SpiderCloud servicesIn any metropolitan area, iconic green high-rises are a powerful testament to architectural innovation. They have created working environments that allow businesses and economies to grow. However – in the arms race between designing and constructing green buildings that consume as little energy as possible and keeping up with mobile technologies – most new buildings are giant-sized Faraday cages.

Eco-friendly buildings that are designed to save energy and use the latest materials are not only keeping out the sun’s rays to save on air-conditioning, but they are also blocking out cellular phone signals and interfering with mobile coverage within the building. In fact, mobile networks lose as much as 88 percent of their bandwidth thanks to energy-efficient walls and windows. Insulation seals in hot or cool air, but keeps out the mobile phone signal.

In contrast, sometimes a building can have too much coverage – but not enough capacity. Research from Signals Research Group found that just walking around one floor of a high-rise building could require a mobile device to handover as often as 51 times with 10 different cell sectors due to the constantly fluctuating signal strength between cells. (Handover is the process of transferring an ongoing call or data session from one channel connected to the core network to another channel.)

This has a direct impact on the performance of the device and significantly impacts battery life. Furthermore, because the device is always operating at the end of a constantly changing cell, throughput is affected in a way that is akin to the cell suffering from limited capacity.

A high-rise may tower above its neighbors, but still can’t escape their impact. When the outdoor macro network is placed under strain during peak times, such as commute hours, mobile capacity inside the building is affected. Planning and zoning laws restrict the ability of mobile operators to deploy additional cell sites for capacity purposes – even though a new high-rise building could easily add hundreds of additional subscribers all fighting for mobile capacity during office hours.

For owners and managers of tall buildings, this is a frustrating situation. You can have the most state-of-the-art structure, but communications inside the building may not be fit for purpose. The solution? Moving the cellular traffic off the outdoor network and onto an in-building network capable of delivering a business-class user experience.

Weighing Your Options

WiFi is widely used for wireless data connectivity. Enterprise WiFi solutions add levels of control for the IT director that address security or device management concerns; however, Signals Research Group found that WiFi isn’t always an adequate alternative to in-building cellular coverage and capacity. Voice-over-WiFi mobility and throughput fall well below the threshold that signifies a good mobile data experience as soon as many users are congregated together and connected to the Wi-Fi service.

Meanwhile, distributed antenna systems offer a cellular-only solution, but are expensive to install and manage. Their upfront capital expenditure and ongoing management overhead make it unsuited to the realities of today’s enterprises.

For high-rise buildings that need enterprise-grade mobile and wireless connectivity, an enterprise radio access network (E-RAN) is the optimal solution. Deployable within days, one E-RAN consists of a services node that can scale to support up to 100 radio nodes using standard ethernet (PoE).

One system can support up to 1.5 million square feet of 3G/4G coverage and capacity. These radio nodes connect to an on-premise services node, which is the central configuration and services enabler. The services node securely connects to the mobile operator’s core network with just one backhaul connection, enabling the operator to deliver managed mobility services to its enterprise customers and minimise unnecessary handovers, connections, and interference across the building’s small cells.

This approach not only solves the coverage and capacity problem, but also opens up the ability for the IT director to manage the infrastructure of the building in a whole new way by understanding what mobile devices are where.

Lighting and heating systems can be controlled based on insight into whether a room or floor is occupied. Security guards can be supervised to ensure that they’ve carried out their rounds in full and at the right times by logging their movement around the building. Security policies can be put in place so that only certain employees and visitors have connectivity in certain areas.

Mobile coverage and capacity in high-rise buildings is about more than being able get a signal (but heaven help us if the big boss in the corner office can’t make that important call). When it comes to deciding which approach to adopt, it comes down to questions like: “How much – and is it a capital or operating expense?” “How do we manage WiFi and cellular within the building?” “What additional services can I have that will improve the overall management and efficiency of the building?”

Answer these questions and you’ll have a building where technology and architecture work hand-in-hand – not in opposition.

Art King

Art King is SpiderCloud Wireless’s director of enterprise services and technologies. Prior to joining SpiderCloud, Art was the mobility/collaboration lead in global architecture for Nike Inc., where he actively led architectural engineering for global IT infrastructure covering 4,000+ sites across 49 countries.