Errors to avoid when deploying distributed antenna systems and small cells

Errors to avoid when deploying distributed antenna systems and small cells

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

The ubiquitous nature of wireless connectivity doesn't make it any easier for enterprises to implement their own solutions. The alphabet soup of technology choices related to Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cells can be intimidating even for the most seasoned IT managers weighing the investment, security implications and the consequences of a planning blunder.

Despite the risks, the importance of successful wireless deployment and strategy continues to drive business leaders to find the right solution. In 2013 alone, US spending on DAS technologies was up 30% according to research firm Mobile Experts. And it shows no signs of slowing, with TheInfoPro Wave 10 Networking study calling for 38% of enterprises to boost their wireless spending next year.

As wireless spending increases, so does the number of missteps enterprises are making as they find their way through this complex maze. Regardless of whether an enterprise is starting from scratch or making incremental improvements to existing wireless infrastructure, the options seem infinite.  While there are several "right" answers in terms of how to go about an enterprise-wide deployment, to ensure the highest level of success (and the least amount of disruption), these are a few things to avoid:

Error No. 1: Proceeding without a Professional Wireless Needs Assessment

The "coverage" side of the equation is a pretty straight-forward determination. Deciding where to place the infrastructure needed to enable the coverage is not.  For example, in-building wireless systems that can support licensed frequencies have significant space and infrastructure requirements. It is not uncommon for the head end space requirement to be 150 to 200 square feet per carrier. Additionally, planning for the power, heating, ventilation and air conditioning access and T-1 connectivity will prove to be the essential factors to a successful deployment. Combined these factors will have a huge impact on the overall scope of the project, particularly if architecture or aesthetics need to be considered.

Error No. 2: Failing to Engage Wireless Service Providers (WSP) Early in the Process

If the deployment requires the use of licensed frequencies, the wireless service provider owning the license not only needs to be involved, but will also need to approve the installation. Early-engagement with the WSP is critical to ensure that blow through established timelines and budgets and, in some cases, the WSP can even provide funding for the system.

Similarly, while the WSP will review and approve the system design and make recommendations for system installers and integrators, it is wise to work with vendors already familiar with carrier's existing requirements and guidelines to minimize time and project delays.

Error No. 3: Thinking Only About Today

In 2011, Gartner predicted that 80% of newly installed wireless networks will be obsolete in 2015 because of a lack of proper planning. If that prediction holds even remotely true, many CIOs and network operators should be concerned about future-proofing their deployments to avoid having to tell their bosses that after only a few years, their sizable investment no longer sufficiently meets the company's needs.

All systems being implemented today need to account for future considerations such as the increased bandwidth needs and device compatibility requirements driven by recent developments, such as consumption and use of video and widespread adoption of BYOD in the workplace.

Error No. 4: Failing to Communicate

While disruption of normal day-to-day business activities can be minimized, some will be inevitable and can have more than a minor effect on workflow. It is not unusual for the entire process to take 12-18 months from early planning, funding and carrier approvals, to construction and optimization. Implementing a communications plan for the project is recommended to help manage expectations, keep internal staff apprised of any changes in the timeline, and to assist in working with project leads to devise plans to make sure business operations are undisturbed.

Error No. 5: Placing Too Much Emphasis on Upfront Cost

Enterprises often underestimate or have unrealistic expectations about what a system will and should cost. This flawed thinking includes expecting that someone else (typically the carrier) should absorb the cost, underestimating the cost of the infrastructure to support the new system and, in general, failing to appreciate the cost of this major undertaking.

Cost is certainly something that cannot be ignored, but enterprises should also avoid the pitfalls of being "penny-wise and pound foolish" as it relates to the success of the implementation.  Before making decisions that may doom the project from the start, enterprises should work with an experienced systems integrator to conduct a budgetary analysis early in the planning process so that they can understand the areas of investment that are most critical for success.

Error No. 6: Neglecting to Consider Post-Deployment Validation, Maintenance and Support

Just because the contractors have left the building doesn't mean the installation is complete. Proper testing, analysis and verification is critical to ensure an enterprise is getting what it needed, and more importantly, what it paid for.

Enterprises also need to understand what ongoing maintenance will be needed for the system going forward to ensure it remains compatible with our constantly-evolving connected world.   Enterprises also need to ensure that there is a clear understanding of ownership and action in the event of an outage or service need to ensure the least amount of impact to the enterprise's business operations.

A foolproof guide on implementing in-building wireless solutions doesn't exist, but having some foresight and asking the right questions will go a long way to minimize the risk of a deficient wireless network holding back business operations.

Goodman Networks is one of the largest companies in the U.S. offering end-to-end network solutions including design, engineering, deployment, maintenance and decommissioning services.

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