On Call: Communication infrastructure assumes critical priority in construction process
Common consequences of communication dead zones in buildings range from mere inconvenience to serious tenant dissatisfaction. While these ramifications are certainly cause for concern, the stakes just grew exponentially higher. Today, dead zones in new construction and renovation projects have the potential to result in occupancy permit denials that severely impact a building owner’s bottom line. In a real sense, dead zones may mean dead space until the situation is remedied.
What is driving the change? Since September 11, 2001, the nation’s public safety community advocated for their own wireless broadband network to enhance communications during emergencies and other events. Congress greenlighted the network in 2012, and work began to develop customized implementation plans in each state and territory.
In December 2017, FirstNet, a wireless broadband network dedicated solely to emergency communications to save lives and protect communities, became a reality. Governors from every state, as well as officials from Washington D.C. and two U.S. territories, accepted the FirstNet deployment plan. The FirstNet network provides first responders with immediate access to mission-critical capabilities during emergencies, large events or other situations in which commercial networks could become congested.
Connectivity compliance picks up steam
Having a dedicated public safety network is one thing. Utilizing it and making sure it is accessible is something entirely different — and may not be optional in the future. While there isn’t yet a broad industry code that requires guaranteed network connectivity compliance in buildings, individual counties are taking the lead. Over 30 counties have adopted public safety network connectivity thresholds for new construction and renovation projects. In these counties, failure to meet public safety network connectivity thresholds may result in occupancy permit denials.
Geoffrey Hammer, senior engineering solutions manager at WIN, a company that leads the industry in providing in-building cellular connectivity solutions, expects the trend of implementing public safety network connectivity codes to continue. And Hammer believes the industry is proactively moving toward measures to ensure public safety connectivity, whether it is required or not. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but developers and contractors see the value of public safety connectivity as a desirable building feature,” said Hammer. “Whether required by code or not, embracing and implementing public safety connectivity standards makes sense in terms of tenant marketability now and eliminates the potential for costly retrofits later.”
Understanding the obstacles
The fact that a public safety network exists does not mean achieving maximum connectivity with it is without challenges. Like other factors that affect connectivity in buildings, construction materials, complex layout interiors and the actual installation process can create public safety signal roadblocks.
Green building materials often present a yin-yang dilemma in construction and renovation projects. While great for the environment, LEED-certified windows can be unfriendly to wireless connections. Innovative layouts and interiors may be appealing aesthetically, but when work needs to get done or tenants’ safety is on the line, a creative interior will not trump strong connectivity.
Even traditional construction and renovation materials can present significant connection interference. According to John Wyskiel, senior project manager at WIN, anything metallic is a potential culprit for creating a communication barrier. “The very nature of the construction process tends to run counter to connectivity,” said Wyskiel. “As the construction of the building progresses, the pathways to connectivity diminish. It’s much easier to plan connectivity prior to building construction rather than trying to retrofit it into an existing situation, especially when you consider the potential metallic interferences that can be introduced from sources like HVAC duct work, conduit or fire alarm piping.”
Keys to connectivity success
Despite the challenges, installing a communication infrastructure that meets the connectivity demands of the public safety network is possible — and feasible — with an experienced in-building cellular connectivity provider. Both Hammer and Wyskiel cite key attributes to look for in providers to ensure connectivity success with new construction and renovation projects.
A proactive approach
The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is the last stop before an occupancy permit is issued. Connectivity providers who initiate and build a strong working relationship with the project AHJ are armed with the ins and outs of the code requirements for their connectivity installations. “With advanced knowledge of code nuances and localized variances, the AHJ’s perspective offers unique insight”, said Hammer. “Providers who actively reach out to the AHJ close the gap more efficiently between potential issues and cost-effective solutions.”
Being in the right place at the right time during the new construction or renovation process is critical to the success of a communication infrastructure installation. Industry experts agree that early communication and collaboration with the general contractor is mandatory. “Experienced in-building RF engineers know the time to get involved is when the RCPs become available,” said Wyskiel.
A good provider can also help account for other infrastructure systems that will coexist with the communication components, and recommend the optimal sequence of system installations. “If you skip the work of integrating system installations, a code-compliant communication infrastructure may be rendered useless by an HVAC or electrical system that blocks wireless pathways,” explained Wyskiel.
A commitment to excellence
The goal is to create a communication infrastructure that supports connectivity and hits or exceeds public safety network benchmarks. And in most instances, meticulous planning and project integration ensure success. However, an occasional glitch may still occur, and the selected provider’s commitment to excellence is what determines the final impact. “Quality in-building cellular connectivity providers ensure that stated benchmarks are achieved, and they transparently employ solutions if any signals fall short,” said Hammer. “When an occupancy permit is on the line, anything less than excellence is unacceptable.”
Connecting to the future
Whether or not a new construction project or renovation currently requires specific public safety network connectivity, the future is within sight. Proper preparation and planning with a knowledgeable provider can help push the industry connectivity standard higher and avoid costly retrofits in the future.