As connectivity becomes the fourth utility and occupants of commercial buildings demand the very best in Wi-Fi and cellular access, it is becoming paramount that building owners understand how these in-building wireless technologies are used inside of commercial office buildings. While Wi-Fi and cellular are both a part of in-building wireless connectivity, their strengths and weaknesses make them different in their application and use in commercial office buildings.
Wi-Fi in-building wireless solutions
Wi-Fi is a local area network (LAN) that provides internet access within a limited range. It provides means for building occupants to surf the web, and connect at the airports, train stations and other public locations. Devices exchange data from the internet using 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz unlicensed frequency bands. Although Wi-Fi networks do not have a long-range- approximately 300-feet, they can provide the bandwidth necessary to stream video and audio from phones, computers and tablets, use cloud-based applications and other important consumer- and business-facing applications. The standards for Wi-Fi are continually changing as requirements for bandwidth continue to increase.
In addition to providing connectivity to the internet for users and occupants of buildings, Wi-Fi is also used for internet of things ( IoT) applications that run in a local environment, such as security systems, sensor-based lighting and thermostat control.
While Wi-Fi is suited for environments where it’s essential to provide internet connectivity to non-critical business users such as guests, customers, and residents in multi-unit buildings, it is not always the best solution for applications that require a constant quality connection, or where lack of capacity and availability can be business critical.
Since Wi-Fi is an unlicensed solution, it enables multiple networks to operate in proximity to one another without interference. However, the lack of oversight with Wi-Fi can cause conflicts between neighbors and may require the creation of ad-hoc agreements to coordinate channel selections.
While Wi-Fi is easy to install and configure, it can pose significant security issues. A malicious user could potentially mimic the open Wi-Fi access points by establishing their own Wi-Fi hot spot, enabling intruders to intercept any information shared via the hotspot by other users..
Cellular in-building wireless solutions
Cellular is a wide area network (WAN) used to connect also sorts of devices including smartphones and it has far greater range than Wi-Fi. For example, when you are using Google Maps to navigate, listening to music at the beach or placing a phone call, you’re probably using a cellular network.
Mobile networks connect to the internet through a series of base stations that have fixed transceivers to receive and send radio waves. Each of these base stations offers radio coverage in a wide area, and can create nationwide coverage as a whole. To provide this coverage, cellular carriers acquire licensed spectrum through auctions and other proceedings controlled by the federal government. This is a key differentiator: Wi-Fi is unlicensed, cellular is licensed.
A common problem with cellular networks is that radio signals are often blocked from reaching inside because buildings constructed with materials like concrete, glass and metal which inhibit cellular signals and lead to poor cellular signals. There a number of solutions that facilitate in-building cellular, all of which come with different costs and benefits.
A distributed antenna system (DAS) connects directly to a carrier’s signal source and distributes the signal throughout a building. This signal source transmits and receives the mobile network operator’s licensed radio frequency through strategically placed antennas.
An estimated 80% of mobile traffic today originates and terminates inside of buildings, meaning building owners need to invest in both Wi-Fi and in-building cellular to maximize lease retention rates, attract new clients and increase net operating income.