A consistent mobile phone signal across your hotel will ensure both your staff and your guests can get down to business, says Dan Mayer
Have you ever wondered why you, your staff and your customers sometimes struggle with mobile phone coverage inside your hotel? The answer is a combination of construction materials and radio frequency properties that conspire to prevent the signal reaching deep (or sometimes not so deep) inside the building.
But what can you do about it? Up until fairly recently, UK mobile network operators would be prepared to consider installing indoor mobile systems if you were a corporate customer of theirs, but that provides no benefit to the guests of the hotel.
Why should you do anything about it? Well, not only you and your staff but your customers will benefit from full connectivity via their mobiles. Improving the end-user experience is something that cannot always be quantified - but repeat custom is the mark of a great stay.
Not only does signal penetration affect user experience, but the current challenge in macro capacity is affecting users externally too - the terrace restaurant or the smoking area can all be impacted by lack of capacity in the mobile network coverage.
Dan Mayer is business development manager at NET
How to test your hotel for a mobile signal
Traditionally, there are two types of buildings that affect radio frequency signals - old buildings and new buildings. That might sound like every building is at fault, but in reality it is the very old and the very new. So thick, solid, stone walls, of the type found in Georgian or Victorian buildings or country house-type properties, can affect mobile phone signals.
Similarly, the current and recent building regulation requirements are for high U-value walls (a measure of the heat lost through a material) that can also prevent radio frequencies from penetrating; and high levels of insulation, or double or triple glazing, will affect mobile signal too.
The first step towards a solution is to consult with a specialist telecoms inbuilding systems integrator, who will carry out an existing coverage survey. For this, the integrator will walk through the hotel with a tablet computer and a backpack full of test phones to determine and plot the actual coverage levels from each of the mobile network operators across any given technology (2G, 3G and/or 4G). From this survey, a report can be produced, advising on coverage levels and proposing some options for consideration.
One option is to concentrate on specific area coverage, such as in the bar, reception or break-out areas, and this can be achieved through the use of femtocell access points, linked by Lan Cat5 or 6 cabling, specific to each mobile operator.
The other option is a full-blown distributed antenna system, which can be driven by a single or multiple mobile operators. This uses discrete wall- or ceiling-mounted antennas to carry the service to the desired areas.
Once the options have been decided upon, the integrator will produce a design pack, either from test transmissions (a small, tripod-mounted antenna with a test signal passed through it) or by use of industry-standard software modelling of the coverage patterns from each antenna.
In order for the mobile operators to join the system, it must be designed to the Joint Operators Technical Specification and the existing coverage levels must be made available to them.
Only a licenced operator can legally transmit cellular signals in the UK, so do be wary of purchasing "repeaters" or "cell enhancers" from any internet sources. Ofcom can and do fine hotels for their use, and punishments can include fines of up to £5,000 or even imprisonment.
Once the system is installed, and the mobile operators have joined, a systems integrator will offer a maintenance contract (in fact, this may be insisted upon by the mobile operator as part of the licence agreement).
Most integrators will offer a range of payments, from Capex up-front to extended terms over one, two or three years, with or without maintenance payments.
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