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Mixed signals

If you’re finding it tricky to get a mobile phone signal in your office building you’re not alone, says Ian Smith, IBC Business Manager at Redstone Connect in London. But just who is responsible for mobile coverage in your workplace and how do you fix it?

There is no doubt that business and society in general has become reliant on connected living. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and advances in artificial intelligence, individuals and workplaces are keen to seize the opportunities afforded by agile working regimes. These Smart practices require more mobile devices than those tied to a fixed line.

In 2017 the unconnected workplace is one that doesn’t work. Which is why poor mobile coverage within buildings is an issue that’s rising up the
business agenda.

With most mobile traffic passing between two indoor locations (80 per cent in fact), high quality mobile connection everywhere and especially within the buildings we frequent is essential. But when it’s a problem who is responsible? A recent Ofcom survey revealed 68 per cent of businesses in London reported issues with mobile phone coverage, but had no idea they could take control and address it. In most cases, and unsurprisingly, the organisation concerned did not have a formal owner of the problem.

The reasons for this are due to the way comms and IT have evolved over the past few years. As fixed line phone systems became increasingly aligned with Information Technology, the role of the telecoms manager was absorbed into IT.

Since the introduction of In-Building Cellular solutions in the early 2000s their supply was seen by IT managers as the responsibility of the Mobile Network Operators (MNO). IT managers with a problem found it easy to contact their chosen MNO, inform them of the problem and stand back while the MNO spent often many thousands of pounds on a solution. Fast forward about 20 years, and with reliance on mobile connectivity building at a tremendous rate (Nokia Siemens Networks forecasts an increase of 1,000 per cent in the next five years), tighter regulation and more complex solutions, the MNOs have been left unable to obtain the budget required to address the problem. Enterprise initiatives, such as Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) have done more to compound the situation, as have environmental standards such as BREEAM, which mandate the use of measures such as thermal insulated glazing.

Businesses have been left confused by this development and there are many organisations, mostly small and opportunistic who have moved into the vacuum, purporting to be able to offer solutions. Ofcom, the mobile industry regulator has had to increase its efforts to find and shutdown the many illegal solutions hitting the market, as a result of what can only be termed as ‘mis-selling’.

With IT unable to solve the issue, the efforts stalled until just recently when it became apparent that poor mobile phone connection had become a major contributory cause of stress amongst staff. In some cases, HR took an interest in the matter as it involved staff wellbeing, closely linked to productivity and staff retention.

HR representatives took another route; instead of involving IT, they took the issue to their colleagues in facilities management, deeming the issue one with the building and its location, as opposed to an IT issue. The facilities manager in any modern organisation knows it is their responsibility to provide a work place that nurtures wellbeing and the improved productivity that brings with it.

Over the last 12 months my team have seen a marked increase in enquiries from facilities managers, principally for evaluation data regarding existing coverage. By using our data it is possible to effectively makes the mobile coverage in a building visible and, with the benefit of survey tools, it’s possible to specifically pinpoint blackspots – which more often than not tends to be the CEO’s office.

We will then look to design a suitable solution and deploy it; while working alongside the MNOs – whose involvement is still essential to the success of any solution – and maintain it for its operational life span.

Up until recently In-Building Cellular solutions represented major disruption during their deployment. It involved installation of cumbersome, dedicated cables in the ceilings and setting aside a large amount of space to accommodate the central, head end cabinets. In the last two years the IBC industry has begun to employ the latest digital technology, giving rise to the launch of several solutions which are able to simply ‘plug in’ to existing Ethernet type cabling systems, which are prevalent today.

Buildings that have addressed this issue generally benefit from other emerging technologies as well, such as digital wayfinding (smart signage which could prove invaluable in a large building), and often become labelled as great places to work. Take, for example, the new headquarters of a major European investment bank, recently opened near Liverpool Street in the City of London. There, the bank’s HR and FM departments invited staff to participate in a survey intended to point out any problems they had with their new offices. They were very pleased when the results revealed a very high level of satisfaction and, in fact, pride within their staff that they had been provided with such a great place to work.

We need your feedback!

If it’s a challenge to find a mobile phone signal in your offices, you’re not alone. But who is responsible for mobile coverage in your workplace? And what’s the fix?

Please share your stories with us, so that we can gauge the scale of the issue and uncover the truth.

And for your time we will send you a £5 Starbucks voucher for one completed survey.

About Sarah OBeirne

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