Currently, there is the MCF2018 standard. The current specifications only talks about 4G networks. However, as 5G has been around for some time now and is gradually making its way into the In-Building industry, the carriers represented by the MCF will have to update the MCF document to incorporate technologies such as 5G and perhaps beyond.
The current type of Distributed Antenna System, using coaxle cable, which runs into small dome shaped antennas that are deployed around the building will still exist in the future in the In-Building industry. This is because the current system is flexible, and carriers are able to refarm their frequencies for 5G. This means that many of the older DAS systems using pure passive systems will still function as 5G becomes universal. The typical passive DAS systems and dome antennas will still be around for years to come.
The next thing to happen in the DAS industry, is the new age generation of systems which run on fibre and to some extent, higher grade Ethernet cable. These fibre based systems, which are called low powered active systems, will have a lot more intelligence at the edge. These systems will replace the small dome antennas with small boxes that are similar to Wi-Fi boxes. These small units will have computing capabilities, which will allow them to not only deliver 5G, higher throughput and lower latency via 5G but also have additional functionality such as, Bluetooth capabilities, gigabit Ethernet passthrough and a whole host of additional exciting features that can be implemented by using a more intelligent unit.
However, currently there is no standard on these type of systems which is why they have not yet been implemented by carriers. These units are also more expensive to incorporate into a DAS project and DAS Integrators typically want to keep costs as low as possible for the building owner or developer. Soon, these systems will become more common, as the small low powered active systems are the future of In-Building coverage. While it will likely take a while for these systems to be implemented, they will at some point hit a critical mass point and will become a standard adopted by the major carriers.
Looking further into the future, these lowered power active systems will become more common and their functionality will continue to improve, which will offset some of the cost. For example, If a small lowered power unit can track assets, that is a benefit to the building owner, which will in turn, help him manage his building.
There are pros and cons to this technology, cons being the price of the units and pros being the additional features and capabilities they can perform.
Another trend likely to be seen in the future of the DAS industry is smaller sizing in equipment and the requirements needed for the DAS room. Currently, a typical DAS room requires a minimum of 32m2 and needs to host at least 4-5 racks per carrier. When a carrier plugs into a DAS system, they need to deploy racks for their base stations equipment, transmission equipment and back up battery packs, which take up a lot of space. Once all three carriers have plgged in, there will be at least 12 racks of equipment just for a typical passive system, whereas other system types would require even more space. This dedicated room comes at quite the cost to the building owner or developer, not only do they have a room that they cannot charge rent on, they have decreased the square meters of useable space in the building. However, the DAS industry is shifting to a more virtualised system, which means that all the core functionality is done elsewhere and the building has remote units that are driving the DAS system. Instead of having a dedicated DAS room, it is possible to have only a few small units on the wall driving the DAS system, saving the building owner or developer on space and cost of electricity and air conditioning.
Further to the future, the software based capabilities the DAS industry will start to see, will run on top of these new active systems. For example, Huawei has a product called ‘Lampsite’, and it has functionality to run, what they refer to as a ‘Service Anchor’. Which allows a third party software developer to run its own applications over the ‘Lampsite’ and use all of the ‘Lampsites’ location functionality, which opens up the IBC and DAS to a whole array of third party functions that have not yet been explored by the DAS industry. Other vendors will also likely develop similar software and features. Software driven capabilities will be an exciting new capability for DAS systems although, still a few years away.