LTE services aren’t always available where you need them, so enterprise network managers are looking for ways to boost LTE signals and capacity indoors. Distributed antenna systems, femtocells and picocells are all potential solutions, but arriving at the best solution depends on a thorough understanding of the problem at hand. Following are some best practices for identifying and deploying a solution.
- Involve the wireless service providers as early in the process as possible. Because they are the cellular spectrum license holders, they must approve the design and operation of the system. Otherwise, they may not agree to supply the RF source or support access to their network through the system. In addition, service providers can recommend appropriate solutions and vendors, and they may even be willing to share some of the costs of the system.
- Identify all service requirements, from both a coverage and capacity perspective, up front to ensure the solution meets the needs of both guests and employees. For example, how many mobile devices must be supported? How many simultaneous users should be supported? Don’t forget to account for building visitors as well as employees, and to gauge capacity by the number of devices in use, not necessarily the number of users, since a user may have more than one device. And plan for growth – as cellular data use rises, capacity demands will increase and may affect the system design. So think about needs not only now, but five years in the future.
- Do a thorough site survey of the property to determine RF propagation, equipment locations, cable routing, power availability, and other factors. A solution cannot be designed properly simply using floor plans because wireless propagation can be complex and building plans don’t always reflect what is actually there. For example, the upper floors of a high-rise may “see” macro network signals from a variety of sources, so it will be important to establish a dominant signal indoors to keep users’ mobile devices from hunting from one source to another. Or a room that looks uncomplicated may bounce wireless signals around due to filing cabinets and other furniture. Identify unique building features that will affect signal coverage and propagation, such as long hallways with offices on both sides, or banks of metal lockers. Also, look for parts of the environment that can be moved or reconfigured, such as pallet racks and mezzanines. These typically are made of steel, which means that they’ll affect signal propagation. So if they’re moved or removed, signal coverage almost certainly will be altered – and not necessarily for the better. Even large wooden benches, which may absorb signals, can be a factor.
- Determine any potential issues that could impact solution selection and cost, such as building construction materials, existing cable infrastructure, any special installation requirements such as conduit, building code requirements, and any working hours or access limitations. These factors will affect the cost of the deployment and the time to deploy a solution.
- Identify any special requirements. In older buildings look for special needs such as asbestos abatement or historic property considerations, which may limit available placement locations of equipment and cabling. High ceilings will require scissor lift equipment, for example, and historic buildings may have lath and plaster walls instead of sheetrock, so they may require additional labor or expertise during deployment, or they may require special measures to be taken to blend a wireless solution in with historic decor. In high-tech manufacturing or medical centers “clean rooms” mandate tenting to seal out contaminants. The facilities-maintenance department can be a good source of information about ceiling types because they’ve encountered them while installing or maintaining HVAC ductwork. This department also should be able to provide information about what’s above ceilings.
Forearmed with a thorough understanding of your enterprise environment and the needs of your users, you can confidently work with service providers and a vendor to deploy an LTE coverage and capacity solution that will meet your needs.