Cell Signal Booster Vs Distributed Antenna System (DAS)

Cell Signal Booster Vs Distributed Antenna System (DAS)

Written by Alejandra Jasso
15th Apr 2021

Which is Best for Your Business? A Signal Booster or DAS?

You probably already know that Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are designed to enhance cellular signals. But did you know that cell phone signal booster systems are a type of DAS?

Most people associate the term “DAS” with “Active DAS” and don’t realize that there are different types of Distributed Antenna Systems. Cell phone signal boosters fall under the “Passive Distributed Antenna Systems” classification – also called “Passive DAS.”

With that in mind, a better question would be: Is a signal booster better for my business than an active DAS?

Here you’ll find what Active and Passive Distributed Antenna Systems are, as well as the top 5 reasons why you should consider a commercial signal booster over an Active Distributed Antenna System.

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What is a Distributed Antenna System (DAS)?

A Distributed Antenna System or DAS, as its name suggests, is a system of strategically placed antennas distributed throughout a large building, such as hospitals, hotels, multi-story commercial buildings, convention centers, stadiums, and schools, to dramatically enhance cellular signals and provide better coverage.

The DAS antennas would all be connected to a central processing point – a signal repeater. Since DAS can’t create cellular signals, the central processing point needs to be connected to a signal source. Usually, the signal source is either off-air (via an antenna on the roof), an on-site Base Transceiver Station (BTS), or small cell.

There are two main types of DAS: iDAS (for indoor use) and oDAS (for outdoor use). Out of the two, indoor Distributed Antenna Systems are the most common. The two main methods of improving in-building wireless are Active DAS and Passive DAS.

How Active DAS Work

Active systems are more powerful and can provide more coverage and range. They use fiber-optic or ethernet cables to connect the components to one or more Base Transceiver Station(s) that directly communicate with the core cellular networks (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint). To install an Active DAS, carrier approval is needed from every provider whose signal you are planning to enhance in your building.

This intricate system receives analog radio frequency (RF) signals directly from the source and converts them into digital signals, significantly reducing signal loss. This allows for longer cable runs, which helps in providing wall-to-wall coverage. Before the signal is broadcasted, it’s converted back into RF signals, allowing all users to experience superior cellular connectivity indoors.

How Passive DAS Work

Passive systems, also known as cell phone signal boosters or bi-directional amplifiers (BDA), use a donor antenna (omni or uni-directional) to send and receive off-the-air RF signals from the signal source – generally nearby cell towers. The signal picked up by the donor antenna is sent to the amplifier or repeater via coaxial cables for boosting. The boosted signal then travels through more cables, splitters., and taps, to be broadcasted by the internal panel or dome antennas.

The system's amplification power and coverage area are dictated by the quality of your outside signal. Buildings with strong or decent outside signal can achieve whole-building coverage with the proper installation. However, to achieve maximum coverage and signal amplification in rural areas, stronger amplifiers and antennas will be needed.

NOTE: Active and Passive Distributed Antenna Systems can be used to improve wireless coverage and capacity inside commercial buildings for regular users, or for public safety systems to ensure uninterrupted communication between first responders during emergencies.

Why you Should Consider a Commercial Signal Booster over an Active DAS

At first, an Active Distributed Antenna System seems like an ideal solution to boost cell phone signal in a building.

They are generally more powerful than a commercial cell phone signal booster. However, once the pros and cons are weighed against each other, a pro-grade cell signal booster does the job without the added hassles, headaches, and especially costs.

Here are the top 5 reasons why you should consider a commercial signal booster over an Active DAS.

1) Cost

An Active DAS can be up to 10 times more expensive compared to an enterprise signal booster of equal coverage.

Whereas a cell signal booster simply takes the existing signal, amplifies it, and rebroadcasts the enhanced signal into the building, Active Distributed Antenna Systems require more expensive components and dedicated monitoring systems to virtually do the same job.

For example, most Active DAS systems use fiber optic cables to transmit signals from one component to the next. While a very good performer, it requires custom cabling, intricate installation, and specific equipment to decode data to and from the fiber optics.

This is only one component of Active DAS. Other equipment - such as additional components to improve coverage for multiple carriers - adds to the cost, workload, and deployment time, resulting in higher installation service fees.

Many signal boosters use the standard RG-6 coax cables that are used by satellite and cable TV providers. Many buildings are often pre-wired with existing RG-6 outlets which may help with antenna installation, therefore, reducing time and cost. Most commercial units, however, tend to make use of thicker specifications of cable with lower loss.

On average, an Active DAS costs between $5 to $10 per sq ft, while a Passive DAS costs between $0.50 to $1 per sq ft. To put this into perspective, with a 100,000 square foot building, you can expect costs from $500,000 - $1,000,000 with an Active DAS, versus $50,000 - $100,000 with a commercial cell phone signal booster system.

2) Carrier Permissions

Cell signal boosters are FCC-certified and given immediate blanket consent for use with all major carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and many more. All you have to do is register the signal booster with your cellular provider. The process takes a few minutes.

With Active DAS, carrier permission is required to connect a carrier-specific amplifier directly to the carrier’s core network and make use of other costly equipment to transmit the signal.

This requires the carrier to invest in the project. There are additional costs on top of that.

What costs, you ask? Lengthy contracts of up to 10 years. A required large number of subscribers. Cell phone subscriptions that must fall within their own cellular network and data plans.

And this is only for one carrier.

To get a Distributed Antenna System to work on multiple providers, more permission, more time, and eventually, more fees are added.

This is all assuming the carriers agree with the initial design. If not, Active DAS integrators must rework their plans for alternatives to satisfy the carrier’s requests before approval. Again, this takes more time and politics. Ultimately, the carriers make the final decision.

3) Installation Time

Installing an Active DAS can take several months to several years. This includes carrier permission, connecting equipment to carrier core networks, custom cabling, and installing antennas. The carrier approval process alone can take a minimum of 6 months per carrier. Without approval, the equipment can’t be installed.

To integrate an Active DAS that works with multiple carriers, multiple permissions are required, and additional equipment will be needed to communicate with each carrier’s core network. This makes Active DAS installations more complex, thus lengthening installation times even more.

A commercial signal booster, on the other hand, can take a few weeks to install. Certified installers would first visit your building and conduct a site survey to understand your building’s unique design, current signal coverage, make equipment recommendations, and determine the best installation points. With that information, a custom-built system design plan can be deployed to maximize cellular coverage in your building. After the design has been completed, the equipment will be professionally installed.

4) Supported Cellular Carriers

Most cell phone signal boosters are designed to amplify multiple carriers at the same time. However, you might need additional external antennas.

Most signal booster kits are equipped with a Yagi antenna. Yagi’s are directional, meaning they only send and receive RF signals from one direction. For best results, they have to point in the direction of the closest cell tower of the carrier you want to boost. They’ll pick up any carrier's wireless signal that fall within their radiation cone, which is typically 45 to 90 degrees. Usually, a single Yagi antenna can only pick up signals from one or two carriers. To amplify multiple carriers, additional Yagi's are needed.

Occasionally, signal booster kits are coupled with omni-directional antennas. These external antennas send and receive RF signals from every direction – 360 degrees. As long as the antenna is installed in the area with the strongest outside signal, it can pick up every carrier’s signal from nearby cell towers.

On the other hand, a single Active Distributed Antenna System only works with one carrier. For a carrier-agnostic Active DAS solution, additional pricey components are needed to communicate with each carrier’s core network.

Even with additional external antennas, a cell phone signal booster is still more cost-effective.

5) It’s Already Being Used by The Big Names

Department of Defense, Microsoft, Nike, GE, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Valero, Halliburton, Apple, and many more well-known companies have invested in commercial cell phone signal booster systems and are extremely pleased with the results. Not only do they have better in-building coverage but also saved a lot of money in the long run.

Best Commercial Cell Phone Signal Boosters

Our Top Commercial Signal Booster

WilsonPro 1100 - 460147
WilsonPro 1100 - 460147

Best for midsize offices, schools, warehouse, and enterprise.

Contact Us For Pricing
  • 5G-capable
  • Up to 35,000 sq ft of coverage
  • Up to +70 dB of gain, with +25 dBm uplink and 15 dBm downlink
  • Works with multiple cellular devices across all carriers
  • LCD touch screen for greater usability
  • Expansion kits available to extend coverage

The WilsonPro 1100 is a leader in the space of power and performance. It’s designed for extremely rural and urban applications.

With up to +25 dBm uplink and 15 dBm downlink output powers, it can communicate with far distanced cell towers and provide a coverage area of up to 35,000 sq ft under perfect conditions. Base on your outside signal strength, you’ll most likely get between 15,000 – 20,000 sq ft.

It features XDR (eXtended Dynamic Range) technology allowing the booster to automatically adjust its gain and prevent the booster from overloading. The LCD screen allows for easy frequency band customization, troubleshoot, access performance, and more.

If you’re looking for a powerful unit that offers versatility, the WilsonPro 1100 is a no-brainer.

Most Popular Commercial Signal Booster

WilsonPro 70 Plus (50 Ohm) - 463127
WilsonPro 70 Plus (50 Ohm) - 463127

Best for small and medium commercial buildings.

Buy Now for $1,199.99
  • 5G-capable
  • Up to 25,000 sq ft of coverage
  • Up to +70 dB of gain
  • Works with multiple cellular devices across all carriers
  • Automatic gain control to prevent overload
  • Expansion kits available to extend coverage

The Wilson Pro 70 Plus is the most popular pro-grade commercial signal booster designed to amplify cellular signals inside small and medium commercial buildings.

With gains up to +70 dB, it can cover up to 25,000 sq ft under best conditions. Installers say on average they see around 10,000 to 15,000 sq ft of coverage with customized plans and additional antennas. However, areas with extremely weak cell phone signal outdoors could receive much less coverage.

The Wilson Pro 70 Plus features better attenuation. Some signal boosters get overwhelmed when they pick up strong cellular signals, causing the system’s performance to degrade or shut down. The Pro 70 Plus automatically adjusts its gain to prevent signal overload. So, if you have a decent outdoor signal, the Pro 70 Plus is equipped to handle it, ensuring your repeater does not overload.

Powerful Pro-Grade Signal Booster

WilsonPro Enterprise 1300 - 460149
WilsonPro Enterprise 1300 - 460149

Best for medium to large multi-story office buildings, schools, warehouses, and enterprises.

Contact Us For Pricing
  • 5G-capable
  • Up to 40,000 sq ft of coverage
  • Up to +70 dB of gain, with +26 dBm uplink and 17 dBm downlink
  • Works with multiple cellular devices across all carriers
  • LCD touch screen for an enhanced user experience
  • Monitor system through the WilsonPro Cloud via LTE or WiFi
  • XDR technology to prevent signal overload
  • Three outdoor antenna ports to communicate with multiple carrier towers
  • Expansion kits available to extend coverage

The WilsonPro Enterprise 1300 is amongst the most powerful commercial-grade signal boosters for medium to large buildings.

Just like the Pro 1100, this unit is ideal for commercial buildings in extremely rural or urban areas. With its increased uplink and downlink outputs, it has greater reach and provides more coverage than the Pro 1100.

Under perfect conditions, this unit is capable of covering up to 40,000 sq ft. However, since coverage is determined by how strong or weak your outside signal is, a more realistic coverage estimate would be between 15,000 to 20,000 sq ft.

To help maximize coverage for every carrier, it features three outdoor antenna ports. Each antenna can pick up different frequency bands from different towers to collectively amplify cell signals for multiple carriers. And with XDR technology, you are guaranteed constant signal uptime without experiencing system shutdowns due to signal overload.

The booster’s performance can be remotely monitored through the WilsonPro Cloud using WiFi or LTE. In addition, the color LCD screen offers information on outdoor antenna optimization, performance, and more.

The Wilson Pro Enterprise 1300 comes in either a wall-mount or rack-mount version and can be customized to fit your needs.

Most Powerful Commercial Signal Booster

WilsonPro Enterprise 4300 - 460152
WilsonPro Enterprise 4300 - 460152

Best for large multi-story buildings, warehouses, and enterprises.

Contact Us For Pricing
  • 5G-capable
  • Up to 100,000 sq ft of coverage
  • Up to +70 dB of gain, with +26 dBm uplink and 17 dBm downlink
  • Works with multiple cellular devices across all carriers
  • LCD touch screen for an enhanced user experience
  • Monitor system through the WilsonPro Cloud vis LTE or WiFi
  • XDR technology to prevent signal overload
  • Four independent indoor antenna ports
  • Three outdoor antenna ports to communicate with multiple carrier towers
  • Expansion kits available to extend coverage

The Wilson Pro Enterprise 4300 is hands down the most powerful commercial signal booster in the market. Instead of one amplifier, the Enterprise 4300 houses four independent amplifiers in one unit.

It’s capable of covering up to 100,000 sq ft. However, commercial buildings with decent to poor outside signal will most likely get 40,000 – 60,000 sq ft of coverage.

Similar to the Enterprise 1300, this unit features up to three outdoor antennas. When installed properly, each antenna can pick up different frequency bands to amplify signals from multiple towers. Unlike the Enterprise 1300, the Enterprise 4300 also features up to four independent indoor antennas ports – each equipped with up to 17 dBm downlink. This allows for wider in-building signal coverage and decreases signal loss due to fewer cable runs.

Through the WilsonPro Cloud, you're able to remotely monitor the booster's performance, make adjustments to the system, receive updates on your phone, and so much more.

The Wilson Pro 4300 comes in either a rack-mount unit for IT closets or a wall-mount unit.

Do Cell Phone Signal Boosters Even Work?

Yes, signal boosters (aka Passive DAS) do indeed work. The only thing they require is usable outside signal, which isn’t usually a problem for commercial buildings.

Poor cellular service inside commercial buildings is usually caused by cell tower distance or building material interfering with the signal – the latter being the most common.

This is especially true in the city and places around urban development.

Building materials like thick concrete and brick, metal, steel, glass, radiant barrier, and other conductive material (electric, magnetic, or energy-efficient) disrupt and weaken cell signals before they reach the mobile devices inside your building.

With proper installation, signal boosters are designed to reach those far distanced cell towers in remote locations and bypass any building material blocking the signal from entering the building.

The indoor antennas will broadcast boosted 4G, LTE, and 3G signals (with select models being 5G capable) throughout the facility. All users are guaranteed to experience superior cell service and faster data speeds.

You don’t have to take our word for it though. Check out our case studies to see how our signal boosters have helped other businesses.

When is an Active DAS Better than a Signal Booster?

A single commercial cell phone signal booster can cover multi-story buildings up to 100,000 sq ft. For more coverage, multiple signal boosters can be combined. Signal booster systems should strongly be considered for buildings no larger than 500,000 sq ft.

On the other hand, very large venues over 500,000 sq ft, like stadiums, convention centers, and airports, require long cable runs. To achieve these lengthy cable runs, pricey equipment and fiber in-place is needed rather than coaxial.

Signal boosters don’t do as well with long cable runs as Active Distributed Antenna Systems do. The boosted signal will slowly degrade as it travels through more coax cable, which is why multiple amplifiers are needed to minimize signal loss. Thus, an Active DAS is the best choice for extremely large high-traffic buildings and those where there is virtually no outside signal.

It’s recommended to consult a cell signal booster and DAS expert for thorough plans, pricing, and realistic outcomes.

How May We Help You?

Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of cell phone signal boosters. Cell phone boosters amplify 4G, LTE, and 3G for any phone with any carrier for home, office, or vehicle. They are 5G ready and will be able to be used until 2030 and beyond.

We seriously hate dropped phone calls and poor cell coverage, so it's our goal in life to stomp out spotty signal:

  • Free consultation (ask us anything) with our US-based customer support ((sales@wilsonamplifiers.com) or call us at 1-800-568-2723.
  • Free shipping.
  • Better signal or industry-leading 90 money-back guaranteed. No questions asked.
  • We want everyone to be satisfied, so we provide lifetime technical support and a 2-year warranty for all products.

Ask us anything and we'll be glad to help.

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