Distributed Antenna Systems Improve Cellular Signals and Property Values within Commercial Real Estate
Industrialization Brings More Commercial Real Estate to Large Cities
The late 1800s in the United States was a period of rapid growth and development. The American Civil War had ended, and the country was in the process of reunifying. Industrialization, which had started in Europe in the middle of the century, now resumed in the United States at breakneck speed. Cities, which had always been teaming with life, were growing more crowded as white-collar careers became more prevalent and the country moved away from its previous predominantly agricultural-based economy. A number of new inventions – such as electric lighting and the elevator – as well as advances in building materials, suddenly changed the way buildings were built and operated.
Until the elevator was invented, most buildings – whether residential or commercial – were only a few stories tall at most. After all, it would have been unreasonable to have people traipsing up and down dozens of flights of stairs each time they needed to leave their homes or places of work. Similarly, raising buildings that were more than a few stories tall wasn’t necessarily possible – or safe – until fireproofed iron and deep foundations were introduced.
Since then, multistory buildings specifically for commercial use have become big business. In New York City alone, there are 308 buildings more than 30 stories tall. However, while buildings that large are a great way to make use of the extremely limited real estate in cities, in today’s technological age, large commercial real estate buildings aren’t always the most conducive to getting the job done.
Skyscrapers and Large Commercial Real Estate Buildings Lack Sufficient Cellular Signal Strength
In the past, the only requirement for commercial real estate was that it provided adequate space for a business to house their staff and materials so that they could do their jobs. Throughout much of history, this meant having electricity, reliable plumbing, and – later – reliable telephone and Internet access. However, as technology has continued to march on, it’s now crucial for workers to have access to reliable cellular signals – something that large commercial buildings make incredibly difficult.
For starters, cellular devices are used the majority of the time when people are at street level, so most cellular towers are pointed downward. Because of this, cellular signals don’t generally reach higher than the 10th story of a building, which means that more than half of a large skyscraper – whether it’s residential or commercial real estate – could likely be without a signal.
Additionally, the layout of commercial real estate properties – even those that aren’t many stories high – can make it difficult for the cellular signal to reach the interior locations of a building. It’s likely that in wide open spaces, like lobbies, there may be a strong signal, but the further into a building you get where the signal needs to make its way through walls, doors, windows, and around corners, the more diminished its strength will be. Signal strength will be even further diminished in elevators, which are often built in the innermost areas of a building and are inherently encased by thick layers of concrete and made entirely of metal.
This lack of signal strength is more than just an inconvenience to building inhabitants.
Due to the extreme reliance that the global workforce has on having reliable access to the Internet at any given time, property managers and owners may have difficulty finding tenants in buildings with a poor signal. Business operations could also be impacted if Internet of Things (IoT) devices are unable to maintain connectivity.
The same goes for spaces that are meant to be retail or restaurant space, rather than office space. If patrons are unable to use their devices as they dine and shop, they may become frustrated with their overall experience. It could also impact revenue-generating capabilities for the business if they are unable to utilize a mobile POS system, for example.
And, of course, there are safety considerations. With limited cellular signal in large spaces, individuals that may need assistance could find themselves unable to call for help – especially if they’re in a storeroom, vault, elevator, basement, or parking garage. First responders, meanwhile, may be unable to communicate with their colleagues and dispatchers if, once arriving on the scene, the cellular signal is not sufficient due to structural impediments or a congested network.
Distributed Antenna Systems Improve Cellular Signal In Large Buildings
In order to ensure that a building has a strong enough cellular signal, builders and property owners should deploy Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS). Distributed Antenna Systems are multiple antenna systems that are distributed throughout or around a property to capture cellular signals and direct them toward the areas where signals are too weak. There are multiple types of systems that property developers can choose from, including Active, Passive, Hybrid, and Digital.
Benefits of Distributed Antenna Systems to Mobile Operators
While installing DAS has some clear-cut advantages to commercial real estate property owners, there are also advantages to the Mobile Network Operator (MNO).
The first benefit is straightforward – when working as it should, a DAS inherently improves the cellular signal within a building. This is a benefit for the MNO since it expands their network to customers.
DAS provides better service to the subscribers of a specific operator’s network. When only one MNO has a DAS in a given building, then their subscribers enjoy better service than subscribers on competing networks. Especially in the case of commercial real estate properties, this could lead to an increase in subscribers who switch to that network so that their mobile devices operate as expected while they’re at work.
In some cases, MNOs have signed partnership deals with event venues, such as stadiums and arenas, and as a result are entitled to be the “official wireless carrier” of a specific team. This means that they’re able to have their logo on official team materials and throughout the stadium. In these situations, it’s likely that the DAS is a multi-carrier system and that any individual using any mobile network will have a stronger signal, but the other networks won’t have the brand visibility that their competitors do.
Funding Options for Distributed Antenna Systems
Installing a DAS – especially in extremely large buildings – is often an expensive endeavor. When DAS were first introduced, many MNOs deployed them and were essentially paying for their subscribers to have better signal strength in a particular building. If more than one MNO wanted to provide that benefit to their subscribers then they would pay to have their own system deployed.
However, once many of the large venues were covered, MNOs stopped funding these projects as they didn’t feel that commercial-use buildings were a high priority as landlines and WiFi are available. However, as workers have started relying on their mobile devices more – and as businesses have started relying on things like mobile POS systems – strong cellular signals are just as important as a landline and WiFi.
Neutral Host, Mobile Operator Funded
A “neutral host” model of funding a DAS is where one MNO takes the lead on deploying the system but invites other MNOs to participate as well. In these instances, a third party typically handles the project design and installation, and the participating MNOs all split the cost.
It should be noted that in these situations, the MNO(s) own the system and equipment – not the property owner. That means that should the system need to be upgraded or expanded it would need to all be run through the participating MNOs, and the property owner may have little to no control.
Third-Party Funded with Partial Mobile Network Operator Capital Expenditure
In this model, an independent third-party design, builds, and manages the system but works with an MNO(s) for funding. Typically the third party is required by the MNO(s) to build the system to their specifications in exchange for them funding part of the project and effectively leasing capacity on the system.
In these situations, the funding typically comes from multiple sources, including the third party who is handling the build, the commercial building owner, and the MNO(s) who have signed on to participate. Additionally, the MNO(s) pay a monthly fee to “lease” access to the network so that their subscribers can enjoy improved signal strength. Should the MNO choose not to renew their agreement at the end of the period, their subscribers would no longer have coverage in the building.
Third-Party Funded with No Mobile Network Operator Funding
Another option is very similar to the one above, except that the MNOs are not involved. In these situations, the entire project is funded by the third party managing the build and the commercial building owner. Should an MNO want to provide their subscribers with coverage in the building, they’ll have to pay a higher monthly lease/access fee and may have to sign on to a longer agreement period.
In this model, the MNO doesn’t have to put up any upfront costs, which substantially reduces their financial burden, but in exchange, the onus falls entirely on the commercial building owner and/or third-party operator.
Dedicated Private LTE Network
With Private LTE networks, there is no mobile operator involved, and therefore, only the specific devices that are granted access to the network will have a signal. Anyone who does not have access to the Private LTE network will have to rely on the regular signal that may or may not be available within the building.
With Private LTE networks, the entire cost of the project is borne by the commercial property owner. The commercial real estate property owner may also opt to allow a third-party installer to fund the project and then enter into a lease agreement with them to get capacity into the building. In this case, the third-party installer may also lease the network to an MNO, which could provide some capacity to their subscribers. However, these PLTE networks are most typically meant for proprietary use by the building owner and applications/devices that they choose to support.
Considerations for Future In-Building Wireless Projects
The current design of DAS are such that most of the expense is actually related to the labor and wiring costs and not the cost of the actual radio infrastructure. In the future, newer designs may be able to use existing wiring, but presently a specialist RF installer is usually required.
A third-party design and install company should have a master agreement with the MNO so that it can be assured that its plans meet the MNO’s specifications.
All installations should have enhanced security, above and beyond what a typical Wi-Fi network would have. LTE and 5G have a higher level of native security.
Budgets and Cost Savings
In an effort to maximize the budget for a project, the existing wiring in a building should be used as much as possible. If new wiring is necessary, this should be handled by an ethernet installer.
Mobile Network Operator/Third-Party Interconnect
Any installation – even Private LTE networks – should allow for the option of an MNO to interconnect in the future, if they haven’t at the outset. This would provide an additional revenue stream for the commercial property owner.