LTE Spurs Indoor Wireless Coverage Biz
The shift to next-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) will boost carriers' needs for indoor coverage solutions, according to distributed antenna systems (DAS) specialist ExteNet Systems Inc.
The company's approach to indoor wireless is that the more cell sites and the closer they are to the user, the better the coverage will be. ExteNet's DAS networks, which it has provided since 2002, fill wireless coverage gaps using 4-inch antennas installed on telephone poles, as well as in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in buildings. (See ExteNet Nabs $128.4M.)
Now, the vendor sees an opportunity with LTE.
When LTE is deployed, it will drive carriers' need to offer more sites and to get even closer to the user, says Eric Lekacz, ExteNet’s executive vice president of business development and strategy.
ExteNet has crunched the numbers and finds that somewhere between 300 feet and 450 feet line-of-site from the user to an antenna is as far as carriers can venture to provide the throughput speeds they need indoors.
There’s no reason to have an LTE iPad unless it performs really well, especially indoors, Lekacz says, adding that an LTE version of all mobile devices isn’t far away. (See 'Millions' of LTE Handsets by 2012?, An LTE iPhone? Think 2012 (or Later), and LTE Phones Will Lag Behind Networks .)
“We’re focused on where are those capacity challenged areas," he says. "They need even more coverage because these devices are just creating such demand on the networks that you have to look at a distributed architecture to be able to support it.”
DAS suppliers aren't the only vendors eyeing the LTE opportunity for indoor coverage. Femtocell companies are also vying to boost coverage for LTE with their small home base stations. (See DoCoMo Seeks LTE Femto Suppliers, NEC Preps LTE Femto, Wavesat, picoChip Demo LTE, and AirWalk Preps LTE Picocell Proto for CTIA.)
ExteNet also provides outdoor wireless networks, but it’s finding its sweet spot in indoor areas where carriers are looking for an economical way to extend consistent and uniform service around barriers and often to hundreds of rooms in hotels and hospitals.
Oftentimes, as was the case with the Trump Hotel in Chicago, the property owner itself contributes to the network buildout.
“We’ll build out the network, contribute and fund it all; they make the capital contribution, and they market it for the service providers to come onboard,” Lekacz says.
For Trump, ExteNet deployed its iDuct system, a proprietary method of using the HVAC systems to distribute the radio frequency (RF) signal throughout the building. Signals are routed from a centralized location through the building's ductwork. It is quick to install and doesn’t require ripping up the building for the sake of wireless.
“When these high-rise buildings or offices are built, they may not know how the floor is going to be configured," Lekacz says. “The [HVAC] system provides an ideal infrastructure for distribution of RF. It’s easier to move RF than air.”
Lekacz says its HVAC approach is what differentiates it from competitors, of which there are many. It competes with, but also uses equipment from, companies like ADC (Nasdaq: ADCT), CommScope Inc. , and Powerwave Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: PWAV).
The market today is a perfect storm for DAS, as Lekacz describes it. With LTE on the horizon, as well as several flavors of 3G already deployed, a host of new bandwidth-hungry devices, zoning and permitting challenges, backhaul stress and time-to-market issues, it's troublesome for a carrier, but ideal for indoor wireless vendors, to expand their business.
“All these things all at once [are] pointing right to [the idea that] you have to do a distributed network,” he says. “The question is not do I do it, but who do I do it with, and how do I go about doing it? I think the technologists and carriers all see this and understand it.”
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile