Poor In-Building Connectivity: Why It Happens and How to Fix It

Posted by Lisa MacGillivray

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Connectivity problems, from cell phone dead zones, unreliable two-way radio coverage, spotty WiFi coverage – or a combination of all three – aren’t just bad for business and productivity, for public safety users, they can be downright dangerous.Happy smiling successful African American businessman  in a suit in a modern bright office indoors speel on phone.jpeg

If you’re facing communications challenges, it can feel as if you’re fighting a losing battle, but there are some secret – and not-so-secret – weapons you can use to improve performance, even in the most stubborn spots.

Here’s an overview of why poor in-building connectivity happens and how to fix it.

The Why: Cell Phones and Radios

In-building coverage gaps stem from the fact that cellular and public safety transmissions, as well as most other types of wireless radio communications, originate from a fixed location that’s outside of the building.

If the fixed location is nearby, the building likely has OK coverage, assuming the originating cell or radio signal is strong enough to overcome the building’s physical structure. The farther away the signal is, the less likely it is to make it through, and the worse the coverage.

In addition to signal distance, a building’s construction materials can also doom it to bad coverage. Older buildings made of dense materials such as steel and concrete are more likely to have connectivity issues, as are buildings that house a large number of users at a time. Stairways, basements, garages and tunnels are also more likely to be places where conversations and transmissions come to a halt.

How to Fix It: Cell Phones and Radios

A solid go-to solution for improving poor cell phone coverage and radio coverage is a distributed antenna system (DAS). A DAS works by picking up the wireless signals coming into a building and delivering them to hard-to-access spots.

A main component of the system is a bi-directional amplifier, or BDA, which works to locate the wireless signals that are amplified. The key to the system’s success is to have a strong donor signal into the amplifier. Think of it this way: Poor signal in is poor signal out. 

A typical DAS covers 85 to 90 percent of a building, and while 100 percent coverage can be achieved, it carries a greater cost.

An effective distributed antenna system can be designed for all kinds of situations:

  • For healthcare, DAS systems mean seamless communications between doctors and nurses.
  • For hospitality, a DAS may mean a constantly connected hotel guest comes back as a repeat customer because of the reliability of the communications.
  • For public safety, a DAS means first responders’ mission critical two-way radio transmissions are heard all the time, every time.

DAS Installation Tip

Given the complexity of a DAS system and its component parts, it’s best to have it installed by a professional.

An improperly installed or maintained DAS:

  • Won’t work correctly
  • Won’t provide the right signal distribution throughout the building
  • Will generate disastrous interference with the signal it’s supposed to be amplifying.

It’s also best to invest the extra money in a high-quality DAS system. While it costs more upfront, you’ll save in the long run because a better system will have a longer life expectancy and fewer performance issues you’ll have to pay to fix. Our distributed antenna system guide has even more information about the DAS solution, including installation tips. To learn more about how a distributed antenna system works, check out this whiteboard video.   

The Why: Wireless Coverage

In many industries and settings, nothing is more detrimental to productivity than slow Wi-Fi. The hotel guests who became loyal customers because of your strong cell signal will never visit you again if they can’t count on your wireless network. And workers will lose valuable time waiting for email messages to send and web pages to load.

As with cell phone and radio signals, older buildings made of dense construction materials such as concrete and plaster can also cause stubbornly spotty Wi-Fi coverage.

Other wireless disruption culprits can include too much distance between users and the wireless receiver, interference, poorly placed wireless access points (APs), as well as outdated equipment.  

How to Fix It

Before you go about fixing your wireless issues, you’ll want to definitively diagnose the cause. The solution that works best will depend on the source of the problems.

For Distance and Interference: Try wireless repeaters, which work in much the same way as distributed antenna systems. They receive your existing Wi-Fi signal, amplify it and transmit the boosted signal.

Repeaters extend your range and establish connection stability for computers, smartphones and other connected devices.

For poorly placed access points (APs): If you suspect these might be the issue or if your existing AP system hasn’t had a checkup in a while, have a professional service provider come onsite and do an assessment.

Access points should be placed to minimize interference and maximize their capacity. In general, that means placing them in rooms rather than hallways, on ceilings rather than walls and below ceilings rather than above tiles or elements such as HVAC ducts. They should also be placed far away from structural steel or metal.

You may find that you don’t need as many access points as you have or that your current configuration no longer meets your needs.

For outdated equipment: If you haven’t replaced your wireless networking infrastructure in a few years, it’s probably time for an upgrade to a more powerful system, particularly if your workforce has increased in size or scope since then.

There are a range of up-to-date wireless networking options available that can be tailored to meet your specific needs.

It’s worth nothing that in the hospitality sector, Ruckus reports that wireless complaints have fallen by 80 percent or more at hotels that have deployed its Zone Flex solution. As hotels rely on their Wi-Fi to power everything from digital keys to personalized guest experiences, unreliable wireless becomes even more of a liability.

If boosting the WiFi signal in your facility is your main concern, make sure to research WiFi solutions for your type of facility rather than assuming a wifi range extender will do the job.

Better Connections Await

The key takeaway here is that you don’t just have to tolerate poor connectivity. Once you understand why your problems are happening, you’re well-positioned to find a solution that works today and will carry you into the future. Your staff, guests, patients, students and first responders will thank you for it.

To meet your needs for in-building connectivity, contact Chicago Communications.

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Topics: Wireless Communication, Technology, Bi-Directional Amplifiers, Distributed Antenna System