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Chicomm Blog

Solving Poor In-Building Wireless Connectivity: Causes and Solutions

Posted by Lisa MacGillivray on Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Effective in-building wireless communication isn't just a convenience—it's a critical component of operational safety and efficiency. Unfortunately, many businesses regularly face significant challenges with poor wireless connectivity inside buildings. From emergency response teams relying on seamless communication to businesses requiring uninterrupted connectivity for operations, the stakes are too high for spotty coverage. Solving Poor In-Building Wireless Connectivity Causes and Solutions

If you’re facing connectivity problems like cell phone dead zones, unreliable two-way radio coverage, or bad WiFi coverage, we understand it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

We're here to help with some well-known and lesser-known strategies for enhancing performance, even in the most stubborn areas.

Understanding Connectivity: Cell Phones and Radios

In-building coverage gaps typically occur because cellular, public safety transmissions and most other types of wireless radio communications originate from fixed locations outside the building. If the fixed location is nearby and unobstructed, the building might experience adequate coverage. However, the further away the source, the weaker the signal becomes when it reaches the building.

Apart from the distance of the signal, the materials used in building construction can also contribute to its poor coverage. Materials like concrete, steel, and energy-efficient glass can block or degrade wireless signals. These materials reflect or absorb the radio waves used by devices like two-way radios and cell phones, leading to poor reception and connectivity issues. Older buildings made of denser materials are also more likely to have connectivity issues.

This issue is not just limited to external walls but also affects internal structures, leading to problematic areas such as stairways, basements, garages, and tunnels where wireless communication is frequently disrupted.

Networks can easily become overloaded in areas with many users, such as office buildings or conference centers. The congestion caused by simultaneous communications can overwhelm the available bandwidth, making any coverage gaps worse.

Fortunately, there are proven solutions designed to improve cell phone or radio coverage.

Distributed Antenna Systems: Boosting Connectivity for Cell Phones and Radios

A Distributed Antenna System (DAS) is your go-to solution for boosting wireless coverage inside buildings for cell phones or radios. By distributing signals through antennas placed strategically around your facility, a DAS can tackle those stubborn signal blockages caused by tough building materials like concrete and metal and complicated architectural layouts.

A main component of the system is a bi-directional amplifier, or BDA, which works to locate the amplified wireless signals. The key to the system’s success is to have a strong donor signal into the amplifier. Think of it this way: poor signal in is poor signal out. 

A typical DAS covers 85 to 90 percent of a building, and while 100 percent coverage can be achieved, it carries a greater cost. 

Are you interested in how a DAS could solve your connectivity woes? For more valuable insights, check out our comprehensive guide on Distributed Antenna System Solutions.

An effective distributed antenna system can be designed for all kinds of situations.

  • For healthcare, DAS systems mean seamless communications in the ER bay between paramedics and hospital staff.
  • For hospitality, a DAS may mean a constantly connected hotel guest comes back as a repeat customer because of the reliability of the communications.
  • For education, a DAS can increase public safety coverage, which is crucial to keeping students, staff, and community members safe.
  • For public safety, a DAS means first responders’ mission-critical two-way radio transmissions are heard all the time, every time.

DAS Installation Tip

Given the complexity of a DAS system and its component parts, it’s best to have it installed by a professional.

An improperly installed or maintained DAS:

  • Won’t work correctly.
  • Won’t provide the right signal distribution throughout the building.
  • It will generate disastrous interference with the signal it’s supposed to be amplifying.

While it costs more upfront, investing the extra money in a high-quality DAS system will save you money in the long run because a better system will have a longer life expectancy and fewer performance issues you’ll have to pay to fix. Our distributed antenna system guide has even more information about the DAS solution, including installation tips. 

Understanding Connectivity: WiFi Coverage

Reliable WiFi is crucial when connectivity directly impacts customer satisfaction and productivity. Hotel guests who once praised your facility for its strong cell signal might think twice about returning if they experience unreliable WiFi on their next visit. Employees can waste precious time waiting for emails to be sent or web pages to load due to slow internet connections.

Just like with cell phones and radio signals, achieving robust WiFi coverage is more difficult in older buildings. Materials like concrete and plaster, commonly used in these structures, are notorious for blocking wireless signals, leading to the frustratingly inconsistent WiFi coverage you've probably experienced.

Other wireless disruption culprits can include too much distance between users and the wireless access point (AP), poorly placed wireless access points (APs), interference from other electronic devices, and outdated equipment. 

WiFi Coverage: Effective Solutions for Enhancing Connectivity

Before you fix your wireless issues, you’ll want to diagnose the cause definitively. The solution that works best will depend on the source of the problems.

Problem: Distance and Interference

Wireless repeaters are a fantastic choice for tackling issues with distance and interference. They function similarly to distributed antenna systems, picking up your existing WiFi signal, amplifying it, and rebroadcasting the enhanced signal. This boosts your network’s reach and ensures that areas that previously suffered from weak connectivity are now covered with strong, stable WiFi.

Repeaters extend your range and establish connection stability for computers, smartphones, and other connected devices.

Problem: Poorly Placed Access Points (APs)

If you think that poorly placed access points (APs) might be causing connectivity issues, or if it’s been a while since your existing AP system was last evaluated, it’s wise to bring in a professional service provider for an onsite assessment. Having experts review your setup can uncover hidden problems and offer precise recommendations for optimal AP placement. This is crucial for ensuring your network is as efficient and effective as possible, providing robust coverage where and when needed. An expert assessment can help enhance your network's performance, prevent future issues, and keep your technology up-to-date.

You may find that you don’t need as many access points as you have or that your current configuration no longer meets your needs.

APs should be placed to minimize interference and maximize their capacity. In general, that means placing them in rooms rather than hallways, on ceilings rather than walls, and below ceilings rather than above tiles or elements such as HVAC ducts. They should also be placed far away from structural steel or metal.

Problem: Outdated Equipment

If your wireless networking infrastructure hasn't been updated in a few years, it might be time to consider upgrading, especially if your team has grown or the scope of your work has expanded. As technology evolves and your needs change, having a current system in place ensures that your network can handle increased demands efficiently.

Various wireless networking solutions are available, each customizable to meet your specific needs. Whether you're running a bustling office, a large retail space, or a busy hotel, the right system can significantly improve your daily operations.

It’s worth noting that in the hospitality sector, Ruckus reports that wireless complaints have fallen by 80 percent or more at hotels that have deployed its Zone Flex solution. A reliable wireless network is crucial in an industry where WiFi powers everything from digital key entries to personalized guest services.

If improving WiFi coverage is a critical concern for your facility, you should explore specific WiFi solutions tailored to your environment. Rather than assuming a WiFi range extender will do the job, investing in a robust system designed for your type of facility can lead to better performance and fewer connectivity issues. Take the time to research and consult with professionals who can guide you toward the best options to ensure your network's reliability and efficiency.

Better Connections Await

The key takeaway is that you don’t just have to tolerate poor connectivity. By pinpointing the root causes of your wireless issues, you can effectively address and resolve them with effective solutions. This approach fixes your current connectivity problems and sets you up for future success by ensuring your infrastructure can handle tomorrow's demands.

Whether it's your staff, hotel guests, patients in a healthcare facility, students at a university, or first responders in critical situations, enhancing your network's reliability and coverage makes a tangible difference. They will appreciate the uninterrupted service, which can increase your organization's satisfaction, efficiency, and safety.

So, take the necessary steps today to transform your connectivity challenges into opportunities for improvement. Your staff, guests, patients, students, and first responders will thank you.

To meet your needs for in-building connectivity, contact Chicago Communications.

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