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In-Building Cellular Solution (45,000 sq. ft.)

In charter schools like KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, teachers embrace technology not only for educational purposes for students but also to keep parents informed. Cell phones are an instrumental tool in parent-teacher partnerships allowing teachers to call and text parents with good news, concerns, and important updates from the school directly from their classroom. However, in a brand-new building like KIPP STRIVE, this communication was impossible due to the lack of cell service within the thick concrete walls.

Upon completion of the school’s construction, school officials discovered they had a major roadblock.  Or maybe a more appropriate term would be a signal block: Despite robust cellular reception outside the Academy, the building’s fortress-like construction, with foot-thick concrete walls and metal roof, had created the ultimate cellular dead-zone.  Nothing in, nothing out.

School officials originally hoped to find a DIY solution, but quickly realized that all available off-the-shelf solutions were inadequate.  That’s when they turned to Rob Neidlinger of Atlanta-based Clear Communications and Video.  Neidlinger, with 25 years of experience in microwave and RF technology and telecommunications, had seen this problem before and recognized it to be another example of an increasingly common problem: “Construction materials often block cell reception,” said Neidlinger.  “And in buildings that are built to deliver greater energy efficiency, those energy-saving materials make cellular signal penetration even more difficult.”

KIPP STRIVE administrators understood the challenges were significant, yet were hopeful that a solution existed that would improve reception to at least one or two strategic locations within the school.  Neidlinger’s team’s onsite study of the Academy’s 45,000 square foot building confirmed that the problem was not the lack of available signal outside the building, but it was the building’s concrete and steel construction that was blocking reception.  The key would be to bring that outside signal inside.

Neidlinger proposed a solution that would more than meet the school’s desire for spot coverage; instead it would quickly and affordably deliver blanket cellular reception throughout the entire Academy building.  His solution: SureCall’s Force5 cellular signal boosters.

“Cellular signal boosters are an effective and increasingly popular solution for improving cell reception,” according to Neidlinger.  “They not only improve the reception of the signal coming into the cell phone, but they also boost the power from the cell phone back to the cell tower.”

For the KIPP STRIVE Academy, Neidlinger installed two Force5 boosters, two small rooftop antennas (one for each booster), and four ceiling mounted dome antennas located strategically throughout the building, all of which were connected by plenum-rated coaxial cable.  It took his four-man team less than three days to complete the installation, and according to Neidlinger, “It would have taken less, but drilling three holes in the foot-thick concrete walls took a little time.”

Neidlinger pointed out that SureCall offers two versions of the Force5 booster, and his decision to use the consumer model vs. the industrial model was the logical one due to the size of the facility and school’s needs.  “It was a cost-benefit issue, and one of expediency.  The industrial version was simply more than we needed and would have required an additional level of regulatory approval from the carrier that could take up to 18 months.  The consumer model came with that approval.  Plus having two boosters adds additional redundancy to the system.”

The SureCall Force5 consumer booster delivers 2G, 3G and 4G voice and data service to areas up to 20,000 square feet, and each booster supports up to 10 simultaneous users, regardless of carrier.

Today, the channels of communication between KIPP STRIVE faculty and parents are open, allowing for a timely sharing of news and successes. Where the building was once a black hole for any cell signal, it now offers robust coverage throughout the building. Or, as Neidlinger said using the parlance of the trade, “It’s now a real hot spot.”

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