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Boosting cell signals indoors

Resort opts for active, multi-carrier system

Wireless Alert By Joanie Wexler, Network World
December 17, 2007 12:10 AM ET
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An accepted IT best practice is to upgrade cabling when a property is already undergoing renovation. This way, someone else's budget pays for cracking open walls and ceilings and providing the exposed access needed by IT operations staff. The historic Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., recently took this approach to upgrading its indoor cellular coverage with a multi-carrier distributed antenna system (DAS).

When The Greenbrier underwent renovations in early 2007, its IT team installed a DAS from LGC Wireless, now an ADC company, to boost signals from multiple mobile network operators throughout the high-end, 802-room resort. The DAS transports carrier signals among antennas via cabling, and active DASs, like those from LGC, also condition and amplify the signals.

Primarily, the initiative is intended to accommodate growing guest expectations that their cellular devices will work anywhere.

“We were being labeled by meeting planners for having lack of cell phone coverage in the area,” explains Mike Keatley the resort’s director of IT.

In addition, some internal operations staff needed the coverage and push-to-talk capabilities delivered by cellular networks.

Thick concrete walls and underground conference rooms and other facilities meant that coverage was virtually nil in a number of property areas, Keatley said. His team had already laid dark fiber throughout the building back in 2000, when the hotel underwent a guest Internet initiative, in anticipation of layering on additional services in the years to come. The cellular initiative was one such project.

“We put in multimode fiber,” said Keatley. “LGC was the only vendor we found that could deliver cellular extension over multimode.”

The other main component required to boost cellular signals is a cellular radio-frequency (RF) signal source, often a micro base station procured from the mobile network operator license. Alternatively, a less expensive intelligent repeater certified by the carrier(s) can be used, if there is a cell tower close enough for the device to pick up a strong signal for amplification.

With the fiber already in place, the DAS - including the LGC equipment and mini base stations from US Cellular for CDMA coverage and Cellular One for GSM coverage - cost about $120,000, said Keatley. Verizon Wireless is to be integrated into the setup in early 2008, he says, and the hotel is in negotiations with T-Mobile and Sprint’s regional service reseller NTelos, to enable full indoor coverage of those networks, too.

Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.

Joanie Wexler is an independent networking technology writer/editor in Silicon Valley.

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