousands of users access the network in a confined space.
Despite the strengths of active DAS, the installation process is complex. An active DAS requires a significant investment of time, infrastructure, and capital, including the construction of a dedicated backhaul.
In fact, active DAS install can cost millions of dollars and take a year or more to implement. A single-carrier active DAS costs between $2 and $4 per square foot. For a multi-carrier solution, costs increase to $5 to $10 per square foot. In some cases, there are additional recurring support fees for the dedicated fiber optics and backhaul requirements.
From a cost perspective, consider these statistics:
- 94% of commercial buildings in the U.S. are smaller than 50,000 square feet, and 88% are less than 25,000 square feet.
- For business owners running the neighborhood pharmacy or a small boutique hotel at or below those footprints, the cost of active DAS per square foot simply doesn’t make economic sense. For example, it would not be a sound business decision for a 12-room hotel to invest half a million dollars to ensure guests can browse Instagram or upload photos to an app in their rooms.
- Only about 2% of the commercial facilities in the U.S. are good candidates for active DAS systems, because they’re larger than 100,000 square feet.
- Another point to consider: per FCC regulations, active cellular DAS not only requires carrier approval, but requires coordination and integration with the carrier network. Therefore, carrier engineers must be involved in the deployment.
What is passive DAS?
A passive distributed antenna system (DAS), also known as a cell phone signal booster system, eliminates cellular connectivity problems by enhancing existing cell signal up to 32 times. Unlike active DAS, it does not require new signal to be created.
The hardware and installation requirements of a passive DAS system are far less expensive and can be installed faster than what’s required for active DAS systems:
- Donor antennas installed on the roof or near a window bring in the outdoor signal.
- Broadcast or “inside” antennas on the interior wall (panel antennas) or ceiling (dome antennas) then transmit the amplified signal to phones and other cellular devices indoors.
- Both types of das antennas connect to the amplifier unit via coaxial cable.
Passive DAS conforms to FCC regulations and generally does not require outside regulatory approval. Since most systems are pre-approved, and because of the low infrastructure requirements for installation, passive DAS can be installed in a matter of days or weeks.
With less overhead, fewer regulations, and lighter equipment than other options, passive DAS is a financially viable option for a wide range of users. Costs for hardware and installation of passive DAS range anywhere from 30 cents to $1 per square foot.
Going back to the boutique hotel example, it makes far more sense for the owner to consider a $15,000 investment that ensures excellent cellular connectivity throughout the hotel vs. a $500,000 investment.
Plus, many passive DAS systems are carrier-agnostic and support multiple carriers simultaneously. So, whether your clients use major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint, or smaller regional carriers, a passive DAS ensures everyone gets the same amplified signal.
How Passive DAS is Applied in Different Venues
Passive DAS is a viable option regardless of the size or type of business. It can be effectively deployed in industries spanning retail, hospitality, restaurants, medical facilities, commercial offices and more. Except for extremely large venues, such as airports and arenas where thousands of people are consuming cellular bandwidth, passive DAS is a feasible, effective solution.
How Passive DAS Works for Retail
Retailers prioritize customer engagement and the in-store shopping experience. Increasingly, this includes providing strong connectivity in the store to allow shoppers easy access to the internet and coupon apps. A passive DAS enhances retail connectivity both outdoors and inside retail spaces, regardless of patrons’ cellular providers. With passive DAS, all carriers are supported.
What’s more, retail cell phone booster solutions like passive DAS enhance security and point-of-sale reliability. Think about how retailers can lose sales due to a slow or unresponsive system, and the associated lines and waiting. Additionally, lack of a secure internet connection can hinder credit card validation and increase fraud rates. A cellular backup can both alleviate these concerns and reduce costs over solely using a fixed line connection.
How Passive DAS Works for Commercial Real Estate
Despite being situated within range of multiple cellular towers, buildings located in crowded urban environments often suffer from poor cellular connection. This problem frustrates even the most experienced commercial real estate developers and can often be attributed to new, energy-efficient building materials that sap even the strongest cellular signals. Integrators can offer a passive DAS commercial real estate cellular solution.
Designed to serve multiple carriers, passive DAS provides developers a connectivity solution that meets the needs of all of their tenants, regardless of what cellular provider they use. Additionally, the affordability and reduced installation requirements of passive DAS help developers meet their obligations when it comes to their bottom line.
How Passive DAS Works for Hospitals
Hospitals and other medical facilities increasingly rely on cell phones and wireless devices for in-house communication, providing doctors and caregivers consistent cellular and data signal.
Unfortunately, hospital cellular signals are easily overwhelmed by staff, patients, and visitors, or negatively impacted by building materials like brick, concrete, steel, and glass. When doctors, nurses, and other caregivers can’t connect with one another, patient care suffers. That’s where passive DAS comes in.
Many hospitals first consider active DAS as the solution for their connectivity problems. But with hospital budgets under scrutiny, administrators increasingly look for ways to lower costs while still prioritizing quality care. Passive DAS offers a cellular connectivity solution for hospitals with the added benefits of financial savings, reduced installation time, and multi-carrier capacity.
How Passive DAS Works for Live Events
Modern event spaces need robust cellular signal whether hosting local weddings and parties or large-scale events like the Grammys. Live tweeting, streaming, and instagramming are critical to an event’s success. But without a strong, carrier-agnostic cellular and data connection, real-time social media networking is virtually impossible.
Passive DAS systems provide an event cellular connectivity solution and have been deployed with great success at New York Fashion Week and other events. Integrators can help event coordinators check off the cellular connectivity box on their planning checklist.
How Passive DAS Works for Hotels
Hotel guests’ demands used to be relatively simple: a comfortable bed, clean sheets, and good customer service. Today, however, that’s not enough. Cellular connectivity is yet another critical area where all hotels need to deliver superior service to guests.
Business travelers need to check email and make work calls from their cell phones, and leisure travelers need to check in at home, read up on local restaurants, and more. Plenty of hotels offer Wi-Fi, but without a strong hotel cellular signal to supplement it, guests may as well be living off the grid.
Passive DAS is a time- and cost-effective connectivity solution for hotel developers and IT managers. Whether the hotel is under construction or up and running, passive DAS enhances cellular service for guests.
How Passive DAS Works for Public Safety
In emergency situations, effective communication relies on connectivity. A robust cellular signal can reduce response times, help first responders prepare, and increase the odds of positive outcomes.
When emergency medical teams and public safety officers have access to a strong cellular network, they are better equipped to use location services and maps, and communicate with one another to do their jobs more effectively. Passive DAS helps improve cellular network access in police stations, firehouses, courthouses, and emergency vehicles. With passive DAS in place, the improved connection results in safer, more efficient operations and enhanced public safety.
How to Get a Passive DAS Distributed Antenna System Installed in Your Building
Starting with a site survey, there are several steps that will ensure successful installation. Read on to learn more about how to get a passive DAS system installed in your building.
- Work with a Dedicated Integrator
Your WilsonPro authorized representative can discuss your cellular connectivity needs with you and get you on the path to your cellular amplifier installation in your building. They’ll start by referring you to a WilsonPro-certified integrator in your area. This professional has a deep working knowledge of the different products that can improve signal inside of buildings and how they can be used.
- Get a Site Survey
Once you’ve completed this initial exploratory conversation, your integrator will schedule a site survey at your building. A site survey is the first and most crucial step in assessing your cellular signal amplification needs to ensure you receive the best solution.
- Design your Customized Solution
Once the initial consultation and site signal survey are complete, your integrator will put together a customized installation plan based on your specific needs, building size, and outside signal strength.
- Remote Monitoring
To ensure the optimal performance of your cellular signal amplification system, your WilsonPro integrator will offer maintenance and support for any new or future needs or problems. Remote, monitoring is part of many WilsonPro boosters including the Enterprise 1300/1300R and Enterprise 4300/4300R series of products. These cloud-enabled systems alert customers of any changes or issues so the integrator can be notified and make adjustments to the amplifier for optimal performance.
Download the Definitive Guide to WilsonPro In-Building Cellular Amplifier Installation to learn more about what to expect.
WilsonPro Cellular Passive DAS Case Studies
Here are some benefits of a cellular DAS solution with real-life scenarios where the technology has been deployed and achieved desired outcomes.
New York department store boosts cell signal with passive DAS
Shoppers were thrilled when a luxury New York department store announced that a remodeled flagship location would open in its original spot. Store officials had planned for a modernized version of the brand with a contemporary design and updated amenities. Unfortunately, the age of the building and the modern materials used in the renovation created challenges when it came to getting adequate cellular coverage inside the building.
Construction was well underway by the time officials realized the problem. Strong cellular connectivity was vital for both sales associates who handled on-the-spot customer checkout, and shoppers who needed the ability to call, text, and access data while inside the store.
The business needed a timely solution that would fit strict design specifications of the remodeled store, so the IT manager contacted a WilsonPro certified integrator. The integrators immediately knew a passive DAS was the right solution. The system required multiple boosters designed for large commercial spaces to generate seamless cellular coverage and data transfer capability. They recommended WilsonPro signal boosters for the job.
System installation was completed in only four days, just as the department store opened its doors. By the time customers began shopping, they could send and receive phone calls, texts, and access cellular data from every floor without a problem. Store clerks used their tablets to access the network for faster customer service and sales processing. For more about this success story, read the case study.
Montreal condo building overcomes connectivity challenges with passive DAS
Modern luxury condo buildings offer residents state-of-the-art amenities to stay competitive. Doormen, gyms, and pools are standard features these days. But what about cellular connectivity? With new energy-efficient building materials being used to construct condos, poor cell phone signal is an increasingly common problem for developers.
That problem became apparent during the recent construction of a condominium in downtown Montreal. As the grand opening neared, developers noticed that the building’s key systems were not functioning due to lack of cellular service. The glass windows and doors that covered the building interfered with the signal that drove the building’s intercom, security, and elevator telephone systems, even though the antennas operating those systems were located just a few feet from the glass doors. When the lobby doors were open, the cellular signal was a strong -60 decibels, but as soon as it closed, the signal fell dramatically to -120 decibels.
With little time to waste before the opening, building developers and Bell Canada contacted Stephen Friedman, vice president and chief operating officer of WilsonPro integrator Cellworx. It was soon clear to Friedman that the building required a passive DAS to enhance the cell signal inside the building.
After installation, all systems inside the building were up and running with improved cell signal in time for the opening. Passive DAS enhanced the signal inside the building to approximately -50db, far improved from the -120db the lobby received before the project began. To learn more, read the case study.
Get Started Today with WilsonPro Passive DAS Solutions
WilsonPro offers cellular connectivity solutions for businesses of all sizes and in all industries. Whether you’re a customer or a WilsonPro-certified integrator, contact us today to learn more about customizing a passive distributed antenna system design solution for your commercial space.
You can also join the WilsonPro Partner Network and gain access to industry-leading support, training, resources, and more.