ORLANDO, Fla. — Remember that outdoor distributed antenna system (DAS) AT&T wants to deploy in Palo Alto that we told you about earlier this month? At the CTIA Wireless show here Tuesday AT&T chief technology officer John Donovan confirmed that Ma Bell has a new team focused solely on DAS deployments, with a headcount in the hundreds.
“I won’t tell you exactly how many, but we do have hundreds of people working on DAS [deployments],” said Donovan in a brief interview following one of his many panel appearances Tuesday. According to Donovan AT&T already has several DAS deployments operational, including another outdoor one in Chicago where the small DAS antennas are attached to light poles.
Historically used to improve cellular coverage inside of buildings, DAS is basically a method to deploy a series of synchronized smaller antennas instead of a larger, cellular antenna array, such as those found atop buildings or on the unsightly antenna towers that are now a common part of the urban landscape. Inside a building, a DAS can help improve cellular reception by bringing small antennas closer to users inside, who then don’t have to connect their cell phones through walls or windows. A typical DAS system might then route the internal antenna connections to a stronger antenna connection on the roof to link to the parent cellular network, improving throughput while conserving device and antenna power.
According to Donovan the DAS group inside of AT&T is a fairly recent orginzation of assets, one that put a full-field blitz on Cowboys Stadium in Dallas for this year’s Super Bowl. Tuesday at CTIA Donovan said the DAS network got an incredible workout during the game — where he said for the first time at any similar event the wireless bits going OUT of the venue (meaning messages being sent by people at the stadium) surpassed the number of bits coming in.
“That’s a pretty interesting phenomenon,” Donovan noted, guessing that it was picture and video messages from the I’m-at-the-Super-Bowl crowd that reversed the usual flow of wireless data. As part of its concerted DAS push AT&T ’s DAS team is also targeting large arenas and buildings like convention centers.
If we are to believe AT&T’s contention that their wireless spectrum is in danger of being completely used up, DAS could theoretically help AT&T significantly by giving its users more towers to connect to. The smaller DAS antennas are also more likely to win neighborhood and civic approval over the bigger standard cell tower antenna arrays, giving providers a faster way to get from drawing board to network infrastructure.