DAS & Small Cell Crowd Shifts Focus to the Middleprise

By Special Guest
Mike Collado, Vice president of marketing for SOLiD
  |  December 29, 2015

One of the highlights of this summer’s DAS and Small Cells Congress was a notable shift in conversation and focus from traditional tier one venues such as stadiums to the middleprise, a new industry term for the enterprise market that defines venues with 100,000 to 500,000 square feet and where neither conventional DAS nor small cells are optimal solutions.

Despite its name, the middleprise is a big deal, particularly in light of the slowdown for the tier one venue market, which is reaching saturation. Skyline Marketing Group says the tier two venues represent $19 billion in opportunity. ABI Research (News - Alert) says that less than 2 percent of the market penetrated.

But there needs to be a dose of reality with that $19 billion valuation. The middleprise is complicated, varied, and presents some significant barriers to widespread adoption of in-building wireless solutions. More specific, there are four challenges facing the middleprise ecosystem. However, I believe they are all addressable and, with innovative technology and business cases, solutions are imminent.

Business Models

Funding and ownership will play a key role in how this market evolves. While wireless operators will participate at some level, it is very unlikely that they will fund at the same levels as previously in the tier one venues. Similarly, third-party owners will need to assess the ROI before pulling the trigger. It will be incumbent upon the venue owner to be a catalyst by either shouldering all the upfront cost of the network or brokering a deal that shares the cost of the deployment across multiple stakeholders.

The Technology Toolkit

No two deployments are likely to be the same. That’s why it’s going to be complicated. The current in-building toolkit – which includes DAS and small cells – must evolve to provide a cost-effective, multi-operator coverage solution for the middleprise. The ideal technology solution will offer the right features to make it easy to design, deploy, commission, optimize, manage, and monitor the in-building network at the right price. And it may likely mean that DAS and small cells – not DAS or small cells – are deployed based on the venue, the architecture, the occupants, and the specific wireless needs.

Design and Network Infrastructure

The middleprise poses unique challenges to achieving a balance between quality of service and total cost of ownership. Large venues are really not that complicated: a stadium is a stadium. In contrast, the buildings that make up this emerging market represent 100 years of architectural standards, and incorporate just about every building material, ranging from brick and concrete to newer, energy-efficient materials that are highly resistant to RF signals. Inside-out thinking is required. Plus, middleprise budgets can’t support a rip-and-replace strategy when infrastructure no longer supports the technology. Instead, network infrastructure needs be designed to last the lifespan of the building, as James Carlini describes in his book Location Location Connectivity.

Public-Safety Requirements and Responsibilities

In the event of an emergency, the public is far more likely to reach for a smartphone than a landline or fire alarm pull station. New thinking in public safety embraces this understanding and treats the public – you and me – as an integral part of the public-safety communications system. Current building safety and fire codes are being evolved to ensure that both the general public and public-safety first responders can interoperate and communicate inside the building.

The Middleprise Vision

Not since the early days of in-building wireless has there been such a big market opportunity that’s largely untapped. Like any new market, the middleprise presents unique challenges but offers significant opportunity. To be sure, the middleprise challenges the conventional technology toolkit and business models. But this nascent market also offers a once-in-a-decade opportunity for new market leadership within the in-building wireless ecosystem.

Mike Collado is vice president of marketing for SOLiD (http://www.solid.com), a manufacturer of optical transport, RF amplifier, and RF radio solutions.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere