Finding The Cure For Poor Cell Service At The Office
Say goodbye to the office dead zone. New technologies have emerged to help bring the power of the cell tower indoors.
WiFi calling offers cellphone subscribers a voice application that seemingly circumvents coverage problems entirely.
In areas of weak cellular signal, phones can route calls through an internet WiFi hot spot instead of a network connection. Voice over Internet Protocol apps like Skype and WhatsApp already follow this process, but carriers can switch to WiFi directly from the phone’s dialer. All four major carriers — T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint — offer WiFi calling.
For SOLiD Director of Marketing Scott Gregory, WiFi calling is a Band-Aid.
“It is not a secure connection, and whether or not you can make the call becomes a problem,” Gregory said. “As we move toward cell data plans that are unlimited, it also kind of makes WiFi obsolete. When you throw in the fact that you could have security issues, no one wants to have that kind of exposure.”
Signal boosters are another option. To improve in-building cell service directly, bidirectional amplifiers take in the signal from a rooftop cell tower and boost it within the office. While BDAs increase the strength of the connection, signal interference can still disrupt service. Adding boosters also comes with extra scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission. In 2013, the FCC allowed the use of signal boosters for both consumer and industrial uses, but permission came with a list of technical, operational and registration requirements.
There is also the potential that adding more coverage without addressing the number of devices connected to the signal could make the service worse, to the annoyance of both the carrier and the building's occupants. The size of the property will also impact the effectiveness of a booster.
“You can imagine what you are doing is transmitting noise to the cell tower and making that carrier perform poorly for all the other customers,” Gregory said. “BDAs work best in a small building. If you employ a lot inside of a larger building or pump up the power, it might not work effectively. It's a solution that doesn’t scale.”
Across both WiFi calling and BDAs, one problem persists: capacity. In a communications market driven by data-rich streaming, decent voice coverage is no longer enough.
A distributed antenna system addresses both problems.
According to Gregory, DAS offers the best way to not only manage interference, but also effectively scale in-building cell service for all occupants. The system works by taking in a signal from either an off-air source, antenna on the roof, or an on-site base transceiver station. Once in the building, strategically placed radios and antennas provide coverage to the desired locations in the property.
WiFi and BDAs are inexpensive by comparison, but as progress is made to develop better solutions for improving service, prices will drop. Innovations in consolidating wireless and wireline connectivity, baseband equipment for multiple systems and developing multipurpose antennas will make the solution more affordable for both carriers and building owners.
“The technology trend is getting cheaper and easier to install, you just need to have those conversations,” Gregory said. “As we move forward, easier to install, easier to integrate and work and develop agreements with carriers is key.”
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