Research commissioned by in-building wireless expert Commscope has found that two thirds of US, and a third of Europe architects, “plan and design buildings with dedicated in-building cellular networks in mind.”
A study by Coleman Parkes interviewed 600 building managers, facilities managers, real estate managers and architects across the US and Europe, with 300 respondents in the US and 100 in each of UK, France and Germany. The research sought to establish how those responsible for designing and specifying new buildings include support for wireless coverage at the design stage – rather than relying on installation as a retrofit.
With 80% of mobile traffic originating indoors, and some industries (retail, transport, sports and music venues) increasingly relying on mobile as an enabler of customer interaction and information, in-building coverage in large buildings can be aided at the design stage by architects that are aware of the requirements.
Yet a feature written for TMN Quarterly in June this year found very little understanding amongst the building designers and architects even of the topic, and little knowledge of factors such as how to design-in access, the right building materials etc etc. Accordingly, a study that finds that 50% of architects are aware seems surprisingly at odds with that experience.
Phillip Sorrells, VP Marketing, at Commscope, said he too agreed that the 50% figure seemed high, although he did point out the regional disparity between the numbers in the USA and Europe – something he posited might be explained by the prevalence of high quality LTE in the USA. Also, Sorrels said that commercial owners of very large projects, stadiums, arenas, large shopping malls, are more aware, although things drop off down the scale. There is also some differentiation in sector, with retail property owners and managers being far more mobile-aware.
“The big venues have really largely matured, but what we are asking is how does this technology evolve to the next frontier of mobility, the office buildings and similar structures?” he said. “We know how long it took to get even super large structures going in this direction.”
Sorrells said that Commscope has been touring trade shows and the like for two years, “often on our own”, trying to gauge interest from building owners, real estate managers and architects to see the value in investing early in the process, as they would do for any other utility.
“Frankly I was surprise at the [research] result myself. We get involved in a lot of discussions about retrofit but this study showed that half of those surveyed say they are actively involved at the design stage.”
Sorrells pointed out that consumers place a real value on decent indoor coverage. “Research has shown that 50% of users say that they would not return to a hotel or resort if the mobile coverage was no good. So it’s interesting to see that consumer demand showing the value proposition.”
Sorrells said that designing for mobile coverage moves architects from thinking about what goes behind walls to a ceiling grid – “thinking about wiring in the horizontal plane, between floors and connectivity patterns for where they might need to add in additional nodes and capacity.”
One factor holding back the idea of designing for wireless is that wireless itself is a moving target – with technologies and the supporting network architectures changing rapidly.
“One major retail company told me that they would be on board if we could tell them what the technology would be in two years’ time,” Sorrells said.
That sort of forward planning requirement necessitates a technology architecture that can meet future needs without needing to be ripped and replaced. Naturally Commscope has in mind its ION-E digital DAS technology as a suitable candidate. Other options are, of course, available.
What if building designers don’t care in any specific way about designing for cellular coverage. The other approach is to rely on the ingenuity of wireless planners and RF designers, and of the ability of in-building cabling to handle wider bandwidths, multi-mode technologies and power, to enable the installation of coverage after a building has been built. That, of course, is often the current way it goes. It also often relies on an operator owning the supply contract, thereby limiting the potential for multi-operator support within a building – limiting the return on investment for a building owner.
FURTHER VIEWING: See a Commscope Infographic of the report findings.