How to Boost Cell Phone Coverage in Buildings

Pricing and Payback
The Merchandise Mart situation is unique because AT&T funded the installation, although other carriers are in the process of coming onto it. AT&T builds neutral host solutions so building owners can avoid the burden of needing space for each carrier to have its own network.

“It’s a landmark building so all carriers want to be here,” explains Wong. “Their revenue comes from voice and data usage, so they want to provide signal to their customers in our building.”

Other property owners may want to ensure signal strength because it increases productivity or helps retain and attract occupants (see case studies). “Our leasing folks use the DAS as a sales point,” says Wong.

Those benefits can help you rationalize a sizable investment like this.

“It’s a pretty common practice for building owners to fund the construction of the DAS front-end equipment, and then the carriers will come in after the fact and connect their radios to it to distribute the signal inside,” explains Townes. “It becomes a shared cost model where both parties benefit. There’s an opportunity to share in the cost recovery for the system.”

Conservative estimates of cost for installation range from $0.50-1.50 per square foot depending on the number of carriers on the system, if Wi-Fi is also included, and whether emergency or security frequencies must be sidestepped, according to CSI.

“We take a very consultative approach,” explains Carr. “We perform an analysis, give some budgetary numbers, and look at things from a cost perspective. There are options.”

Upgrades and Upkeep
Once you have a system up and running, it’s important to keep an eye on it to make sure it’s operating at peak performance. “Sometimes a person may be blocking an antenna and not realize it, so we work with tenants and the designers and might have to move an antenna 10 feet this way or the other to accommodate what’s going on in the building,” Wong says.

If a systems integrator implements your solution, a service level agreement dictates what will happen in the event of a hiccup. “Some may just want our technical support number and we can respond to an issue in a couple days,” Carr says. “Other customers, like hospitals or stadiums where communication is critical to the day-to-day operations, may want the problem fixed within hours.”

If a service provider created the solution, it monitors the solution itself. “We’ve got an operations center and problems show up as elements in our network just like any cell tower would,” explains Townes.

The cell phone network very recently shifted from 3G to 4G, which impacted networks such as these. “People want to keep up with the latest technology, and an upgrade like that would require some new equipment on the front-end,” says Carr.

Regardless of the route you take, service providers and systems integrators will help you along the way.

“You definitely want to partner with the carriers in your area to find solutions,” says Townes. “Everyone can collaborate to see what works.”


Chris Curtland is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.


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