Cel-Fi Boosts Cellular Signal for Improved Shopping Experience and Employee Safety

Summary

Challenge

  • Cellular signals were non-existent in smaller format retail stores opened in sub-ground locations in New York by a national chain
  • Retail customers could not take advantage of the in-store app while shopping
  • Employees missed emergency calls and important communications when inside the stores

Solution

  • Cel-Fi QUATRA

Results

  • Good cellular reception for retail customers and employees
  • Easy for customers to use the in-store app
  • Simple installation despite challenging location

The Challenge

A major national retailer set up three smaller format stores in sub-ground locations in New York City, each approximately 25,000 square feet. As the store locations were essentially concrete bunkers, there was no cellular service at all. Although employees don’t generally chat with family and friends on their cell phones while at work, personal cell phones are used for emergencies. With no cell service in these stores, employees were unable to receive urgent calls, and could not call 911 or use their cell phones to request help if needed.

Customers of this national chain also frequently log onto the in-store app while shopping to find items quickly or those on sale but were not able to use the app on their cell phones due to the lack of cellular service in the basement locations.

“A lot of people would say the stores can just deploy Wi-Fi, but that really doesn’t work well in practice,” says Dan Morin, co-owner of UberSignal, the Pittsburgh-based provider of cellular booster solutions hired by the retail chain to fix the poor cellular reception problem. “Customers aren’t used to having to connect to a Wi-Fi access point while away from home. They’re used to their phones just working and having cellular data service pretty much everywhere they go. That’s what we provided.”

The Solution

UberSignal installed the Cel-Fi QUATRA active DAS hybrid to solve the coverage problems experienced by the national retailer. QUATRA delivers a cellular signal that is up to 1000x stronger than analog boosters and Bi-Directional (BDA) Passive DAS systems on the market, offering a much larger coverage footprint for multi-carrier voice and data on 3G/4G/5G networks. QUATRA uses cabling with Power over Ethernet, so there is no need to install additional power outlets for the internal remote antennas.

“The ability to use ethernet cable with Cel-Fi QUATRA is a huge benefit. We can get 325 feet, or even double that if we use a range extender, and end up with a full power amplifier in a very different location,” says Morin. “We also don’t have to worry about multiple roof penetrations to multiple head-end locations like we do with a traditional wideband analog system. This makes it a much easier system to install.”

Due to the congested nature of New York, particularly where the store outlets are located, there were multiple other issues that had to be considered by UberSignal when choosing and installing the solution.

“One of the stores was in the basement of an eight-story apartment building and to get up to the roof we would have had to go about 150 feet in one direction to the back of the building then zigzag back and forth through the building as there wasn’t an existing vertical pathway to get to the roof to install the donor antenna,” says Morin. “Also, there were so many cell sites around the buildings that the signal quality was actually worse on the roof. There was worse SINR (Signal-to-Interference-and-Noise Ratio) on the roof than it was down on street level. And the retailer would have had to renegotiate their leases with the landlords to get roof space. On top of that, the length of the coax cables would have been just so dramatic that it wouldn’t have been worth it.”

While UberSignal would usually install the donor antennas on the roof, they took a different approach. They installed an omnidirectional antenna at street level and ran a traditional 400 series cable to a four-way splitter and then to the four individual donor antenna ports on the Cel-Fi QUATRA Network Unit (NU), which is the headend of the system.

“Using Cel-Fi QUATRA allowed us to still get really good results. It was a powerful solution that worked, despite the pretty specific constraints,” says Morin.

The near-far problem is also common in areas where there are numerous cell sites and a strong signal from a closer carrier site overwhelms a weaker carrier signal from a more distant cell site. Morin says, “As Cel-Fi is able to amplify the various carrier signals independently, we don’t run into the near-far problem which can plague wideband boosters. That’s another area where we see Cel-Fi perform really well. Because it amplified each of the carriers independently, we didn’t end up with problems where one carrier was really strong and another carrier was really weak. Cel-Fi amplified all of the carriers signals independently and made them usable, whereas a wideband system would not have been capable of that. We would have ended up with a couple of strong carriers and a couple of carriers with very little to no service.”

UberSignal installed one NU and four to six Coverage Units (CUs), the intelligent internal antennas that distribute uniform cellular signal to building occupants, in each retail outlet. They also extended passive antennas from the CUs into areas where the signal was blocked by obstacles such as walls or metal partitions.

  • Established in 2012
  • Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 100% dedicated to cellular booster systems that help customers get better reception

The Results

A traditional active DAS is still the gold standard for very large spaces, like airports or stadiums, but the cost and time required for deployment is really excessive, Morin explains. “Now that carriers are not subsidizing the cost of in-building DAS systems nearly as much as they used to, we’re finding overall cost is always very important – not just the initial cost, but the continued operational costs of it and the deployment time. A traditional active DAS can take 18 months to deploy, and a lot of facilities can’t wait that long.”

For the retail outlets, two to three installers did each on-site installation. “It took about three weeks for each store. Normally, a Cel-Fi installation is quite a bit quicker than that, but these were challenging installs because we were retrofitting it into a store that was already set up with shelving and very specific requirements for using conduit, painting it to match everything else, and basically blending into the environment,” says Morin. “It was maybe a day for installing the outside antenna, installing the Network Unit, and getting the Cel-Fi system set up. Commissioning the system took a few hours and then a few hours for doing walk tests. All the rest of the time was mostly conduit and running cable.”

Since the Cel-Fi QUATRA systems were installed, cellular reception has been very good inside each outlet. “The occupants were very, very happy with the ability to use their cell phones for texting and phone calls as needed. We haven’t had a single issue with the system that’s required a return visit,” says Morin. “We always look at every individual situation and try to understand the constraints and what’s going to work best for that client. We’re finding more and more situations where the Cel-Fi QUATRA system excels, and we find ourselves recommending Cel-Fi.”

Contact us today to help with your Cellular Coverage Problems

This Cel-Fi installation was undertaken by our partners, in which Cel-Fi has a global footprint in almost 100 countries. For a referral to a local expert in your area, please contact us via phone or email.

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