In-Building Cellular Solution – 20,000 sq. ft.
by Brandon Huff – IT Director, Perimeter Church
As much as ministers might secretly wish that parishioners not use cellphones in church, the role of churches as social centers, schools, and nurseries, not just houses of worship, means that having reliable cell reception everywhere in church is a necessity, not an option.
We thought we had Perimeter Church’s cellular reception problems solved years ago when we installed a rudimentary cellular signal booster system, sometimes called a repeater, to bring better service, for both voice and data, to our church’s lower floors.
If for no other reason than public safety, there shouldn’t a be corner in a cathedral, classroom, corridor, or coat closet where congregants can’t get a clear cell signal, regardless of whether they’re calling on AT&T, Verizon, or any other cell carrier.
As a practical matter, our church offices also need reliable reception, since clerical and lay staff are as likely to be making and taking calls or checking email on a cellphone as they are on their office phone or computer.
Perimeter Church, which architecturally conveys an impression of tradition and permanence, is in fact a modern facility built in phases and first occupied in 1996. The church offices and nursery are situated on lower floors (and have remained there), and as the use of cellular phones grew over the years, the problem of providing reliable cellular coverage in these areas became an important issue, a must for emergencies, but necessary for everyday use as well.
That Perimeter Church should have a problem with cell coverage was a source of jest, since our magnificent brick bell tower houses an AT&T cell site. However, even AT&T’s signals weren’t sufficiently strong on the lower floors.
In researching the reception problem online, I found out about booster systems and had one installed. Everything seemed fine, until the day last summer when we installed an additional indoor antenna to improve coverage in another area. A couple of days later, a call came in from the tech managers at AT&T, telling us that we had to shut down our booster system because it was interfering with their cell tower.
We did so, immediately, but we were back to finding a workable solution for cell coverage. Instead of the Internet,
we sought referrals from colleagues, congregants, and other trusted sources. Among the companies recommended was Clear Communications & Video in Atlanta.
by Jonathan Labadie – CTO, Clear Communications & Video
We worked on the Perimeter proposal and installation. As a church, and not a company, we knew we had to make this as affordable as possible. Brandon had made that clear. From the site survey, we determined we could handle all the areas that needed coverage, about 20,000 sq. ft., using one SureCall Force5 booster with several strategically placed antennas. The gain controls on the Force5 allowed us to fine-tune the system for the space and avoid any problems with the tower.
With cellular signal boosters, as long as a structure has some cell coverage outside, it’s possible to provide cell service virtually anywhere inside, including floors below ground level or outdoor areas shielded from cell towers by structures or natural obstacles. In modern buildings, the materials used to improve energy efficiency – window coatings, insulation, vapor barriers, etc. – adversely affect signal penetration and, combined with the steel and reinforced concrete used for structural support, can prevent cell signals from consistently reaching many indoor areas. Boosters are often the only means of bringing cellular signals indoors.
For those unfamiliar with booster systems, they work on a simple premise though they require specialized equipment. First an outdoor antenna is installed to collect signals from the various carriers’ cell towers. A coaxial cable connected to the outdoor antenna is used to carry the cell signals inside the building to a dedicated booster that increases the strength of the cell signal. Some boosters can enhance the signal of all carriers. The boosted signals are then sent to one or more antennas inside the building and then rebroadcast enabling all callers to use the booster system to get good reception.
Perimeter’s cell coverage problems are not unusual among churches. I speak with IT directors at other churches, and visit other churches regularly. It’s a common problem and a frequent topic. Just recently I was at a seminar at another church in our area and couldn’t get reception for a good part of the day. We couldn’t even get email. It was frustrating, to say the least.
According to Brandon, the new SureCall system provides better coverage than before and with no complaints from AT&T. Everything’s working well. After the initial installation, they found one area with weak coverage and we were able to add an antenna to take care of it. Getting this done right is a costly process, so you need to do your due diligence and find the right company.
Case Study published in the December 2016 edition of TECHNOLOGY FOR WORSHIP Magazine