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RF Benchmark Testing Integral to Distributed Antenna System (DAS) Design

Boosting Signal Strength Requires A Baseline Measurement

Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are not a one-size-fits-all solution. The systems consist of a network of antennas throughout – or around – a building.

 The system’s design will ultimately depend on how large the building is, what it’s primarily used for, and where the weakest signal spots are in correlation to the highest-usage locations.

Some designs may be similar, especially in venues of similar layouts and sizes, but each project has unique considerations.

What is RF Benchmark Testing?​

RF benchmark testing, also known as radio frequency benchmark testing, is a process that involves measuring and analyzing the performance of wireless communication systems within a specific area. The purpose of RF benchmark testing is to evaluate the quality, coverage, and reliability of wireless signals, for public safety radio, cellular networks, or Wi-Fi, in real-world conditions. It helps identify areas with weak signal strength, signal interference, or other performance issues.

During RF benchmark testing, various measurements are taken, including signal strength, signal-to-noise ratio, signal quality, and data transfer rates. These measurements are typically conducted at multiple locations within the test area to gather comprehensive data on the network’s performance.

RF benchmark testing provides valuable insights into the performance of wireless networks, allowing operators and service providers to identify areas for improvement and optimize their network infrastructure. It helps ensure reliable connectivity, improve user experience, and meet quality standards in various settings, such as commercial buildings, stadiums, campuses, or public spaces.

Why is RF Benchmark Testing Important?​

In addition to being an integral step in designing and deploying a DAS system for public safety, guest convenience, and business operation purposes, RF Benchmarking tests are also an integral part of achieving – and maintaining – NFPA and IFC compliance related to in-building communications.

All buildings over a certain size and/or capacity are required to maintain compliance regarding Emergency Responder Communications Enhancement Systems (ERCES) to ensure that first responders are able to communicate efficiently and effectively while on site. In the event that the building does not have adequate coverage, a system will need to be designed and deployed to meet this requirement.

After deployment, your building will need to undergo periodic recertification to ensure that optimal signal strength is still available throughout the building. These requirements apply to existing buildings and new construction, and most – if not all – jurisdictions throughout the whole of the USA adhere to the similar standards.

The RF Benchmark Testing Process​

Before deploying a DAS, the building operator needs to determine where the signal strength is weakest and enhancement may be required. To do this, they will commission an RF Benchmark Test to measure the RF signal strength throughout the building.

1. Review Project Goals

To ensure effective signal boosting in the desired areas, the first crucial step is to review the project’s objectives. Following this, the RF Benchmarking test is conducted.

If the primary goal of the project is to provide public safety personnel with reliable coverage and signal strength for efficient emergency response, the testing, reporting, and design process may differ from scenarios where the focus is on ensuring connectivity for fixed and mobile cellular devices.

By tailoring the testing and design process to the specific objectives, the Distributed Antenna System (DAS) can be optimized to meet the unique requirements of the project, ensuring seamless communication and fulfilling the intended purpose of the system.

2. Measure Signal Strength

During the RF Benchmarking test, the signal strength and quality in various areas of the building are carefully evaluated to determine if there are any regions that lack sufficient coverage. MCA Engineers conduct a thorough walkthrough of the premises, employing advanced tools and equipment such as Spectrum Analyzers, PCTel Scanners, and specialized software to gather comprehensive RF data.

The engineers systematically move through different sections of the building, strategically placing the testing equipment to capture accurate measurements. They analyze the received signal strength, assess signal quality, and identify any potential areas with weak or inconsistent coverage. This meticulous evaluation enables them to pinpoint specific locations where additional measures may be required to enhance the signal and ensure reliable wireless connectivity.

3. Report Creation / Review

After the walkthrough, a detailed report analyzes frequency distribution in the facility. Handheld monitors measure signal strength at regular intervals and document readings in the report.

The report identifies areas needing signal enhancement for Emergency Responder Radio Coverage (ERRC) and/or cellular coverage depending upon your project goals. These findings guide targeted project areas, including rooftop assessments. The report ensures adequate initial signal strength and highlights the need for a new or expanded distributed antenna solution.

By leveraging this report, property owners gain valuable insights into the areas that require signal improvement, enabling them to plan and implement effective solutions to enhance both emergency communication capabilities and cellular coverage.

The Impact of Improving RF Signal Coverage

Public Safety Radio RF Benchmarking for ERCES Applications

Increased Building Safety

The primary objective of RF testing is to enable effective communication among emergency personnel within your facilities during emergencies. Areas like corridors and stairwells, which are vital for quick response to fires, assailants, or critical incidents, often suffer from poor signal reception. This can significantly impede emergency response efforts and jeopardize the safety of both responders and occupants. By conducting RF testing, you can identify and address these communication challenges, ensuring timely and reliable communication in critical situations, thus enhancing the safety and security of everyone involved.

Cellular RF Benchmarking for Guest Experiences

Improved Guest Experiences

Enhancing cellular coverage across your facilities, be it a sprawling sporting venue or a luxurious resort, delivers a superior mobile user experience to guests, employees, and patrons. By establishing strong connections to major cellular carrier networks, visitors can enjoy seamless calling, texting, social media sharing, and live streaming, enabling them to share their experiences with friends, family, and followers. This not only elevates the reputation of your business but also enhances customer satisfaction and engagement, fostering positive relationships and promoting your establishment as a premier destination.

Cellular RF Benchmarking for EPOS Connectivity

Reliable POS Operations

Large revenue-generating venues, such as stadiums and shopping centers, can optimize their operations by conducting cellular RF signal testing. This ensures seamless sales transactions as vendors utilize their EPOS systems. While most EPOS systems primarily rely on T1 connections for credit card transactions, they also utilize cellular failover to ensure continuous connectivity. If primary T1 connections experience downtime or slow speeds, these systems automatically fallback to cellular networks to process card data. Ensuring strong signals enables vendors to deliver exceptional service, improving customer satisfaction and maximizing revenue.

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