In-building reception of mobile service is a prerequisite in multi-tenant commercial and residential properties. Office environments in which individuals cannot check their smartphones or place a call during their break from meetings leaves an impression – a negative one. At the same time, asking a resident to pay US$2,000.00 or more per month for a Class A apartment complex with poor wireless reception is a non-starter. Yes, reliance on WiFi calling is a high-risk proposition.
The challenge in both commercial and residential multi-tenant properties is that often times energy-efficient building materials interfere with RF signals. This results in cell coverage that is largely unavailable above say the 21st or 22nd floors. In MDUs, residents’ use of landline telephone service whether POTS, stand-alone VoIP or over-the-top VoIP is depicted in graphs and tables having steep, downward slopes. For owners of high-end properties, spotty mobile service coverage diminishes the appeal of a residential unit or prospective office location.
This challenge is compounded by the realities that (1) wireless carriers have limited Capex and Opex funds that are allocated on internal ROI assessments, and (2) these service providers are not obligated to extend their service to residents, tenants and visitors inside of multi-tenant residential or commercial properties. The same holds true for hotels. Carrier panelists at almost any wireless infrastructure conference emphasize that the wireless carriers will rarely, if ever, “take the investment” to support distributed antennas systems (DAS) (including “neutral host DAS systems”) and the balance of in-building wireless equipment (IBW) to extend service into and throughout multi-tenant properties.
Wireless carriers are more likely to fund or help fund investment in IBW systems to support wireless reception in major venues (convention centers, stadiums and arenas) and at major locations for their enterprise customers; and the permissible use of mobile service signal boosters in commercial spaces is not a solution for many multitenant properties, even if the FCC adopts a simplified registration procedure for wideband (multi-carrier) boosters.
Another reality is that the RF elements of in-building wireless systems are subject to technological obsolescence as wireless carriers transition to higher capacity (5G) or more efficient transmission technologies that will occur multiple times during the life of a modern building.
Fundamentally, property owners must determine whether in-building wireless is an amenity or an essential utility. Wireless carriers must also demonstrate a higher level of flexibility in bringing solutions (though not necessarily funding IBW systems) to facilitate more reliable in-building wireless service. Hopefully, the impetus will not be a series of emergencies or tragedies that could have been avoided through reliable in-building wireless signal coverage.