In-Building Shapes Up?

The market for in-building wireless systems could finally be on the verge of mainstream success following years of low-profile network deployments, according to the latest edition of Unstrung Insider.

The report -- "Cells in the City: Extending Wireless Coverage" -- argues that demand for kit capable of extending cellular network coverage into hard-to-reach urban locations is at last showing signs of potential growth.

“The sector is ripe for evolution,” claims author Gabriel Brown. “Mobile users are becoming less and less tolerant of poor reception, dropped calls and lack of coverage... Carriers now realize that they’re leaving money on the table by not extending their networks.”

The report examines two types of in-building systems: distributed antenna systems (DASs) from the likes of Andrew Corp. (Nasdaq: ANDW) and LGP Allgon Holding AB; and micro/pico cell networks from vendors such as AirWalk Communications Inc. and ip.access Ltd.

Today the in-building sector is dominated by "passive" DAS, based on copper co-ax cable, accounting for around 70 percent of the market. Typically these are single-carrier systems that take a radio frequency feed from the mobile operator’s macro or micro base station and distribute it throughout the building.

Further growth is expected to come from both multi-carrier fiber DAS and IP-based pico cell systems.

Unlike single-carrier systems that only transmit a signal (at a given frequency) for one carrier, multi-carrier systems enable a neutral host -- for example, the building owner -- to rent access to several carriers. "From the point of view of future-proofing the network as new frequencies become available, multi-carrier systems should also make sense to the mobile carrier," says Brown.

The move to IP-based micro base stations, meanwhile, is expected to overcome the huge cost of backhaul. Traditional pico base stations connect via a TDM (time-division multiplexing) interface to the rest of the network via a dedicated T1/E1 line -- which often costs more than the additional revenue generated by that cell site.

"To address this cost, it is natural to move to IP transport over Ethernet or DSL to connect the base station to the rest of the network," adds Brown.

Although Brown does not expect to see a huge market boom "in the near term," he is confident that the sector is primed for future growth. "If ever there was a sector that could benefit from more hype, the in-building systems market is it.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

The new report -- Cells in the City: Extending Wireless Coverage -- is available as part of an annual subscription to the monthly Unstrung Insider, which will be available for a special introductory rate of $899 through April 12, 2004, after which the rate will increase to $1,350. Annual subscription includes 12 monthly issues and access to all archived Unstrung Insider reports. Individual reports are available for $400 through April 12, 2004, after which the price will increase to $900. Cells in the City may be previewed here.

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