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One World Trade Center
One World Trade Center

The Next Frontier for Wireless Distributed Antenna Systems

Imagine for a moment that you’re trying to have a one-on-one conversation in a large, empty room. At first you’re able to speak at a comfortable level and hear each other perfectly, without much effort at all. But as the room slowly begins to fill, you have to adjust your volume and work a little harder to hear. As the crowd steadily grows, you’re now finding it not only difficult to hear the other person, but nearly impossible to have a conversation at all.

This is what it’s like for your phone when trying to communicate effectively with a macro-cellular tower network in an interference-laden environment. The more signals (people) that your phone has to compete with, the less suited the macro-cellular tower (room) is to facilitate quality connections (conversations).

Most wireless carriers struggle with sufficient call quality in densely populated metropolitan areas – especially in multi-tenant high-rises. This is the next major frontier for wireless distributed antenna systems (DAS).

77 West Wacker
In the past two years, DAS deployments have skyrocketed in the class-A, high-rise office space, including 77 West Wacker Drive in Chicago. Photo credit: Joaquim Alves Gaspar

DAS has become as fundamentally important as plumbing, air conditioning and electricity in high rise multi-tenant venues. DAS has the ability to drive improved tenant occupancy rates at a greater degree than most other amenities provided by property owners.

Let’s continue running with our analogy. In that crowded, noisy room, what are your options?

  • Remain where you are, but suffer through the noise and occasionally lose each other in the crowd. When your phone remains connected to a macro-cellular tower on a noisy channel, you’ll experience garbled or “you’re-cutting-out” audio as well as slow data throughput that affects streaming, texts, and app usage.
  • Find a different room. Think of this solution as working like this: As a result of interference, your cellphone leaves one cellular tower in search of another source that promises a better connection. While the switch may benefit the call, the connection may drop during the time it takes to jump ship and establish a new connection. (Not to mention the resulting battery drain from constantly searching for better servers for the cellular connection.)
  • Give up; reschedule the meeting at a different time. This is when you receive a “text/call failed” message. The macro-cellular tower is simply too overwhelmed to establish additional mobile device connections at the time.

Now consider an additional scenario. You plan to meet your friend for a conversation, but in an ideal space: a small room with no distractions. But when you arrive, there are room dividers separating you. What would have been a perfect environment for your conversation is now blocked by obstacles.

There’s about ten billion connected devices in the world. By 2020, that number will be thirty billion. About 70-80% of that mobile traffic is happening within buildings.

In this situation, the room dividers represent high-rise buildings that stand between your building and the macro-cellular tower, intercepting RF signals that would otherwise reach your building, or creating RF multi-path issues (echoes) and additional interference.

Equally, they might represent your building’s glass-and-steel architecture, which can act as an RF shield, preventing signals from penetrating your building’s exterior and reaching the mobile devices inside.

As simplistic as the analogy is, it illustrates the many factors that coalesce into a complex web of wireless challenges.

Arie Barendrecht is the founder of New York City-based WiredScore, a company that certifies commercial buildings with the fastest and most reliable internet connections. During a panel discussion earlier this year, he commented on the proliferation of internet connected devices: “Right now there’s about ten billion connected devices in the world. By 2020, that number will be thirty billion. About 70-80% of that mobile traffic is happening within buildings. Building owners can differentiate their building and provide a great service to their tenants by installing technology to help them remain connected at all times.”

Untangling the Web of Wireless Challenges
Wireless challenges commonly experienced by high-rise tenants are usually a symptom of one of two underlying issues: signal interference (capacity) or poor signal strength (coverage).

The three examples listed above are examples of signal interference – noise created by a number of cellphones competing for the macro-cellular tower’s signal.

Signal strength is illustrated through the example of “room dividers”; it highlights the impact that non-wireless factors can have on wireless connections within high-rise buildings.

Addressing these issues at the source enables tenants to experience full coverage and seamless capacity throughout any property or high-rise space.

DAS Solutions for High-Rises
Offering the capability to solve capacity and coverage issues within a single, customizable solution, distributed antenna systems (DASs) have emerged as frontrunners in in-building wireless solutions over the past decade. They are predicted to gain even more traction as greater demands are placed on cellular towers.

With wireless consumers’ appetites for bandwidth-intensive data still on the first leg of the journey to the three-Exabyte-per-month 2018 destination, according to Cisco data, multi-tenant high-rises in densely populated cities are touted by many as the next major frontier for distributed antenna systems.

In the past few years, DAS deployments are on the rise in class-A, high-rise office space: One World Trade Center and 55 Water Street in New York; Franklin Center, 77 Wacker, and 70 West Madison in Chicago; and Peachtree Plaza and Promenade in Atlanta are just a few properties that stand to benefit from the forward-thinking position of their managing companies.

The deployment strategy for One World Trade Center, for example, was driven by a paradigm shift in which corporate facility managers seeking to lease space now assess a building’s wireless cellular coverage as a fundamental part of their decision-making process. With that in mind, they hold that a DAS plays an important role in increasing property values and attracting high-valued occupants.

“DAS is incredibly powerful,” commented Barendrecht. “Access to fast, reliable and robust internet connectivity has become a vital component of the modern workspace and connectivity can be the deciding factor in selecting office locations.”

On the Horizon
This forward-thinking desire for comprehensive wireless connectivity demonstrates the latest trend that is blooming in multi-tenant, class-A, high-rise offices, and is expected to accelerate aggressively over the next few years.

With converged networks and smart IT infrastructures on the horizon, progressive property owners and managers see DAS as a supplemental first step toward a future, unified wireless infrastructure.

CEO and Co-Founder
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