December 3, 2012 • By Gary Julius | SBJ Contributor
We Americans love our cellphones. We send 200 trillion text messages each and every day. In addition, we talk on a mobile phone an average of 21 minutes per day. And, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, we find cellphones to be good entertainment, with 42 percent of all respondents saying they use their phone to occupy themselves during otherwise boring hours.
Yet, ever since wireless phones came into use, large buildings with steel frames, concrete masses and layers of energy-saving sheathing have proved a bane. They interfere with or repel cellphone signals. How many times have you dropped a cellphone call upon driving into an underground parking garage or stepping into the elevator of a high-rise office building?
Compounding the problem: As much as Americans love their cellphones, they don’t like the cell towers that make it possible to use them. At last count (2011), there were an estimated 256,000 of them in the U.S. Stories of neighborhoods banding together to block cell tower construction are increasingly commonplace.
About 10 years ago, a solution emerged to the annoying “no bars deep in the bowels of the building” problem. It was to build a cell tower inside the building using a distributed antenna system (DAS). In its simplest form, the technology utilizes a “repeater” device mounted outside the structure (generally on the roof) to collect the radio signals of private carriers or public safety organizations and retransmit them at a heightened power to a network of antennas snaked throughout its interior.
DAS installations are on the rise in Southern Illinois, reflecting a global trend quantified in a recent study by ABI Research which put total investment in DAS and related devices at nearly $10 billion this year. Virtually every new mid-rise (four-story and higher) building being built or planned for construction in Illinois includes DAS.
A case in point is the new five-story, $237 million, 134-bed Good Samaritan Hospital and Surgery Center now taking shape in Mount Vernon. Further north, our company is installing a DAS at the new 25-bed, 128,000-square-foot St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Office Center.
Factors fueling the upsurge in DAS demand — other than assured four-bar signal strength for major wireless carriers in large structures — include public safety and the hunger of hospitals for processing speed and bandwidth.
On the public safety front, emergency personnel rely on land mobile radio systems to respond to 911 calls. If the radio signals can’t get through to responders, lives could be lost. Further, a 2010 federal mandate bans firefighters from using plug-in analog in-building phone systems when responding to emergencies in structures larger than 20,000 square feet or higher than three stories. These buildings are now required to have a DAS dedicated to emergency use.
As for the medical field, hospitals are clamoring for more wideband channels and accelerated data uploads so that their information technology systems can accommodate and integrate multiple electronic applications as they seek to meet the 2014 federal deadline for making “meaningful use” of electronic medical records for patients. Hospitals that don’t make the deadline will suffer financial penalties. Accordingly, New In-Stat Research projects explosive growth in hospital DAS installations — from the nearly $2 billion U.S. hospitals are investing this year to more than $4 billion in 2015.
As electronic communication systems continue to proliferate, DAS are becoming an essential infrastructure component of every major building — as important as its plumbing, electrical or HVAC system — though sight unseen to building users.
For us cellphone-loving Americans, there’s an added benefit to the growing popularity of DAS. If there’s anything more aggravating than dropping a call, it’s seeing your cell battery monitor flashing red. When cellphones have four-bar coverage, they don’t need to expend the substantial battery power it takes to search for a signal. Extended battery life is just another positive outcome made possible by DAS.
Gary Julius is a director of Guarantee Electrical Co., which has offices in St. Louis and Granite City.
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