Wiring Africa for Wireless


Vick Mamlouk, Vice President of Middle East and Africa, Andrew Solutions, discusses why building developers need to address thewireless problems of tomorrow.

Following a year that saw South African mobile connections overtake their fixed-line counterparts, it’s no understatement to say that wireless connectivity is rapidly becoming the fourth utility. It is on its way toward becoming just as indispensable for day-to-day operations in the 21st century as electricity and plumbing became in the 20th. The rising level of expectations due to the proliferation of wireless devices and 3G data cards across the continent has made “universal coverage” – comprehensive coverage everywhere, all the time – a necessity. As the demand for wireless capacity increases, effective in-building wireless systems willbecome absolutely critical.

However, the priorities for developers of office buildings, hospitals, hotels, shopping centres and other commercial structures are clearly aesthetics, efficiency and comfort. Ironically, these same features are often the enemy of wireless technology, resulting in poor coverage. Worse still, without ubiquitous wireless coverage, corporations can lose productivity, hotels experience higher vacancy numbers, hospitals reduce the quality of care and students miss out on opportunities to learn in new, more effective ways. Instead of waiting for capacity and coverage issues to present themselves at the most inconvenient and costly time, building owners and developers should choose to safeguard their investment and provide the infrastructure necessary to solve today the wireless problems oftomorrow.

Why use in-building solutions?

It has become clear that relying on the traditional wide area network (WAN) that enables mobile communication outdoors to deliver reliable wireless coverage inside large structures is not a feasible plan. Instead, building owners and developers are looking forcost-effective, high-performance and long-term solutions for equipping existing structures and new constructions with in-building wireless systems that will ensure occupants can maintain their wireless coverage demands well into the future. An in-building wireless system’s cabling provides the physical infrastructure on which all wireless technology will function. Engineered with the future needs of wireless operators and public safety communications requirements in mind, the indoor antennas, coaxial cables, connectors and cable management apparatus that make up this structured cabling solution work together to homogeneously flood a building with wireless signals and deflect interference from the macro network outdoors as well as competing signal frequencies inside.

Radio frequency (RF) signals originate from a base station, located either locally or remote. The base station takes bits of data andconverts them to RF signals so they can be transmitted over the air (OTA) to mobile devices. When the base station is located off-site, a repeater picks up RF signals and amplifies them. Both the local base station and repeaters use a system of cables, antennas andassorted other equipment to form a distributed antenna system (DAS) which efficiently moves RF signals throughout a building creating areliable, high-quality communications network.

Wireless renovation

Luckily, owners of existing buildings have an option for updating their facilities to combat RF signal impediments. Just as plumbing, electrical wiring, walls and flooring can be renovated in older structures, communications equipment can be strategically installed instanding buildings to achieve universal wireless coverage.The simplest in-building wireless solution that can be installed post-construction is a passive DAS that includes antennas, coaxialcable, a repeater and a signal source. This type of wireless system is ideal for buildings that are smaller end but havehigh-performance mobility needs.

Due to the fact that RF signal fades when it travels over long cable distances, larger buildings utilize antenna repetition to preventcoverage dead zones. The main concern a post-construction in-building wireless system has to remedy is the interference of outdoor signals after the system is installed. In-building wireless solutions providers can rectify this by conducting RF site surveys for existing structures and designing acompletely customized wireless system tailored specifically to that building’s physical properties and mobility requirements.

Install early and save

While installing in-building wireless solutions post-construction is a welcome reality for existing building owners, architects and building developers are paying attention to a new, compelling argument for implementing an in-building wireless system during theinitial construction phase of new structures – something that has never been done before. Adding new infrastructure post-construction increases costs and the risk of disrupting the building’s occupants. In contrast,installing utilities when a building is under initial construction is cost-effective and non-disruptive. It is estimated that the post-construction installation cost of a system is more than four times that of pre-construction work.

Structured cable is installed with a higher density than its use demands by design. An office might have triple the amount ofelectrical outlets in use or have two to four structured cabling jacks, though many are idle most of the time. To design this way mightinitially seem inefficient, yet it has been determined to be the most cost-effective solution that allows for the inevitable changing environment. By approaching the wireless needs of a new building with a similar strategy, developers can guard against future demand. Ultimately, wireless access in public buildings and offices is fast-becoming a minimum expectation from African consumers and employees alike. Not providing this utility is detrimental to the venue owner’s brand and the productivity or experience of those who occupy it. As a result, it will not take long for such pre-installation to become common in construction projects. Once it does, walking into alarge building without wireless connectivity may be completely alien to us.


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