The next generation of smart offices will connect buildings with their tenants. A barrage of new sensor technology has emerged to help with this. I have heard of smart badges with RFID tags, camera networks with facial recognition, or even drones flying around and recording all of the goings on. While all of these sound space-aged and cool, they are not utilizing the most important connected device, the smartphone. In-building cellular coverage has become an often overlooked — however critical — utility, just like water, power, and hardwired telecom networks.
Driving the demand for increased cellular access is workplace flexibility. We no longer want to be tied to the same desk, instead opting for the ability to take our laptops to another area of the building or even outside for some fresh air. A few things are allowing for this flexibility. One is the growing ability of people to use their personal laptops as their main office computer. Better cyber security and decentralized cloud-based file storage has made that a possibility. The other is the ability to use a cell phone. Landlines no longer tie us to our desks. This only works, of course, if our mobiles get proper reception.
My wife works for a public utility and recently moved into a new building that was custom designed for their use. It has it all. Elegant lobby, healthy food court, gym, standing desks, you name it. But, it has terrible cell phone reception. She has to call me on Facetime audio to avoid the frustration of walking around her office looking for a spot that might have a good signal. This, in my mind is a huge oversight.
Some of this might have to do with workplace designers not seeing mobile connectivity as part of their design parameters. They want to wow with flashy, aspirational workspaces. Mobile connectivity does not fall into that category. Also, I am sure that they see it as a problem for the mobile phone companies to tackle. Passing the blame seldom wins a lot of friends, especially when they are upset from having their important call dropped repeatedly.
Many offices suffer from weak reception. Sometimes it’s because there are not enough towers close by or there are too many people trying to access the tower at once, but often it’s the building itself. Floor plans, building materials and even surrounding structures or trees can cause interference.
One solution would be to install cell boosters. These are expensive and don’t generally provide even coverage to all areas and floors of the building. The other downside is that when they stop working, which technology has a way of doing at the most inopportune time, it leaves the facility manager in charge of figuring out how to get them back on-line as fast as possible. A better solution, in my mind, is to outsource it to companies that provide installation and support. For example, WIN Connectivity designs, implements and optimizes cellular connectivity solutions inside buildings and across campuses. They specialize in distributed antenna systems (DAS) and guarantee ubiquitous coverage and uptime, saving property and facilities managers the headache of troubleshooting and repair.
This may seem like a small detail, hence the lack of planning in new buildings like my wife’s. But, it is incredibly important. The modern office is flexible and connected. Both of those qualities require good mobile networks. Flexibility is provided by employees being allowed to use their own phone anywhere in the building. Connectivity is best when it has an easy interface with inhabitants. What better way to interface than with the small screens that we carry around with us all day? Some day in the future, we might have a different preferred method of communication. But for now, the smartphone reigns supreme.