DAS solutions: Overcoming the mobile coverage challenge in new buildings

The Workplace Evolution

“Hello?? Can you hear me now???” – It’s not what you want to hear from your guest or team member when trying to take or make a mobile phone call from your building.

When the workforce returns to the evolved office, the spaces and employees must be more flexible than ever before. We now have “virtual teams”, where team members need to be reliably connected wherever they may reside. Staff or guests roaming through other designated departments trying to get a mobile signal will not be considered as good health & safety practice in the current climate.

Resilience

As people switch between the work from home scenario, mobile technology is playing a big part in this transition, with many companies adopting a BYOD policy. Devices that people are now used to having on a daily basis (personal mobile phones & tablets), are expected to be available in their workplace. Arguably, these devices can still avail of connectivity via a Wi-Fi network, but the problems arise when the caller outside the building doesn’t have the broadband capability to hold a reliable call. A mobile call is the only reliable option.

Many companies still regard the mobile network as their resilient option to their internal Local Area Networks and an essential part of the 4th utility, the telecommunications infrastructure. Typically, traditional voice calls revert to the 3G network for signal strength and reliability in Ireland, and 4G used for data transfer (streaming, email etc..) With VOLTE (Voice Over LTE, or voice over 4G), voice call quality is now far superior as three times more data can be transferred over 4G than 3G.

The Solutions

So why don’t buildings have consistent mobile coverage throughout? Modern buildings are built to be more energy efficient, and the building insulating methodologies and technologies make the buildings hard to penetrate. These green badges of honour also tell us that they are effectively a Faraday cage.

The good news is that the solutions are readily available for all building scenarios, but they need to be factored into the budget early doors. If not, the outcome will inevitably be little or no signal, with more “bad desk” locations than “hot desk”. Ownership of the problem then becomes an issue. IT are an integral department to have onboard, as their network can be the backbone of the solution. Facilities need to realise that in an existing building, the upgrade of the mobile network isn’t just a pluggable device, and we need their co-operation.

The network operator signal is taken into the building, and distributed around the building via a series of repeaters (antennae). There are three distinct types of Distributed Antennae Systems:

  • Passive only: A network of co-axial cables and low powered antennae. This is the most commonly used solution in the market and most cost effective.
  • Hybrid (Active & Passive): A combined network of co-axial & fibre optic cables. The fibre optic cables allow the network to cater for larger areas.
  • Ethernet only: A structured cabling network is used (Cat6a & fibre optic cabling). This can be the most expensive offering due to the costly converters required, but some cost can be offset if there’s an existing structured cabling network in place.

You can provide a single network operator service into the building, or all three, Eir, Vodafone and 3. This decision is best made early so a single or multiple operator headend is budgeted for.

On an aside, there is the possible option of using a neutral host vendor, who will install the DAS solution in the building and the customer can choose which, or all, of the network operator services they want. Unfortunately, the cost to set up as a host to all three operators versus the scale of demand isn’t in Ireland, but UK companies such as ExcelRedstone do offer this service.

From our experience, one of the best pieces of advice that a design engineer can give to their customer, is to get the DAS cabling infrastructure into their budget at a minimum. The cabling can then be installed as part of the project build programme, with lower costs and less disruption. The customer can budget for the electronics to be installed at a later date.

The Coming of 5G

So how will 5G be catered for? 5G uses a completely different technology to a wireless mobile network. Instead of a mobile mast broadcasting the signal to the community, 5G requires a more dense network of smaller masts. It will provide high bandwidth, but low latency connections to the user device. This device may be a handset or a driverless vehicle!! Who knows!! What the network operators do know is that there are devices and applications being developed that will rely on 5G in the future. Carriers are starting their 5G infrastructure roll-out as you can see, but this is a massive investment without immediate return, so it will take some time to deploy. 5G handsets are not readily available as yet so not creating that demand or revenue. But it’s coming. The carriers are fully aware at how the world is evolving to a connected world, the world of IOT, and they are evolving also.

In terms of distributing the 5G network indoors, “5G ready” or DRS (Distributed Radio Systems) will become commercially available and overlay to provide a 5G solution. Inevitably, network operators will initially pay for these to be installed in some high-profile sites.

Kedington work with their partners to ensure that all DAS designs and solutions are fully network operator compliant before installation. Building Services Designers, landlords, and business owners can’t ignore the importance of the mobile network experience in buildings. The demand on the mobile network is also always going to increase, so the right solution needs to designed and budgeted very early in the lifecycle of the project.

“Hello?? Can you hear me now???” – Is not what you want to hear from your guest or team member in your newly designed development!

 

Darren Walsh

Business Development Manager, Kedington   

darren.walsh@kedington.com | +353861450727