Is your agency’s wireless network ready for returning workers?

Distributed antenna systems can help agencies meet increased demand for connectivity, but also for the heavy broadband lift required for data analytics, streaming video, virtual conferences and internet-of-things devices.

Indoor wireless may not be top of mind for federal managers trying to negotiate the significant expansion of a remote workforce that is keeping office space underutilized. But government buildings will fill up again and when they do, agencies need wireless networks powerful enough to meet increased expectations and expanding work requirements. Now is a good time to prepare.

In-building wireless considerations

Most voice and data cellular traffic occurs where signals are the weakest -- indoors. Maintaining strong signals in large office buildings is particularly difficult, and it’s only gotten harder with modern building materials such as energy-saving windows. Indoor wireless connectivity in decades-old  government buildings is even more challenging. Even if agencies have Wi-Fi 6 and are moving to 5G cellular, those upgrades alone aren’t enough.

Meeting the demands of voice and data inside federal buildings requires more than the traditional cell sites and antennas on roofs. Federal agencies should consider distributed antenna systems (DAS) or small-cell technology to enhance their in-building capabilities. These technologies include wireless transmitters and receivers designed for network coverage in small spaces, and the capabilities are more readily available, affordable and easier to scale than ever before.

The power of DAS

DAS provides a significant boost in connectivity within buildings that are hard to manage from a technical perspective. They use the licensed frequencies of the mobile operators between the main, or macro, network-connected head and a series of remote antennas throughout the building. Small cells operate like miniature macro-cell sites and have their own base station integrated into an operator’s core network. Both contribute to better signal strength to hold connections and high speeds for voice calls and data transmissions. Which solution is best for a particular space depends on conditions such as the shape of the space, whether coverage is needed both indoors and out and if it is required for emergency services.

DAS and small-cell technologies have been used by wireless operators servicing large, open spaces, such as sports arenas. However, indoor wireless technologies have improved to the point that most federal agencies can use them to upgrade indoor wireless for LTE and 5G, preparing them not only for increased demand for connectivity, but also for the heavy broadband lift required for emerging technology such as data analytics, streaming video, virtual and augmented reality and the plethora of internet-of-things devices.

Owning your network

In-building wireless options have become more prevalent with the recent availability of the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) which is a shared spectrum in the 3.55 – 3.7 GHz range. CBRS improves the wireless coverage and capacity on a large scale since it allows agencies to create private networks, making it ideal for in-building use. Maintaining their own private networks provides agencies improved capacity. For federal agencies, this means retaining ownership of sensitive data so that it doesn’t go through a third-party service provider.

Federal agencies should embrace these technologies to meet employee and public expectations for wireless. A recent survey of managers in the commercial sector found that complaints about poor indoor connectivity is rising, with 44% of respondents saying customers notice bad cellular coverage. Of the same group, 84% said employees are more productive when they have reliable internet connections. Federal agency employees are no different.

Contrary to concerns that employees may spend too much time browsing on personal interests, workers today should be able to access the internet and hold a cellphone call anywhere in the building. This includes the difficult networking environment found in most government buildings.

We know that employees expect the same high-speed, clear connections in federal buildings as they receive in commercial spaces or at home. With the emergence of Wi-Fi 6, the launch of spectrum sharing, the ability to maintain private networks and the continued rollout of 5G, federal agencies have never had better opportunities to improve indoor wireless. Now is the time to upgrade wireless infrastructure with DAS or small cell so that returning employees can be fully connected and agencies can meet the wireless needs of technologies now and into the future.

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