First in a two-part series
With today’s BYOD, virtual office, and millennial expectations, many companies are realizing that it is in their best interests to install their own facility-wide Distributed Antenna System (DAS) for employee, vendor, and customer smarthphones, and other wireless devices. This capital-intensive project should following a set of well-defined practices to insures your company’s IT investment is well spent. But where do you start?
Staking Claim: DAS Needs, Wants, and Must-Haves
One of the best places to start conceptualizing a DAS is with the people who will depend on it. Internal and external stakeholder input will help you identify any real-world problems immediately--helping to define the parameters and specifications for your system.
Critical company users need to have their wireless needs fulfilled. For employees, these can range from “my cell phone always drops in the cafeteria” (most likely a coverage problem) to “my cell phone makes calls fine in my office but data is always so SLOW” (possibly a capacity problem) to “my colleague’s phone works great, but mine doesn’t” (lack of multi-carrier support).
Specific needs should also be considered:
- How will customers, patients, travelers, and others interact with the wireless network and what are their expectations for supported commercial carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.), compatibility and usability?
- Does Operations have a private radio system that needs to be supplemented in certain areas?
- Does a new construction project require public-safety coverage to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy?
- Is there instrumentation (e.g. heart monitors, wireless kiosks, registers) that needs to be monitored wirelessly in the facility?
- Are there IT or sales and marketing programs that need to be promoted using the system?
By evaluating all stakeholder needs, your DAS solution can be tailored to address existing and future coverage, capacity, and criticality demands. This is an important investment. Your company should get the biggest bang for its buck.
Faces of Change: Leaders and Champions
A well thought-out DAS solution is not a quick undertaking. It will take a committed leader within the organization to oversee the project, and most likely, a corporate sponsor to interface with multiple internal groups and to move the project through all necessary approval gates. The project leader can come from any part of the business, but generally he or she is in the Facilities or IT department. Both the project leader and sponsor will need to focus on continued stakeholder communications—like status updates and progress reports—to ensure success and buy-in.
Dollars and Sense
Available capital will impact the type of solution you choose. Once your true wireless needs for the building are identified, the total price of that solution can be calculated. Like other IT investments, the initial monetary outlay may be higher than initially anticipated.
So, what if the price of the desired solution is more than your available budget? Here are several options:
Scaling: Consider scaling back the project. Has your team specified a Cadillac when a Chevrolet would be fine? Be realistic and be practical. See if scaling back services will get you back to your available budget. For example, think about supporting two, instead of all, commercial carriers.
Phasing: Look at staging the project in phases. If the services required are too expensive to do throughout the total coverage area, examine doing the most critical areas of the building first. Then provide additional coverage as funds become available. An alternative to this phased-in approach may be to stage services within the entire structure. For example, a business that needs public safety in a new structure might do that layer first, and follow it up with commercial carrier services at a later time, as the budget allows.
Working with a qualified system integrator is key to making tradeoffs for both scaling and staging.
The right integration partner will make a project go well, while the wrong integration partner can make a project challenging. A good partner should not rush your decision, but rather, be available to answer all of your questions and provide a comprehensive assessment of your needs. Your integration partner should have experience and knowledge addressing all requirements: commercial carrier services, public safety, private radio networks. This includes interaction WI-FI.
References are very important. The scope and resources involved warrant a thorough vetting of the partner you select. It is a good idea to ask for references from other clients who have installed similar solutions in the same vertical industry. IT solutions ideal in a healthcare environment differ vastly from those required in retail. It is important that your solutions partner understands your specific business/implementation or technology requirements. If a reference from your vertical is not available, get two:
- one that generally aligns with your business needs to confirm that implementation requirements are well understood, and
- one that required similar technology (commercial, private radio, public safety, and Wi-Fi) to assure technical requirements are understood and supported by the partner
Avoid Last-Minute Surprises: Carrier Requirements Vary
Any enterprise customer may purchase and install a DAS, but to rebroadcast the signals of the commercial wireless carriers, the enterprise must have the commercial wireless carriers’ expressed permission. To obtain that permission, all of the commercial wireless carriers will expect the DAS to meet minimum performance measurements to insure their subscribers’ experience on the enterprise’s DAS is consistent with their own network standards.
Unfortunately, there is no universal answer to what those standards are. You can think of a commercial wireless network like a constantly growing and evolving organism. Requirements in one location may be entirely different than those in another location – even if the sites are only miles apart. These variances are due to terrain, building structure, proximity to cell sites, building capacity, and host of other factors.
A good systems integrator will confirm specifications and requirements with each wireless carrier. This critical step helps to ensure that commercial wireless carriers will allow the rebroadcast of their signals when the time comes. Otherwise, a costly and lengthy process—including substantial rework of the DAS—may be required to meet the specifications post-development.
A well-planned and executed DAS is a long-term project that requires assistance and buy-in from many internal groups. Major considerations include budget, users’ needs and expectations, partner capabilities, and carrier considerations. But we’re not done yet. Stay tuned for Part 2.
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