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Why having the best mobile connectivity inside a building is business critical

Posted: 15th March 2023

Sam Jackman

Chief Development Officer

Shared Access

Enhanced connectivity is essential to maximising the efficiency of how a building operates, be it commercial or residential and irrespective of its age. Sensors such as those that measure occupancy, energy and water use and alert for maintenance depend on robust and reliable connectivity. Equally, at a time when many are struggling to attract people back to the office, removing barriers to attendance is important. That includes ensuring all employees are able to make and receive mobile phone calls wherever they are in the building.

Improved building standards and more sustainable building design are producing energy efficient new buildings with healthier, more productive environments. However, it’s a cruel irony that the better the quality of a building from an environmental perspective, the worse the connectivity becomes. Higher quality insulation materials and new styles of glass are practically impermeable to mobile signals.

While cellular mobile calls can be made over a Wi-Fi network, there are disadvantages to using Wi-Fi calling. Existing Wi-Fi networks, whether in a commercial space or at home, can take some of the strain. However, Wi-Fi calling isn’t a reliable or secure option.

Improving connectivity can, of course, be a particular challenge when retrofitting into an older building as part of updating a working environment - but it’s essential to ensure that the building doesn’t become obsolete. With what has been described as a ‘flight to quality’ and the development of a two-tier market in commercial property, excellent mobile connectivity is essential to meet the standards that are expected.

Improving mobile connectivity helps retain or improve a location’s competitive advantage, facilitates hybrid working and enables a building to meet accreditation requirements which boost desirability and increase the building’s value. WiredScore, the global digital connectivity system that defines and certifies digital connectivity, references a 5% uplift in rental values for fully connected buildings.

Five years ago, most companies understood that their connectivity was inadequate but thought it was the responsibility of the network providers to fix the problem. This was never going to happen, because the approach did not - and still doesn’t - work with the network providers’ business models. However, there are now innovations and new business models that make it possible to retrofit the necessary technology for enhanced connectivity in this environment.

An example is the National Gallery’s transformation of an empty courtyard into new office accommodation, One Gallery Hub. It was designed as seven floors of collaborative and efficient work spaces for over 250 gallery staff and to support those working from home. Reliable mobile phone coverage in the designated areas was an essential requirement. The National Gallery needed continuous coverage from the basement up to a sixth floor and a low maintenance but functional solution for the whole building.

Like many other buildings, the National Gallery suffered with poor mobile phone coverage. This was due to a combination of original 6 ft thick stone and brick walls, highly insulating construction materials that essentially repel a phone signal from outside and the growth of buildings in the surrounding area which effectively blocked phone signal from reaching the building. Another significant challenge was the lack of space to locate the equipment on site. The solution also had to be aesthetically sympathetic.

The National Gallery worked in partnership with Shared Access, an independent wireless telecommunications infrastructure company and mobile network operators to address these technical obstacles. The equipment required takes up a large amount of space and requires power and air conditioning to be put in place. In what is one of the first commercial applications that’s not for a campus, the approach uses a Base Station Hotel (BTS Hotel). The majority of the kit was installed in another location and linked to the National Gallery via a dark fibre connection.

To facilitate this, Shared Access had to work with local landlords to find a suitable location, with Colt - a dark fibre provider - to ensure that an adequate connection was available to transmit the signals and data between the two locations and also with the National Gallery to ensure that the solution delivered upon their requirements. The system then was built using a tool called iBwave that ensures the signal propagation inside the National Gallery meets mobile network operator standards to deliver great quality voice and data speeds within the National Gallery.

Installation of the system inside the National Gallery took around one week. It was carried out in a way to take account of the historic nature of the building – certain areas couldn’t be touched or disturbed, while other pieces of work needed to take place out of hours.

Designing, building and installing the BTS Hotel, fibre links and working with the mobile network operators to install their equipment in the BTS hotel took six months.

Shared Access has been able to see that the system installed provides the standard of coverage the mobile network operators require. The solution is a SOLid LRN multi-operator coverage solution that will accommodate growing capacity and technology demand and will offer the capabilities to expand.

The National Gallery has already seen an improved use of space, efficiency and morale. There are no more complaints from staff about not being able to use their phones and staff are making greater use of areas such as the basement which previously had suffered from poor connectivity.

Sam Jackman

Chief Development Officer

Shared Access

Sam Jackman is the Chief Development Officer of Shared Access, an independent wireless telecommunications infrastructure company.