Build connections in the battle against poor indoor mobile coverage
There’s something oddly paradoxical about being so reliant on our mobile phones whilst still taking them for granted. Research in 2016 found that 90% of undergraduates suffered from phantom vibration syndrome; we’re reflexively responding to phones that aren’t even ringing, presuming connectivity without a second thought. They are always there, and we are always connected, writes Mick Goulding, the head of business development at Vilicom.
In the same way that we can turn the lights on until a power cut hits, we expect data connectivity wherever we go and are genuinely outraged in its absence. But for all this self-indulgent surprise, inconsistent mobile signal is a common and persistent problem. Ofcom’s Connected Nations report in 2017 found that 40% of premises in England had no 4G access from any operator. Shockingly, this was the best performance from UK countries; in Wales, 66% had to go without.
This is bad enough to drive people from otherwise happy homes, but for businesses the impact can be severe Mobile communications, and in particular mobile data, are crucial for modern business, yet Vilicom’s own research highlights that up to 1.6m businesses are unable to connect to mobile networks inside the office, with 83% of employees lacking optimal cellular coverage. This threatens profit margins, reputation, and attractiveness to potential employees.
In spite of the prevalence of the issue, businesses have simply not had to deal with it before now. In the 2G age, enterprise was far less reliant on mobile technology and securing indoor coverage was much less important. The 4G age has seen a huge spike in the demand for mobile data; the provision of the technology has therefore become a significant issue for businesses.
This problem is perpetuated by a lack of guidance. Both individuals and businesses need professional advice on the exact causes of poor mobile signal in order to make an informed and permanent change for the better, rather than changing mobile provider without the assurance of improved performance.
In terms of identifying the problem, mobile users need to start with their surroundings. In most cases, buildings will have been designed with no reason to consider signal penetration. Older buildings relied on brick, concrete and stone, all of which are well-known signal blockers. Pack these materials close together in a dense urban area and good signal is nearly impossible to guarantee.
New buildings don’t fare much better. Architects and builders are constrained by standardisations for energy efficiency, soundproofing, and safety; in other words, they have to design buildings to let as little as possible in or out. Modern materials and insulation techniques combine to make them very difficult for mobile signal to penetrate effectively.
These factors don’t change with your network provider. Switching networks simply means that a new company is transmitting the same signal from a similar tower, with predictable results. Reconstruction is an incredibly expensive alternative – not to mention a logistical nightmare. The solution does not come from the outside; as the old Buddhist saying goes, change comes from within.
Wi-Fi is accessible and familiar tech, easy to understand and to get working, and as such it‘s often assumed to be the best solution for indoor connectivity. This might be the case for a family home, but for a residential complex or a business, this isn’t so.
For example, modern enterprise is hugely dependent on enterprise software, which requires consistent, reliable and secure high-speed connectivity to ensure that employees can access the services they need whenever they need them.
Wi-Fi simply doesn’t offer the required consistency. There are known concerns with day-to-day reliability. Furthermore, Wi-Fi networks cannot provide the robust security protocols of a dedicated indoor cellular network. Password access can be gained simply by asking the right questions, and public Wi-Fi networks are well-known to be accessible to a determined hacker.
Deploying a dedicated internal mobile network is the next step up from Wi-Fi in terms of security, power and consistency. Network providers have reduced investment in these solutions due to the logistical viability. The mix of customer networks in any building means that hardware provided by a single network wouldn’t be cost effective or fully solve the issue.
As such, specialised system integrators are taking up the mantle, offering bespoke internal hardware that can provide signal for mobile devices on all networks. This not only allows people within the office to work more efficiently and productively, but also provides visitors and customers with the service they expect.
Ultimately, such hardware has the potential to save businesses huge amounts of money and frustration, but people need to know of its existence and understand their difficulties before they can take advantage. If enterprises can identify the problems they need to address, they are best placed to make the changes that can revolutionise their connectivity, and thus their business.