Strong cell service is crucial in any commercial building, from pharmacies, schools, and hotels to businesses and hospitals. In many buildings, landlords consider good cell coverage a fourth utility and just as important as water, gas, or electricity. Unfortunately, cellular signals can be weakened by several factors, including distance, natural obstructions such as mountains, and even the construction material of a building itself. Signals can even bounce off windows, especially energy-efficient glass.
Pew Research found that while 70 percent of all cellular connections take place inside a building, 72 percent of all those users experience some difficulty or dropped calls and/or poor cell reception inside a building. Fortunately, several solutions are available to solve the issue of poor cell service in buildings, including active distributed antenna systems (DAS), passive DAS and small cells. Before committing to one of these solutions, it is important for businesses to know the nuances on how they work to decide what is best for them.
Active DAS amplifies cellular coverage and capacity by installing managed hubs and multiband antennas precisely where demand is greatest. Active DAS makes the most sense for a large venue where hundreds to thousands of people need to be connected simultaneously with adequate coverage. It must be installed through a specific carrier and is only a single carrier solution.
Due to the fixed cost involved with an active DAS system, including the connectivity to the building, the head end equipment that has to connect into the network for the carrier, as well as the equipment itself, active DAS has difficultly scaling economically in buildings smaller than 100,000 square feet. Active DAS scales more economically for spaces that are 500,000 square feet or more. However, since it is a single-carrier solution, active DAS only provides enhanced coverage from one carrier at a time, so multiple carriers would need to build out active DAS systems in order to enhance coverage for more than one carrier. In addition, an active DAS project can take as long as 12 to 18 months to complete.
While active DAS is a good solution for buildings larger than 200,000 square feet, small business is driving our nation’s economy. In fact, 98 percent of North America’s 5.6 million commercial buildings are actually 200,000 square feet or less. In addition, 94 percent of all companies in the U.S. have 50 or fewer employees and 85 percent have fewer than 25 employees.
There are also a number of different commercial spaces for different verticals. For example, pharmacies and small footprint stores are typically 25,000 square feet or less and smaller, while boutique hotels are typically 50,000 square feet or less. When these commercial spaces under 100,000 square feet are challenged with adequate coverage, passive DAS is the more economical solution. Passive DAS provides coverage for all carriers simultaneously at a lower installation cost. It does not require a backhaul or expensive fixed connectivity such as T1 fiber optic lines for the building. Passive DAS also boosts voice and data speeds for 4G LTE, 2G and existing 3G networks.
Passive DAS is made up of a series of antennas, cables, and amplifiers. A passive DAS has an outside antenna, also referred to as a donor antenna, which collects all available cellular signals in the area. All of those are connected to a bi-directional amplifier through a coaxial cable routed inside the building. Then, the bi-directional amplifier routes the amplified signals to indoor server antennas. It collects simultaneous signals from all carriers, filters them, amplifies them, and broadcasts them inside.
Small cells are a solution for small spaces. A small cell is a low-power base station that covers a limited area—essentially, a miniature cell phone tower. However, they still require a fixed connectivity back to the network. Most carriers offer a femtocell solution to small businesses and individual customers, typically for a one-time fee. A femtocell connects to the broadband Internet service and uses it to communicate with the carrier’s cellular network. A phone that’s within range of the femtocell (typically seven to 10 meters) will connect to it and treat it as a cell tower. In addition, use of femtocell requires registering individual phones to be paired with the femtocell and the number of active users is limited.
However, femtocells have some significant limitations that impact business users. They are carrier-specific, so they only benefit users who use the same cellular provider as the business’ femtocell. They also have a fairly low maximum capacity of between eight and 16 simultaneous users for a business-class femtocell. In addition, a femtocell uses Internet bandwidth, which will slow down Internet speeds for other devices.
Poor or no cell service can destroy business productivity, cause businesses to lose customers, and lower sales and profits. Fortunately, there are a wide range of solutions available – including active DAS, passive DAS and femtocells – to improve cell signal and boost business efficiency. By taking the time to research the options available to boost sell service, companies can ensure that they are selecting the best solution for their business needs.
Filed Under: Infrastructure