In-Building Wireless: Too Important to be an Afterthought
February 20, 2020
iBwave is a software that allows engineers to predictively model how wireless signals, from cellular, to WiFi, to radio walkie talkie, will propagate through a building. This informs the design of distributed antenna systems (DAS) and emergency responder radio coverage systems (ERRCS). While iBwave was first released in 2003, we have seen increasing demand for its use in the last five years for two major reasons:
An ERRCS was an optional system for many years, but recent adoptions of code revisions by state and local governments increasingly require it in new construction. Firemen are more flexible when they can use their own walkie talkie, rather than the traditional method of plugging into the phone jack to communicate from floor to floor. Increasing energy efficiency requirements have also led to thicker building envelopes and the use of low-e (emissivity) glass, which minimizes heat gain from ultraviolet and infrared light but also blocks radio waves.
Consumer demand is also driving the increasing use of iBwave. Low-e glass also blocks cellular signals. The consumer expectation of constant cellular connectivity has made cellular DAS desirable in some cases. While ERRCS is often code-required, it is less expensive, typically $0.25-0.50/sf. Cellular DAS is not code-required and is usually more expensive, ranging from $1.50/sf to as high as $5/sf.
ERRCS and DAS designs have frequently been done by contractors and smaller design shops as design-build services after construction documents have been handed over to a general contractor or an electrician. There are major benefits to having this design performed by an iBwave-certified technology consultant during the traditional design process.
Many DAS contractors and designers use a single preferred platform. A technology consultant can be more agnostic and suggest the best option based on their own research.
On a traditional project, MEP engineers may be planning risers but may not include DAS or ERRCS risers. If working alongside them, a technology consultant will ensure they do. With iBwave, technology consultants can also predict how the signals propagate in advance, whereas most MEP firms will only provide the pathways and the performance criteria to be design-built later.
Layering ERRCS or DAS design after construction documents have been issued can often result in exposed half-inch coaxial cables or antennas. If not properly coordinated, a large, protruding DAS antenna can become an eyesore for architects when it appears on their feature ceiling. In a typical design-build process, fixing this would result in a change order and costly re-work in the field. Planning the structured cabling and pathways during the design process can ensure the technology infrastructure does not negatively impact the architecture. If the architect doesn't want an antenna in a particular location, designers can rework the model to find another location prior to construction documents.
Having an iBwave-certified technology consultant perform ERRCS or DAS design as part of the design process results in greater efficiency and flexibility, ultimately saving time and money and producing a better result.