Demand for higher wireless data throughput and denser wireless networks is driving the installation of distributed antenna systems (DAS) as well as small cells and Wi-Fi systems. But without existing fiber from the central office, deploying these devices can be a time-consuming and expensive proposition. At the same time, competition among network operators is increasingly driving broadband access solutions such as fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) as network operators seek to deliver up to and beyond one gigabyte per second of broadband service. But the business model for these networks is problematic because a large investment is required to reach a few initial customers. Leveraging broadband access networks for connecting DAS or other access terminals solves problems for both wireline network providers and wireless service providers.
Network operators have spent billions building out FTTH networks using passive optical networking (PON) technology. These networks have spare fiber in them due to initial overbuilding and the relatively low take rates. Even at maximum take rates, FTTH networks are expected to have at least one spare fiber per fiber service terminal. As a result, network operators have the available network infrastructure that they would like to better monetize.
Wireless service providers are looking to deliver higher data rates throughout their networks by deploying DAS, small cells, and Wi-Fi systems. By deploying these access devices in the wireless network, service providers can reduce the number of macro cells deployed, make better use of spectrum resources, and deliver improved services to customers. The problem is that these wireless access devices require fiber connections from a centralized location, such as a Central Office, and the cost of deploying fiber networks for this purpose significantly worsens the business case for the network operator and takes too long to deploy in keeping pace with wireless subscriber usage demands.
Running DAS for wireless coverage and capacity over existing PON installations addresses both challenges: fixed network operators can better monetize the available fiber in their PON networks, and wireless service providers can leverage an existing fiber network for faster and less costly service deployments. There are two models for deploying DAS over PON. The first is for the fixed network operator to lease dark fiber to the DAS provider. In this case, the DAS provider is responsible for connecting and deploying the fiber. The alternative is for the fixed network operator to lease access to the PON infrastructure as a managed service, in which case the wireline provider deploys and connects the network. Both business models will be adopted, but a connectorized network makes it more likely that the DAS provider will do the deployment because connecting the network becomes a plug-and-play matter. Rather than requiring specialized fiber-splicing skills, a connectorized network allows wireless service providers to use standard field technicians to connect the DAS to fiber.