The value of in-building communications

In an emergency, IBW solutions help keep first responders connected both in and outdoors


     With an increasing frequency, building code and ordinances nationwide are including standards that require all newly constructed commercial buildings to include radio coverage to provide for public safety signals within the building. In fact, occupancy permits in many cities — Las Vegas; Burbank, Calif.; Boston; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and others — are issued only if owners meet these ordinances. Nationwide, many jurisdictions are utilizing the National Fire Protection Association and International Fire Code specifications for in-building, two-way public safety radio systems (such as NFPA-1 and IFC 2009).

     With all these ordinances in place, why do less than 1/3 of the nation's first responders actually have the capabilities to communicate from inside buildings to command and control post outside, or the ability to integrate with the building's automation system to view video systems showing elevators, offices, stairwells, etc.?

     In today's technologically capable world, an in-building wireless (IBW) solution is a must-have amenity. In the online magazine and Web resource Automatedbuildings.com's February 2008 edition, building owners rated the ability to coordinate with local emergency responders as the most important public safety feature they could offer.

     Thousands of law enforcement and public safety agencies nationwide have already obtained 4.9 GHz licenses that will facilitate in-building communications. These new broadband systems, when tied into the building automation systems, provide law enforcement officials and first responders with access to video from security cameras, as well as clear, two-way communications with individuals inside difficult-to-reach building areas. With these systems in place, officials can access pertinent information to help expedite and coordinate rescue plans while managing an emergency in a rapid, efficient manner.

Primary means of communication

     According to the Wall Street Journal, Research in Motion (the Canadian company that makes BlackBerry smartphones) shipped 10.1 million handsets in Q3 2009 — far more than the 9.6 million analysts expected — and Apple, maker of the popular iPhone, sold 704 million phones as of its September quarter of 2009. Additionally, RIM expects to ship between 10.6 and 11.2 million handsets in Q4 2009. Overall, strategy analytics forecast that global shipments of all handsets in the final quarter of 2009 will rise 3 percent from the previous year to reach approximately 300 million units.

     The aforementioned figures underscore the fact that mobile phones are now a primary means of communication — and they need to work indoors as well as outdoors. However, reports by the In-Building Wireless Association (IBWA) indicate that real estate and public safety communities are challenged with providing full in-building coverage for mobile phones. IBWA states the areas designated as having the greatest need for coverage improvements include parking garages, elevators and open areas.

     The trend of smartphones becoming the primary means of communication shows no signs of decreasing. So it stands to reason that strengthening weak cell signals — so individuals can utilize the devices indoors — should be a primary concern for IT managers and building owners. Imagine if a laptop only worked outside a building and had no connectivity inside an office or apartment building — a ridiculous notion, but smartphones are essentially computers.

Benefits of mobile & fixed wireless solutions

     An IBW infrastructure leverages a distributed antenna system (DAS) for in-building cellular coverage. The antennas boost weak cell tower signals, or in the case of public safety, help carry the 700 or 800 MHz first responder communications throughout an enclosed area. DAS installments also allow Wi-Fi or WLAN signals to scale more efficiently.

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