Stuart Waine of Spry Fox Networks explains the reasons why reliable mobile coverage is important to office workers.

The advent of the smartphone and other wireless enabled devices have transformed the way we communicate with each other at work.

Until 2020, however, they didn’t have much impact on our place of work. Three years on from a global health crisis and the office environment has been completely redefined. So too have workplace communications requirements and connectivity expectations, with remote and hybrid models are well and truly here to stay. Many firms are reworking their employment contracts to include these new phenomena, relocating to smaller premises, or moving into a shared office environment where high speed broadband and mobile connectivity, IT equipment, pleasing working environments and an abundance of public amenities/breakout areas are included within the lease.

The new office environment has also reinforced our dependency on cloud computing and agile working. On top of this, businesses are increasingly pushing mobile only strategies in preparation for the landline switch off (currently scheduled for December 2025 in the UK) and video conferencing platforms are altering the flow of information and collaboration.

Changing trends have cemented the importance of reliable mobile coverage

This shift in mindset has emphasized the importance of guaranteed mobile connectivity. Moreover, it is a key consideration for business owners weighing up property leasing options. Any commercial facility failing to meet “always on” connectivity expectations will quickly struggle to attract tenants. The significance of seamless mobile coverage has been further heightened by changes to the WiredScore certification, an internationally recognised benchmark for rating a property’s digital infrastructure and connectivity capabilities.

The certification process has historically focused primarily on fixed internet connectivity, taking into account the number of internet service providers (ISPs), backup infrastructure, and a property’s overall connectivity potential. More recently, however, mobile signal strength has also been incorporated into the process, incorporating QoS and coverage of the different MNOs. This change doesn’t just impact commercial cellular services, it is driving the adoption of smart building technologies for sustainability and cost saving purposes, with the deployment of said technologies set to accelerate now that 5G networks have gone mainstream.

Changes to the certification are highly appealing to building owners/managers and commercial real estate companies. By taking action to ensure strong mobile signal coverage throughout their respective premises, they can demand higher leasing arrangements, thus expanding their rental worth in the longer term.

Smart buildings block mobile phone signals

Whilst the notion of smart building infrastructure is indeed the way forwards from a sustainability standpoint, the physical buildings do not lend themselves to ensuring seamless mobile connectivity. This is because materials such as energy-efficient glass or thermal insulation products tend to block mobile phone signals. This means that the outdoor network must be taken indoors using third party equipment if people inside are to be able to use their mobile phones. This is a key consideration because any property regarded as a mobile dead zone will reduce business productivity for occupants and diminish the value and ability to attract tenants for the building owner/manager or real estate company.

Multiple options to improve in-building connectivity

There are multiple ways for ensuring building tenants can access the 4G and 5G connectivity services they need, including:

  1. Operator distributed antenna system (DAS)
  2. Picocells/Femtocells
  3. Repeater systems

DAS and Picocell installations work by taking the mobile signal source directly from an MNO base station and propagating it throughout the facility via fibre or coax cabling and a series of RF antennas. Due to their sheer magnitude such installations are expensive to deploy, incur long lead-times and usually require cabling overhauls. These drawbacks limit their implementation to larger buildings, but occupants of smaller premises face the same connectivity challenges. Facilities managers also recognise the commercial implications of unreliable mobile coverage and the need for a viable alternative to meet tenant expectations.

Enter mobile repeaters

A mobile signal booster or repeater on the other hand works by taking an existing, strong outdoor signal and amplifying it within an indoor space. Unlike the above they are carrier-agnostic, which means that they will improve mobile coverage levels for all users. What’s more, now that the rules pertaining to mobile repeater usage have been relaxed by the regulators, they are quick and easy to deploy because their configuration is based on the findings of a mobile site survey, emitting the need for internal cabling. Installations can be up and running in a matter of days, providing levels of coverage needed for all services and technologies running on 4G and 5G networks.

In a digitally driven world, seamless mobile connectivity has become integral to every aspect of our personal and professional lives. People rely on their smartphones to stay connected with colleagues, clients, friends, and family, making mobile signal strength and reliability a critical aspect of daily life. As businesses continue to adopt flexible and remote working arrangements, the need for seamless mobile connectivity within commercial buildings has never been more important and property owners/managers need to take action in line, not just to meet tenant expectations, but because of the potential to incorporate lucrative mobile-driven value-added services into their leasing arrangements. Ensuring this is neither difficult nor expensive.