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Distributed Antenna System (DAS): All You Need to Know

Written by Alejandra Jasso
23rd Apr 2024

Understanding What A Distributed Antenna Systems Is

In today's digital-enhancing world, fast, reliable, and efficient in-building cellular service is essential. Unfortunately, poor cellular reception is a constant struggle for many businesses, hindering communication, productivity, and the bottom line. If this is you, a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) can help.

As leading providers of DAS solutions, we'd like to share what DAS systems are, how they work, and how we can help.

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What is a DAS System?

A distributed antenna system (DAS) is a network of antennas connected to a common source designed to improve cellular connectivity throughout a building. It is used to solve cell phone signal challenges inside businesses of any size.

What Does a Distributed Antenna System Do?

Once deployed, a DAS significantly improves indoor cellular coverage, ensuring reliable connectivity where you need it. It could be in every nook and cranny or specific areas, up to you.

Some DAS systems can also add capacity, minimizing dropped calls and slow data due to congestion. More users within the coverage area will be able to stay reliably connected at any given time.

How Do DAS Systems Work?

To transform cellular connectivity in buildings, DAS systems are made up of two main parts: the signal source and the distribution system.

1) The Signal Source

The signal source is the "heart" of a DAS. It is responsible for providing all wireless signals that the DAS distributes. There are three primary types of signal sources:

Off-Air

This represents cellular signals broadcasted by cell towers. An antenna, usually installed on the roof, captures existing off-air cellular signals and relays them inside for distribution.

Since existing infrastructure is being used, DAS systems using off-air as the signal source are the most cost-effective and fastest to deploy. Provided coverage and capacity are dependent on the cell tower. No involvement from cellular providers is required for this setup.

Small Cell

A small cell, also known as picocell, microcell, or femtocell, is a low-power signal source that requires an internet connection to provide cellular signals. Since they do not rely on existing cellular signals from cell towers, they are a great option for businesses in areas with spotty to no coverage.

These devices are carrier-specific and have capacity limitations. For multi-carrier coverage, small cells will be needed from each carrier.

Base Transceiver Station (BTS)

A BTS is a high-powered signal source that connects directly to a wireless carrier's network infrastructure. It delivers maximum coverage and capacity. You can think of it as a cell tower in your building.

To obtain and implement a BTS, carrier approval is needed. Being carrier-specific, you will need a BTS from each carrier whose signal you want to enhance in your building.

Given their cost and requirements, they are typically deployed in large, high-traffic areas like airports, high-rise buildings, stadiums, and the like.

2) Signal Distribution System

The distribution system is said to be the "vascular system" of a DAS. It takes the signals provided by the signal source and shares them throughout the area using cables and antennas. There are three main types of distribution systems:

Passive DAS

Also known as a "Cell phone signal booster system," Passive DAS is one of the most commonly implemented DAS systems among businesses, and for good reasons – it’s cost-effective, simple to install, and easy to maintain.

The signal source for Passive DAS is typically off-air. Received cellular signals are pushed to an amplifier for boosting. Usually, these amplifiers are carrier agnostic, allowing you to improve cell service for multiple carriers with a single system. Passive components like coaxial cables, splitters, and taps are used to distribute the signals to antennas installed throughout for broadcasting.

Primarily using passive components, this may not be the best DAS system for large buildings requiring long cable runs due to signal loss. It’s best for small and medium-sized businesses.

Pros of Passive DAS

  • Most cost-effective DAS
  • Easy to deploy and maintain
  • Support multiple carriers without extra equipment

Cons of Passive DAS

  • Performance depends on existing cellular signal
  • Cable length challenges due to signal loss
  • Not ideal for wall-to-wall coverage in large buildings

Active DAS

The signal source for an Active DAS can be a BTS or small cell. Received cellular signals, whether from one carrier or multiple, are converted from radio frequency (RF) analog to digital for transmission across fiber optic or ethernet cables. Compared to coax, these cables can carry a stronger signal across longer distances with minimal signal loss.

Remote Units (RUs) deployed throughout the building convert the digital signals back to analog. Antennas connected to the RUs, typically by coax cable, deliver strong LTE, 4G, and 5G cellular signals. Some Active DAS don’t use coax cables at all.

Due to the way it’s designed, Active DAS is scalable and provides unmatched coverage. Though, they are expensive to deploy and maintain. Thus, they are best for large buildings and campuses with high connectivity depends.

Pros of Active DAS

  • Minimizes the use of coaxial cables
  • Provides best possible coverage
  • Allows long cable runs with lowest signal loss

Cons of Active DAS

  • Expensive
  • Required more dedicated power
  • Complicated to install

Hybrid DAS

Hybrid DAS is a mix of Passive DAS and Active DAS. The signal source can be off-air, small cells, or BTS.

Like with Active DAS, received signals are converted from analog to digital and then back to analog.

A mix of coaxial cables and ethernet or fiber optic cables are used to get signal from the source to the antennas. Using these two types of cables together lowers cost and allows longer runs with minimal signal loss. Integrated couplers, splitters, and taps divide the signal for proper distribution.

With Hybrid DAS, you’re able to get better coverage than with Passive DAS at a lower cost than Active DAS. Scalable, it's great for any size building, small or large.

Pros of Hybrid DAS

  • More cost-effective than Active DAS
  • Can be deployed in any size building
  • Not limited by the length of cables

Cons of Hybrid DAS

  • More expensive Passive DAS
  • Installation is a bit more challenging than Passive DAS

What are the Different Types of DAS Systems?

The signal source and distribution system can be mixed and matched to create the perfect DAS for your business. These are the different types of DAS systems you can get:

  • Off-Air Passive DAS
  • Off-Air Hybrid DAS
  • Small Cell Active DAS
  • Small Cell Hybrid DAS
  • BTS Active DAS
  • BTS Hybrid DAS

Wilson Amplifiers offers the best DAS solutions available. No matter the DAS configuration you need, we can design and deploy a distributed antenna system that caters specifically to your needs with WilsonPro and Zinwave.

Where Can DAS Be Used?

Distributed antenna systems can be deployed in buildings of varying sizes across any industry, such as:

Typically, though, Passive DAS is best for buildings up to 100,000 sq ft. However, it’s capable of covering up to 500,000 sq ft with multiple amplifiers and additional equipment. Our in-house DAS experts recommend Hybrid DAS for buildings ranging from 100,000 sq ft to 500,000 sq ft. Anything over 500,000 sq ft, Active DAS may be best.

How Can I Get a DAS System?

The best DAS for your building will depend on your signal environment, coverage needs, and budget. To ensure you get the right system, it’s important to get in contact with an experienced DAS systems provider. They will assist you every step of the way – from listening to your needs to proper deployment for optimal performance.

Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of consumer and public safety Passive, Active, and Hybrid DAS solutions. We’ve helped over hundreds of businesses throughout North America with their cellular signal challenges. We use WilsonPro and Zinwave equipment to design the perfect DAS for you. If you’re ready to talk about DAS, give us a call at 1-800-887-1961 or email us at sales@wilsonamplifiers.com.

Interested in Learning More? Check Out Our Signal Boosting Info Center

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