In-Building Cell Signal Coverage and LEED Certified Buildings: 4 Things You Should Do to Get a Better Signal
Let’s face it, cell phones have become intertwined into every part of our daily lives. According to a recent Pew Research Report, in 2015 nearly 2/3 of all Americans owned a cell phone, which is double what it was 4 years earlier. Nearly half of those have multiple mobile devices and nearly 60 percent of homes no longer have landlines.
Undoubtedly, at some point within the past 24 to 48 hours, you have experienced a weak or non-existent cell phone signal somewhere along your path, whether it be at home, at work or at play.
Surely you’d think that the wireless carriers would have added more cell towers, better technology, more capacity and improved coverage areas to accommodate the growing number of devices and users? And, they have. You might still be wondering, “Then why does my in-building cell signal coverage continue to get worse?”
While we have all had our heads buried in our mobile devices, what you probably haven’t noticed – unless you are in the building and construction industry – is that there has been an equally rapid growth in LEED Building Certifications. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Unfortunately, it also means poor cell phone signal and it’s only going to get worse. The same materials that are used to make buildings more energy efficient – such brick, block, steel, concrete and windows that block UV Light – also block out RF (Radio Frequency) signals which are necessary for cell phones to operate.
Since its launch in 2000, LEED Certification has been incorporated into almost every building structure, from the smallest of homes to the largest of commercial buildings, and everything in-between. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, nearly 1.85 million square feet of building space is being certified daily. This includes both new and remodeled construction projects.
On November 1st, the U.S. Green Building Council unveils its latest version of LEED Certification. According to an article posted on the Commercial Property Executive website written by Gail Kalinoski, this new version of the LEED certification program, v4, becomes the primary version and “pushes the green building industry forward in a way that no previous iteration of LEED ever has,” said Corey Enck, Vice President of LEED technical development at the USGBC.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
Since we know now that this problem won’t correct itself and that it is necessary to get a better signal inside of buildings, here are 4 things that you should do to get this done in an efficient and cost-effective manner;
Do research and educate yourself
On the different types of cell phone signal booster technologies that are available to you and at what cost. There are three main ways to accomplish a better signal strength
- DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) which are primarily fiber-based and can be single or multi-carrier systems depending on your needs and budget. Expect these systems to start at around $2 – $3 per square foot with a base system starting at around $100,000. They can also take anywhere from 12 – 18 months to design, gain carrier approvals and install.
- Small Cell systems start at around $1.25 per square foot and at that price, this solution become cost-effective at 100,000 square feet or more. Like DAS, these systems will also take 12 – 18 months to become operational.
- Signal Boosters are the result of realizing the high cost and long lead times associated with other solutions, which prompted the FCC to partner with wireless carriers and signal booster equipment manufacturers to regulate and certify a new class of equipment in 2014 that is carrier-agnostic, cost-effective and doesn’t require carrier approval for installation. The largest equipment manufacturer of signal boosters is Wilson Electronics (weboost® and WilsonPro® brands). These systems will boost 3G and 4G/LTE Signals for all carriers – and typically cost less than 50% of what small cell systems cost and less than 20% of what DAS systems cost.
Set realistic expectations
Realize that taking a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with this technology. Understand that no two buildings are the same and that you should never expect to see 5 bars of coverage everywhere (or perhaps anywhere) in your building. Bars are not a great indicator of signal strength. There are no industry standards for what “bars” mean, so there will be variations across phone manufacturers and how they register wireless carrier signals. In order to get a more accurate picture of signal strength, you will want to get a dB strength reading. Shown on your phone with a –dB value, signal strength can range anywhere from -40 dB (very good and very rare) on up into the -110 to -120dB range. Anything between -85 and -95 dB is considered a usable signal and should be sufficient for all of your needs. There are numerous websites to assist you on how to put your phone into Field Test Mode. Free iPhone and Android apps are also available that will show your dB strength as well as many other features such as closest cell tower location. The best “real world” testing method is also the simplest method to test. Can you make and receive calls? Can you easily surf the internet, listen to music and watch videos?
Choose a Partner wisely
They should have experience and know what they are talking about:
- If you have a home or building that is less than 5,000 square feet, there are numerous online stores where you can buy plug-and-play kits at industry-standard pricing, which is between $500 and $2,000. If you are not mechanically inclined and/or are afraid of technology, you should strongly consider buying from an online store that specializes in Signal Boosters. You are more likely to get personalized attention from someone that works with this technology on a daily basis as opposed talking with someone at a call center that’s previous caller was discussing books or returning pet supplies. Kits with more antennas are also available for buildings up to 20,000 square feet. Be careful in choosing these solutions as your building layout may not be conducive to the one-size-fits-all approach that these kits have, such as 4 equal cable lengths when you actually need cable lengths of 4 different sizes. It is always better to design your solution to meet the building requirements instead of having your coverage being dictated by equal cable lengths.
- For buildings over 20,000 square feet, you will want to partner with a company that has in-house custom design and installation experience. The reason for doing so is that over time, these professionals have learned what works and doesn’t work in many different types of situations and across multiple industries. Additionally, they will have the ability to guide you in the right direction so that your needs, expectations and budget are met. A bad partner will seek to give you the lowest price possible to win your business. A great partner will walk you through the process and help you understand all of the variables that go into a custom designed solution such as signal booster amplifiers, indoor and outdoor antenna options, splitters and tappers and cable types. Perhaps the most important words to listen for are “link budget.” This is what ensures that you have a smooth and consistent user experience within your building. If they are not taking “link budget” into consideration, perhaps you shouldn’t take them into consideration.
This is an investment in technology
Plan as far ahead as possible to allow for the greatest possible chance of success:
- If possible, have blueprints ready and available to share with your custom design partner during your first conversations. This will assist them in getting a more accurate quote together for you.
- If you feel it is necessary, ask your new partner to come on-site to perform a site signal survey. This will help to uncover things that may get overlooked and possibly lead to higher prices once installation has begun. This speaks back to experience; a seasoned designer will understand this necessary step and plan accordingly to prevent change orders.
- For new construction projects, get your custom designer/installer involved as early as possible. Ideally, you will want to have them on-site during the rough-in stage to install the cabling infrastructure. This will save time and money, in addition to providing a cushion in the event that the system needs to be tweaked.
- If you have already budgeted for a DAS or small cell solution, I have some great news for you! You likely already have enough money in your budget to get a turnkey signal booster system installed in your building and still have money left over for those other projects you’d like to do.
- If you don’t already have a budget, find a partner and get a quote today. It may actually be less expensive than you think.
In closing, I’d like to remind you that finding the right partner can make all of the difference in the world. Call them and talk to them. Trust your instincts. When you find one that is passionate about what they do and offers to help coach you through this process instead of using hard sales tactics, you will know that you have found the right partner. Learn more about how WilsonPro improved cellular signal quality for a prominent NYC retailer in our case study.
Steve Klingensmith is the Signal Booster Solutions Manager with Winston-Salem, NC based RCS Wireless Technology. You can visit their website at GetaBetterSignal.com. They are WilsonPro Certified Installers that provide Custom Design Solutions and Installation Services Nationwide. Over the past 4 – 5 years, he has designed well over 500 custom solutions within the Commercial Property, Healthcare, Hospitality, Manufacturing, Distribution and Education industries. Having installed more than 50% of the systems he has designed, they have the knowledge, experience and expertise to custom design and install a solution that is right for you. You can reach Steve via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him directly at (800) 441-9191 x139.