Selecting In-Building Wireless Systems for Large Commercial Buildings
In-building wireless (IBW) systems are fast becoming an imperative for commercial buildings. No longer a “nice to have,” reliable cellular service and public safety communications throughout a building is a value-added amenity and assures fire code compliance.
Why an IBW system?
We live in a wireless world. Today, some 80 percent of all wireless calls originate and terminate inside buildings. More important, mobile data demand (wireless apps, videos) is growing at double-digit rates. IBW systems allow users inside buildings to make or receive voice, data or video calls. People want high-speed wireless connections, inside and out.
Public safety may be an overriding IBW imperative. Since 9/11, first responders working inside buildings must communicate with each other and command centers reliably during emergencies. At these times, occupants too must be able to dial 9-1-1 from their cellphones. New national and international fire codes stipulate performance requirements for IBW public safety communications systems. Failure to meet these codes could result in denial of the Certificate of Occupancy.
Certainly, IBW service as an amenity is just good business. Facility managers in major markets acknowledge that availability of wireless is a key decision factor for commercial tenants and residents contemplating a lease or purchase. Where buildings lack adequate wireless service, potential customers are just walking away.
IBW systems become particularly important in LEED-certified buildings. Low E glass windows help save energy costs but effectively block cellular and public safety radio frequency (RF) signals from outside towers. An IBW system assures building occupants access to strong wireless signals.
So what IBW system is right for your facility?
Selecting an appropriate IBW system for a specific building depends on multiple operating factors: the number of floors, square footage of each floor, number of people in the building and where they are located, time of day or night the facility is mainly occupied.
Buildings of 50,000 to 500,000 square feet are prime candidates for some sort of IBW system that include: distributed antenna systems or DAS for large buildings in this range, small cells for mid-range buildings, and signal boosters (aka bi-directional amplifiers or BDAs) for smaller venues.
These IBW systems allow building occupants to make or receive voice, data or video calls, and for first responders to communicate during emergencies.
Here are some pointers on selecting the right IBW system your facility.
State Your Operating Requirements. If you are considering an IBW system but are not sure of what is involved, issue a request for information (RFI) that states in broad terms your operating issues and priorities, and what you want to achieve. To that end, IBW system vendors must respond with an understanding of your specific requirements, explaining why their solution is best, and how it benefits the building owner and facilities manager, without a lot of technical jargon. Look for a company with experience in similar situations, and ask for testimonials.
Insist on vendor training for facilities management staff before the IBW system is deployed, and establish, with the vendor, remedial procedures in the event of a system outage.
Get Involved Early. Architects, building engineers, the IT department and facility management staff must be involved early in the planning process. They all must understand the IBW system design, the planned installation, and applicable building and fire codes. Designate a facility single point of contact to work with the IBW vendor throughout the planning and deployment phases. Identify the vendor representative who will coordinate with the cellular carriers that connect to the system, and with the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) on compliance with building and fire codes.
IBW systems handle cellular signals, public safety communications, or both. Cellular systems cover common areas and specific-use rooms. Public safety communications cover stairwells, underground garages, and critical equipment rooms. Each application involves different frequencies and may be installed at different times. Early involvement provides for the IBW system expansion with designated space for cables and equipment, and associated budget.
Know The Cost. Vendors can estimate IBW system costs using software tools that show RF patterns and signal levels on each floor plan based on your operating factors. The IBW system type, configuration, and functionality together impact the cost. For planning purposes, prices are estimated in dollars per square foot ($/sf). IBW system prices vary from under $1/sf to several $/sf, again depending on the operating factors.
IBW systems are paid for by a wireless carrier, a neutral host or the building owner.
Wireless carriers generally only pay for large, complex installations like stadiums or a convention center with adjoining hotels. Here, the funding carrier may lease capacity on the system to other wireless carriers.
By contrast, a neutral host does not own any cellular signals but will install and operate the IBW system, then lease capacity to one or more carriers.
More and more, the onus is on building owners to buy and operate their own IBW system. Costs can be recovered by leasing capacity to one or more carriers, or through other occupant lease-based models. Best to consult with legal and accounting on the most beneficial approach.
Every situation is different but can be approached in a way that provides everyone involved a clear understanding of the IBW system design, cost and operation. In the end, reliable indoor wireless service will prove to be good business for the facility.
John Celentano is an independent telecommunications consultant and expert on indoor and outdoor wireless infrastructure. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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