A recent study suggests that we spend 87% of our time indoors (home, office, malls etc). Our connection to the outside world is mostly through our cellular phones. When was the last time you found yourself frantically running around a building to get enough cellular signals to make/continue a phone call? Have you ever noticed our instinctive reaction when in this predicament? We run straight for the windows/glass panes thinking that is our best shot at maximum cellular reception. Contrary to popular intuition, though, these eco-friendly glossy glass panes (metal layered) are also a key contributor to this problem of weak cellular signals.
In a fast-changing world of unified communications and increasing reliance on our cell phones (lest you forget, tablets and mobile gadgetry as well), cellular signals inside buildings is probably one of the most neglected aspects of modern buildings. I have noticed a pattern emerge in my interaction with private and public enterprises: As enterprises increasingly cut-the-cord they almost always overlook in-building cellular coverage. The end result: Sleek and chic office spaces sans wired assets, but the new mobile-only workspace experiencing the dreaded garbled – and in some cases dropped – voice calls!
Enterprises that own their office space have to then invest in Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) that, in short, are deployed to boost and improve in-building cellular signal coverage. They also have to decide whether to invest in a neutral host (third party-owned DAS aggregator covering all carriers) solution or a carrier-specific DAS. Decision-making is fairly easy in this scenario. The majority of private enterprises, however, have leased office spaces through a commercial property owner. So once the problem presents itself, decision-making becomes more complex. I have noticed property owners and tenants (private enterprises) pass the buck at each other (thanks to the relatively stiff costs of deploying the solution). While there is a growing realization among commercial property owners to invest in enhancing in-building cellular coverage in new buildings, what about existing buildings that are facing this problem? Perhaps they will move into action when enough tenants, or an important one, make noise?
In my discussions with some of these property owners I have found that often times they will expect Telco carriers to drop in a DAS at the carrier’s own cost because, you know, the carriers own the air waves and their end users (i.e. the property owner’s tenants). Great, now this becomes a love triangle! This could work, but presently carriers will absorb some/all costs of such a deployment with the quid pro quo that it is only their signals that get boosted. Enterprises, thus, lose the advantage of a carrier-agnostic solution, which is critical given the increasing trend in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) where employees have the option of selecting their own carrier plan. All these complications, therefore, lead to a stalemate. Inertia reigns supreme in this race of technology adopters!
But, as is always the case, outside influences will change the present state of inertia. I already alluded to how tenants will increasingly make more noise as they cut-the-cord. A lot of them will actually prefer to move on to buildings where in-building coverage is least of their concerns. This in-turn will move property owners into action. Building codes, too, are already mandating acceptable levels of cellular/radio signals for the purposes of public safety in other parts of the world and Canada, if not already, will soon get there. In emergency situations it is critical that people stuck inside buildings are able to make 911 calls. It is also imperative that rescue teams are able to use their 2-way radio communication systems inside these buildings. The carriers, too, are looking at cheaper and cost-effective solutions for in-building DAS that has a dollar figure that property owners can stomach.
The corrective dynamics of the technology world is at play here and this story will have a happy ending after all. Yay!
* Opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily of my employer
** Infographic taken from http://www.dailywireless.org/2011/12/16/crown-castle-buys-distributed-antenna-company-nextg/