CommScope has launched its new ION-U platform designed to take the complexity out of installing distributed antenna systems (DAS). The platform was first launched in the US in April 2013, but is now available in Europe.
ION-U features a unified master unit, built-in intelligence and setup wizards designed to strip out the complexity of integrating a DAS into a macro wireless network following an upgrade by CommScope of its ION platform into a simple to use, plug-and-play solution.
The new ION-U features integrated guidance and intelligence, enabling wireless network operators to design, plan, deploy and optimise a DAS more quickly and efficiently and at a lower total cost of ownership.
Speaking to Wireless, Samuel Buttarelli, European sales director in the Distributed Coverage and Capacity Solutions division at CommScope (pictured below), explained: ‘When we deal with operators and system integrators they told us they find DAS complex and difficult to deploy.
‘In addition, from a mobile operator’s perspective, they clearly see DAS as a requirement, but they still have a feeling that they don’t have the same type of visibility on their networks with DAS, as they get with a conventional base station system.
‘So, that’s what we’ve tried to help them with by developing the ION-U platform. We’ve put as much intelligence into the platform to make the overall DAS process – design, installation, set up, commissioning and optimisation - as straight forward as possible.’
Buttarelli explained that CommScope has tried to make DAS easily deployable by people without a high level of RF expertise, as the company is expecting a significant increase in DAS deployments - the need for capacity relief could create applications for about 2.5 million DAS nodes to go into service by 2017, doubling today’s demand.
‘ION-U will make DAS deployments much easier, faster and more scalable,’ he said. ‘We can point to the example of our US market experience, where operators are updating their deployments because of the roll-out of LTE. The requirement for very high levels of engineering resource ready and able to do this has caused a bottleneck in the roll-out.’
‘Plug and Play’ deployment
‘ION-U will make a big difference,’ affirmed Buttarelli. ‘The analogy we use is that of installing a printer a few years ago to your desktop. Then it was very difficult for ordinary people to do. Now, you just plug in a USB cable and you’re away. Similarly with DAS, we’ve built a lot of sophistication into the system to make it simpler to deploy – just plug and play.’
Buttarelli notes that there are some particularly critical steps that have to be taken with DAS. ‘When you begin the installation on site there are a lot of possibilities of making mistakes. There is a lot of cabling involved and it’s easy to send sectors to the wrong place – a great deal of troubleshooting is required.
‘We’ve created an intelligent system able to understand where the capacity needs to be directed, so that removes that kind of mistake. The ION-U’s remote configuration tools enable operators to re-sectorize and access auto-levelling functions from anywhere in the world or right at the head end.
It also provides built-in monitoring for measuring network quality, monitoring interference and passive intermodulation (PIM) and conducting detailed uplink/downlink spectrum analysis. In addition, smart alarms allow operators to deal more quickly and efficiently with troubleshooting quality of service (QoS) issues
In previous DAS engineers needed to be at the base station and have the backhaul available to do the configuring, optimisation and testing. ‘Now you just press a button at commissioning and the DAS is auto-calibrated,’ said Buttarelli. ‘The system can illuminate the sector and you can carry out a full system optimisation without having the base station available. It will be levelled and optimised in minutes, so that reduces the installation, commissioning and optimisation time.’
CommScope has had a lot of interest from operators, particularly in Europe, according to Buttarelli, because the system can direct capacity dynamically. Normally, the way the base station sectors are determined is set by how the system is cabled up. But ION-U has an internal component which allows operators to remotely and dynamically change the capacity based on need and demand.
‘Take football stadia, for example,’ said Buttarelli. ‘Stadia normally require a lot of sectors to provide coverage and capacity. But the problem is that if you have a football match you need all the capacity directed at the seating areas. But if the stadium is used for a concert the capacity all needs to be directed to the bowl and pitch where the audience is located. With ION-U you can redirect capacity to suit the needs of the stadium use. Operators and system integrators are very interested in this capability.’
Buttarelli notes that when there is a problem on a network the operator needs to know more than just what piece of equipment has failed. ‘We put a lot of thought into ION-U’s alarm system. If an optical transceiver fails then of course the engineer needs to know. But the network manager also needs to know the impact on the service level. We have put in a new monitoring system to provide service level alarming – this provides a unique visibility.
‘So, if a sector is going down in a car park or the CEO’s office there are different service level impacts. In response, you can create some redundancy and dynamically divert capacity from another sector. In our experience this lack of service level visibility has been one of the things that has blocked wider DAS deployment, but our sense level alarming now addresses this.’
Unified master unit
The system features a unified indoor-outdoor, low and high power platform in a single master unit, which reduces space requirements and the number of cable runs while maximising design flexibility.
‘It means we are able to support high and low power systems on the same platform, so it can handle different requirements in different situations,’ explained Buttarelli. ‘Operators may have different requirements in the same network, so they need this flexibility.’
The ION-U also automatically generates documentation, including bill of materials, system configuration file, interconnect diagrams, rack elevation drawings according to power/thermal loading specs and commissioning records, which saves time and reduces errors.
Buttarelli added: ‘If you need to make changes later it can be a challenge to find the original documentation, but ION-U generates it automatically to help you install more things. The system tells you what you have to install, what goes in what sub-rack, etc. An LED blinks and you connect it to that other one there that is also blinking. If the wrong cable is connected, you get a blinking light warning you it’s wrong. So, again you don’t need a highly qualified engineer on site.’
‘We recently polled 18 customers to ask them what is the biggest challenge with DAS and the answer was: adding more capacity,’ said Buttarelli. ‘ION-U solves this issue as it is able to add more capacity without going on site. You can connect at the event end and add another frequency band such as adding 2.6GHz 4G frequency to the 3G network. The system can combine them automatically using the same optical fibre without anyone having to go on site.’
ION-U is now available in Europe in the shape of the low power remote unit. 'We we will add more variants over the next few months,' said Buttarelli. 'These are already in design. Most of the operators in Europe have been exposed to the new platform and we have had a good level of interest from them. Our German production unit is working on it and ION-U will be commercially available this quarter.'
In the USA, CommScope has already secured ‘a really major, major deployment’ with one as yet unnamed operator. ‘It’s one of our single largest orders for ION-U in the USA,’ said Buttarelli.
He added: ‘The amount of capex, especially for in-building, in the USA is higher than Europe, but we expect levels to rise in Europe as operators move from macro to in-building coverage and capacity solutions. ION-U is already addressing key venues in Europe with its solution.’