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Bringing Cellular Indoors

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Business Communications Review

By Joanie Wexler

The basic in-building cellular problem to be solved is generally well understood: Certain buildings receive poor service indoors. Coverage can be blocked or degraded because the building is in an area too far from the closest cell tower to pick up a strong signal, for example. Or the building’s composition—such as thick concrete or metallic walls and windows with low-emission glass—can block or degrade signals.

Cosmetics company Mary Kay Inc., in Addison, TX, now uses an in-building cellular system to enhance wireless coverage and performance. “We got a bit of signal from multiple cell towers, but not enough from any one tower,” said Brent Frerck, senior technical engineer in the company’s information services and technologies group. “That meant we were getting constant tower-to-tower handoffs and terrible service inside the building.”

Onto Enterprise Radars

Situations like these have long existed, but there are a few reasons why enhancing in-building cellular performance is now moving swiftly onto enterprise radars:

* About 60 percent of U.S. cellular phone calls are made from indoors, according to researcher Ovum, Ltd. The desire for a single device and phone number is causing users—particularly so-called “prosumers,” who combine business and personal tasks on integrated smartphones—to make and receive more calls indoors.

* Advances in IP-PBXs allow multiple handsets to ring or to follow users from their business PBX extensions to other numbers, which is helping businesses justify beefing up cellular network coverage indoors.

* The latest in-building cellular equipment from companies such as InnerWireless, LGC Wireless (currently being acquired by ADC) and Mobile Access supports multiple frequencies and networks in a single system. This prevents enterprises from having to purchase, install and manage several overlay systems if they want to extend network coverage from more than one operator. InnerWireless and Mobile Access will also distribute WiFi signals from a centralized, secured bank of access points, and LGC Wireless and Mobile Access have recently announced that they are adding WiMAX modules to their systems.

* It’s becoming common for organizations to expand their buildings underground to gain extra real estate in municipalities that enforce height restrictions. Basement locations are notoriously impervious to cellular signals, so enterprises need a way to gain coverage in these areas.

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