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Finding the sweet spots for in-building wireless

by Martha DeGrasse

For every frustrated office worker or apartment dweller walking the floor in search of a cell signal, there's an equally frustrated equipment vendor beating the bushes in search of an opportunity to sell in-building cellular equipment. But they can't help one another unless a third party is willing to buy in-building cellular equipment: signal boosters, small cells or a distributed antenna system.


Sometimes wireless carriers will pay for in-building systems in order to keep their customers happy, sometimes building owners or developers will pay to make tenants happy, and occasionally a third party investor will buy the necessary equipment and lease it to the building owner or tenant. All these scenarios are good news for the people inside the buildings, but the news is better in some places than in others. A hospital in Manhattan is much more likely to score an in-building system than a sports complex in the Midwest, for example. And when it comes to getting building owners to invest, some regions and industries are far ahead of others.

Small cell maker SpiderCloud Wireless said it's deploying carrier-financed systems all over the country, but customer-owned systems are more scattered. Building owners in New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Chicago, and Detroit are buying its systems, as well as some in select cities in California, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Ohio and Washington. Healthcare facilities, retail establishments and educational institutions have been the biggest investors so far, the company said.

In the U.S., small cells typically support just one mobile operator, while distributed antenna systems can support multiple operators if they choose to connect to the system. Cheytec Telecommunications, which customizes in-building solutions and guarantees carrier connectivity, said the New York metro area is currently a sweet spot for in-building systems.

"They seem to really grasp the need for it here, and then also they seem to have come around to the fact that this might be a developer or building owner expense," said Cheytec regional VP Ed Myers. "It seems that building owners, especially on the development side, are looking at in-building wireless, specifically DAS or in-building small cell, as table stakes for getting a hotel at full occupancy, selling apartments or renting out apartments as well as getting large office tenants." 

Cheytec recently partnered with systems integrator SQUAN in order to leverage the company's longstanding relationships in the New York and New Jersey real estate markets. SQUAN head of strategy Keith Pennachio, who is based in Atlanta, agreed that owner-financed cellular systems are easier to sell in New York than elsewhere.


"That New York metro area is ... a Tier 1 market that is more sensitized now than probably the rest if the country, except for maybe LA and San Francisco," Pennachio said. "The real estate folks that we deal with here in the South have not even begun to grasp the importance of having a DAS or a small cell system either on their campus or in their building."


"Regions of mobile operators who started earlier have more mature “muscle memory” so they are good on their internal implementation process. Regions who started later may still be developing their execution skills.

Vendors say there's more money available for in-building systems in major metros, and when it comes to systems financed by the building owner  

New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. are 

Keith Pennachio, EVP and head of strategy at SQUAN.


"It is not a technology conversation that we're having with these building owners, it is really a financial conversation ... it's a lot of return on investment conversations."   Ed Myers, regional VP at Cheytec.

"if someone is telling me that my numbers are too high or too low, to me that means that they're agreeing that there is value in what we are talking about and that there is a legitimate return on investment."

Customer owned E-RAN major areas of deployment: Northeast (Boston, NYC, and Washington DC), South Central (Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma), Great Lakes (Chicago and manufacturing centers in Ohio & Detroit), and Pacific (California and Washington)


Including mobile operators, there is activity across the country. Regions of mobile operators who started earlier have more mature “muscle memory” so they are good on their internal implementation process. Regions who started later may still be developing their execution skills. We have found that DAS processes are being abandoned and new processes are used for small cells. Where SpiderCloud is acquired by the mobile operator to drive a customer’s DAS, the most significant process change (that is very positive financially) is a capacity check for adequate “headroom” in customer’s Internet link as expensive MPLS/Metro Ethernet links are not required.  


CBRS Market Study

Provides an explanation of how the CBRS licensing scheme works and how the technical elements of the new band work. This report includes a forecast of the total number of CBRS nodes expected to be deployed in the U.S. through 2022. The forecasted number of nodes is categorized by Outdoor WISP, Outdoor non-WISP, Inside Commercial, and Inside Residential. This report also profiles 33 companies that are part of the CBRS ecosystem.

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