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What Property Owners Really Need to Know About the Lifespan of a DAS

Featuring Connectivity Wireless’ SVP of Network Operations, James Smith

1. What is one thing you really wish property owners knew about the lifespan of a DAS?

There really isn’t anything that is maintenance-free. From flooring, lighting, paint on the walls to electrical, plumbing, or even your car, everything requires maintenance. This is true of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) as well.

A great analogy for DAS maintenance is comparing DAS to an automobile. This is still fresh in my mind from a recent road trip vacation to Colorado my wife and I took with friends. We drove from North Texas to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and then on to the Collegiate Peaks area of Colorado and made several stops along the way. Three days in, on a two-lane road winding out of the mountains, my SUV just decided to stop running and left us stranded on the side of the road. Before we left, I had the car serviced, oil changed, tires rotated, and did everything you are supposed to do, but the vehicle still broke down. We managed to have a great time on the trip, but we did spend that entire day towing the car, getting a rental, and modifying our plans. The point is that most folks wouldn’t dream of ignoring preventative maintenance on their car, but even if they did, they want their car fixed if it breaks with minimal impact to their daily lives. This is exactly the same scenario with DAS.

A DAS is a very complex system made up of passive components as well as active electronic systems that were designed to be monitored and maintained for the life of the system. Much like a car, a DAS needs to be tuned up. If a car is left unmaintained, it will start running poorly, sounding bad, and will eventually stop running. DAS reacts much the same way.

DAS equipment is designed to communicate that something is going wrong (like the check engine light on your car), but you have to be listening and acting on those alerts to ensure the optimal performance of the wireless network. When you have a monitoring service in place for your DAS, technicians will receive those alerts and can diagnose problems, clear errors, and keep track of systemic problems, much like when the mechanic plugs your car into the computer to get the error codes that are being generated. Unlike your car, however, with a DAS, it’s possible to proactively listen and make real-time adjustments, rather than just reacting. Doing so allows parts to be replaced quickly as they fail and even helps predict what might fail soon so it can be swapped in advance of a service outage altogether.

2. What advice do you have for property owners to make their DAS last as long as possible?

At some point, the DAS equipment will need to be replaced because of new technology and frequencies, but a well-maintained DAS will last much longer and will provide great service to the users as compared to one that falls into disrepair.

DAS maintenance is a highly technical and specialized service. The best thing you can do is find a partner with the background, skill set, and resources to perform this work. Very few companies have all of the pieces to deliver a true turnkey service, but to get the most mileage out of your DAS, that’s really what it takes — A one-stop shop to monitor, maintain and repair the DAS as well as to guide you through upgrades and replacements when the time comes.

Further, there are three factors to consider related to the DAS in your building. Monitoring, preventative maintenance, and break/fix. All three are necessary to ensure that the investment in the DAS lasts for as long as possible. It is because of this reason that wireless carriers demand that a contract is put in place that, among other things, requires that the DAS be monitored and maintained to comply with their stringent multi 9’s service levels. Carriers require this level of support because they understand that a DAS that is not maintained well will not offer good service to their end-user customers in the long term.

3. When is the right time to invest in a new or replacement DAS?

That’s a burning question that I get asked a lot: “When do I invest in DAS for my building?” This a fair question because of the investment that DAS requires, and there is a valid concern about timing. No one wants to jump in too soon and miss the next wireless evolution or the amazing new feature. This is certainly a topic for another article, or many articles. But in short, my advice is that now is the time. The wireless industry will continue to evolve with new features, frequencies, and technologies, so there is always going to be something amazing just around the corner regardless of when you buy.
Just like the car analogy above, next year’s model may have some improvements or features from this year, but the car you buy today is certainly better than the one you bought 10 years ago. The same is true of DAS. Rather than thinking of installing a DAS as a one-time purchase and trying to determine when the “perfect time” may be, it should be viewed as an evolving system which is changing and adapting to new technologies as the cellular networks become more advanced. Getting started now means solving today’s coverage and performance problems, which will certainly create an enhanced experience for the users within the venue.
Summing it up, I’ll leave you with this last piece of advice: opt for a scalable, modular “model” of a DAS system that can adapt to new technologies. Then, once installed, invest in taking care of the system so that it performs well as long as possible. Or alternatively, hire an all-in-one integrator/neutral host provider like Connectivity Wireless that can design, build, own, maintain, and upgrade the DAS for an extended term, at limited financial cost to you.

4. How long have you been in wireless?

25 years.

I started my career in telecom in 1995 when MCI hired me as part of the college recruiting effort. They moved me to Texas a few weeks after graduation, and I spent a few years there before and during the merger with Worldcom. With the Worldcom shakeup, I looked for an opportunity to move into wireless, so in 1999 I went to work for Metricom to launch the Ricochet network, which was the first high-speed mobile wireless internet offering in the US.

After Metricom, I worked at several small companies focusing on unlicensed wireless backhaul and Wi-Fi before accepting a position at Verizon Wireless. At Verizon, I helped to develop their national DAS and in-building program for seven years focusing on some of the largest public DAS systems in the world, including stadiums, arenas, airports and train terminals. I have been with Connectivity Wireless for three years focusing on technical sales and network operations.

5. Tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in Newark, Ohio, which is a small town about 40 miles east of Columbus. After high school I attended Central Ohio Technical College, which is a two-year technical school in that town. I found the class I took about telecommunications to be the most interesting, so after getting an associate’s degree in electronics, I transferred to Ohio University in the rolling hills of Athens. GO BOBCATS! There I majored in telecommunications systems management. I moved to Dallas a few weeks after graduation and now call Texas my home. I married a local girl, and we have raised two sons who are making us very proud. Outside of work, I enjoy golf, scuba diving, and shooting sports as time allows, but my favorite hobby is music. I play in several bands in the North Texas area and also play bass in the Wireless Industry Association band, which performs at numerous events each year.

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