ANSWERS TO OUR MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
About In-Building DAS and
Cellular Enhancement Systems
FIRST, A DEFINITION
DAS stands for distributed antenna system, also known as cellular enhancement systems.
An in-building cellular enhancement systems will capture ALL the voice/data/text signals from outside the building and bring those signals INSIDE the building. Then it distributes the cell signals so that EVERYONE in the building gets cell service - regardless of which carrier they use.
(Click on any question to be taken directly to the answer)
Do I need a life/safety DAS team to look at my building?
My building is over 500,000 square feet – will an over the air cell enhancement system work in a building that large?
PLEASE NOTE: We've tried to make our answers accessible for people of all experience levels.
If you're interested in more technical details, please CONTACT US! We'd be happy to geek out with you.
1. What’s the difference between a DAS for cell signal and a life/safety DAS?
Technically, they’re both DAS – Distributed Antenna Systems. They both take signal from an antenna and distribute it throughout a building. The difference is more about the end user of the signal. When people refer to DAS they usually mean life/safety DAS, sometimes called public safety DAS. This is the system that is in place to guarantee first responders a communication network in the event of an emergency. When people refer to cellular enhancement they usually mean the system that is in place to provide cell phone service – voice/data/text – for the people living or working in the building.
These DAS systems are also called:
Cellular repeater systems
Cell phone repeater systems
Cellular enhancement systems OR cellular signal enhancement systems
In-building wireless (refers to either cell or WiFi signal)
Cell phone boosters
2. Can I use my life/safety DAS as the cell enhancement system also?
No, in most municipalities you cannot, not since 9/11. Having a separate life/safety DAS guarantees that first responders have a dedicated network in the event of an emergency. A few areas across the country still allow a combined system but those rules are quickly being changed by the local AHJs (Authority Having Jurisdiction). The AHJ within each particular jurisdiction decides the life/safety DAS requirements and inspects to make you’re your system meets those requirements. AHJ’s do not inspect cellular enhancement systems, only life/safety DAS. We are happy to coordinate with any/all AHJs.
Do I need a life/safety DAS team to look at my building?
The short answer is yes, and we do both so just give us a call.
The long answer is that most integrators are either experts in cellular or life/safety DAS but few are experts in both. While both use distributed antenna systems, the design, layout and balance requirements of the systems can be quite different. (See question # 8 in BASICS for more info).
If a jurisdiction does allow converged systems (both life/safety DAS and cellular on the same wire and antennas) the system must be designed to the weakest system which is typically cellular, especially when using passive solutions. What we often see is a life/safety DAS integrator who has completed the life/safety DAS installation and then says they can add cellular to the same system. There is no way to do that without massive changes to the installed system as the original wiring was designed around the stronger system, not the weaker system.
3. What is the difference between active/fiber and passive/over-the-air network?
Active DAS means you have to go out and ‘actively’ capture the cell signal through hardwired fiber connections from each carrier's network (i.e. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) to your antenna. The signal is then fed throughout the entire building via hardwired amplifiers and domes.
Active DAS Pros
These systems can provide extremely strong cellular environments and are often preferred for Life/Safety.
Active DAS systems can actually ADD carrier service when there is none available or it is insufficient.
Active DAS Cons
These systems require a separate fiber connection to every carrier’s nearest tower.
The building's ownership must enter into a separate legal contract with each of the four providers; Contractors and building management will need to allow sufficient time in the construction schedule to accommodate this process, generally 12 to 18 months.
Passive DAS means a small antenna (about the size of a Pringles can) is used to ‘passively’ (wirelessly) capture all of the available cell signal from all of the carriers. Then, just like an active DAS, it feeds the signal throughout the entire building via hardwired amplifiers and domes.
Passive DAS Pros
Passive DAS are carrier-compliant, FCC pre-approved, auto-attenuating and do not violate the FCC’s rules about over-amplifying one carrier’s signal versus another.
Passive DAS systems are agnostic, meaning they capture and distribute all carrier’s signals equally.
These systems incur no ongoing contracts or expenses for the building.
Passive systems are more cost-effective, usually about 1/3 the price of an active DAS.
Passive DAS can be deployed immediately, no waiting for carrier-approved contracts.
Passive DAS systems can more easily be retrofitted.
Passive DAS Cons
Passive DAS systems do not create cell signal, they merely capture the signal that is already available outside the building, then bring it inside and distribute it throughout the building as needed. Therefore, if there is no signal whatsoever outside, the only solution is an active DAS system.
4. Which system do I need, active or passive?
That depends on your property and how much cell coverage you currently have, if any. In general, if you can maintain a solid phone call outside your building, you can probably choose a passive system.
However, if you see the dreaded "No Service" icon on your phone when standing outside your building, you're probably going to need an active system to bring service inside your building. An active DAS system is primarily used when a site has little to no cell signal available outside.
Illuminati Labs will help you assess the property’s size and extent of coverage needed, determine a sensible budget, clarify all of the options for enhancing your property’s cell phone coverage and then install your system in an aesthetically pleasing way with minimal disturbance to guests/residents/tenants. We will analyze and measure your current reception from every angle, review your needs and help you get the most boost for your buck.
5. My building is over 500,000 square feet – will a cellular enhancement system work in a space that size?
Absolutely. Contrary to popular myth, no building is too large or too small for an effective cell enhancement system if it is designed properly. Illuminati Labs has successfully installed cell enhancement systems in projects that ranged from a couple thousand square feet to several million square feet including 72-story residential high rises, parking garages four levels underground, co-working facilities, luxury hotels, mega-warehouses and entire hospital campuses. The ”trick” is in our proprietary balancing technique.
6. Is a cell enhancement system just for voice or also data and text?
Our cell enhancement systems handle it all.
7. Are these enhancement systems FCC approved?
Absolutely yes, all the gear we sell carries the official FCC pre-approved sticker. We also have letters from all four network providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) stating the equipment we sell is FCC approved nationwide. See copies of the carriers' approval letters here.
8. What should I look for in a properly designed system?
There are so many variables to understand, it can be overwhelming! Here is a short list of questions to ask your integrator that will help you know whether you're getting a well-engineered system that is designed for your facility's specific needs:
What materials have they proposed using? Are you getting 50-ohm cable, low PIM, and future-proof splitters?
Is the wiring of the system sufficient? Proper design and layout of cable runs is critical to overall performance of both cellular enhancement systems and life/safety DAS. Each system has different power available (signal strength) and that will dictate the engineering. Often, a DAS system can be designed with less cable and domes that are further apart than the cellular but a correctly designed system has calculated the output at each antenna no matter what the wiring configuration may be.
Is the power balanced at each dome? An integrator who is only accustomed to working with DAS and has no cell enhancement experience may feed too much signal to the system in an attempt to get better service. That's because a life/safety DAS cannot be over powered. But “more power” doesn’t work with a cell phone enhancement system. If you send too much power to a cell dome, it won’t work. If you send too little power to a dome, it won’t work. It has to be just right and this is where Illuminati Labs’ proprietary balancing technique comes in. We have perfected a method for ensuring that every dome gets exactly the right balance of signal to be in the performance sweet spot.
Are there enough interior antennas (domes) to cover the space? As mentioned above, a DAS system can be designed with less cable and domes that are further apart -- DAS can be 125’ apart whereas cell can only be 50’ apart. If domes are too far apart there will be coverage gaps; if they’re too close together, they will create oscillation (feedback) which will actually cancel your signal.
Have they based the number of amplifiers on the available signal from outside or did they just pick a number based on square footage? The number of amps required can vary wildly even in buildings with similar square footage and layout.
Finally, be sure to check references on jobs similar to yours – same size, same industry. For instance, if you have a hospital, look for a provider who has successfully worked with a hospital specifically. (See "special hospital considerations" below.) Installing a cellular enhancement system in a 300,000 square foot warehouse is a totally different game than in a 300,000 square foot hospital or hotel or even a co-working office building. Each venue has its own set of extenuating circumstances that must be taken into consideration for the system to function properly.
1. How much does a cellular enhancement system cost?
It’s a bit of a loaded question but we estimate .65 to .85 (cents) per square foot after taking into consideration a myriad of determining factors such as:
The availability of cell signal outside
Whether the ceiling is a hard lid or lift tile ceiling
The layout of building
Whether there are cement cores in place between floors
Are we wall-mounting or rack-mounting the gear in the closet?
... and many more variables which can be discussed in your initial consultation
2. I received several vastly different cost estimates for my cellular enhancement system. How can I make an apples to apples comparison of the proposals?
Deciphering a proposal full of dBs, ohms, amplifier specs and such can be an exercise in frustration. Especially when the price of one proposal is dramatically different from the other. How do you know which one is best for your building? If you send us redacted copies of your other bids (remove the other company’s name and pricing), we’re happy to help you do a line by line comparison.
In the meantime, review the questions at #8 BASICS above to learn some things to look for
and questions to ask your integrator.
3. Will the carriers pay for my system?
Years ago, the carriers would sometimes pay for the installation of cellular enhancement systems in large public buildings. Those days are mostly gone. The carriers are responsible for bringing the signal to your property but you are responsible for bringing it inside. The only exceptions we’ve seen lately are stadiums that the carrier helped build. For instance, Verizon probably footed at least part of the bill for Verizon MetLife Stadium; same for AT&T at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas. If their name isn’t going to be on the side of the building, the carriers don’t have much interest in bringing cell service into your facility. Often a carrier will try to sell you their own individual M-cells but these come with a limited user capacity (the number of devices that can connect at one time), extremely limited range (they’re only meant to cover about 1000 square feet of space); and only work for phones on their network.
4. Do you offer financing?
Yes we do. Contact us here for details.
1. How big is the antenna on the outside of the building?
Surprisingly, the omni-directional rooftop antenna is only about the size of a Pringles can. Sometimes we need to use an antenna that points directly at a tower to get the strongest signal so we will use a shark fin antenna. These are roughly 9” x 14” and true to their name, they look like a small shark fin.
2. Will the dome be ugly or have a light on it?
The domes are quite discreet.
They do not have lights.
It's just to the right of the yellow light fixture on the far left!
Can you spot the dome in this cafe?
3. Can the dome go up inside the ceiling instead of on the ceiling?
Yes, we can put it inside the ceiling but we’d need to plan for a denser population of domes if you go that route, so please notify us at the beginning of the design.
4. Can the domes be painted?
Yes it can be painted to match ceiling color.
5. Do they have to be mounted on the ceiling or can they be wall-mounted?
Domes are designed specifically to either be wall mounted or ceiling mounted – they are NOT interchangeable. A ceiling dome distributes the signal 360°whereas a wall-mount distributes the signal in a much narrower shotgun pattern.
1. What is the cell phone enhancement installation process from start to finish?
Consultation: we’ll discuss your coverage problems/concerns and review your architectural plans to determine whether or not a site survey is required. If it is, we come to your site and take readings of available signal strength outside the property. Knowing the available signal is crucial since we will not be creating the signal, we will be capturing the signal that is available outside and distributing it inside the building.
Survey: We complete our survey by using cell phones from each network provider (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) with apps that show us signal strength and other factors (jitter, latency, echo etc.). These tell us how well a call can be made, will it be clear or dropped, how well a text can be sent/received and how fast data can stream. Then we overlay these reading on a floor plan to create a “heat map” revealing which areas have the weakest and strongest signals per network.
Proposal: We compile all the information on your site, including your budget, to create a proposed solution that will deliver the most bang for your buck.
Order: Once the proposal is approved and signed, we accept a 50% deposit and order yoru equipment.
Schedule: At proposal signing, we contact your GC and/or ownership to coordinate schedules.
Installation: We wire and install your system according to schedule. llluminati Labs strives to make our installations as seamless as possible. Our teams believe in being courteous (always using “ma’am,” and “sir”), clean, and respectful of everyone on the site, from tenants to other tradespeople.
Commission: This is the exciting part where we ensure that the system is balanced and works flawlessly.
Report: We create another heat map, similar to our initial survey. Using the 4 network phones (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile), we walk the building, stopping at designated points and letting each phone take readings on the voice/data/text with the system on and off to show the improvements. We then send these readings to a third-party software firm which compiles the data and sends us – and you -- the full report. Please click here to see a sample report from a recent project.
Finally, you invite us to your next site … Not to be too cocky, but when we finish up a job, our clients who have other sites ask us to put systems in all of those as well!
2. How long does it take to install a cellular enhancement system?
The time from consultation to finished installation depends mostly on your property’s construction schedule plus several other factors such as how accessible the site will be and will we be running through conduit. When we give you our proposal, we can give you a fairly accurate estimation of time. A cellular enhancement system offers a MUCH faster deployment than a Life/Safety DAS system.
3. Does Illuminati Labs subcontract design work or installations when a project is out of state?
No, we never subcontract any phase of our work because we want to maintain total quality control. We design every cell enhancement system in house and travel all over the country to perform the surveys, wiring, installations and commissioning ourselves.
4. How do you do retrofit without disturbing tenants/residents?
Ideally, we like to be installing the in-building cell system during the construction phase but that isn’t always possible for a variety of reasons. When a client needs a cellular enhancement system in a “live” building full of tenants, workers, patients or guests, we do whatever is necessary to be quiet and unobtrusive. This means we sometimes work at night, we clean up each work area before moving on to the next and we are as flexible and accommodating as possible. We’ve worked in fully booked hotels (see How to Be Accommodating Between Hurricanes) , offices packed with workers (see our Facebook project), apartments and hospitals.
Special hospital considerations: Hospitals pose an especially tricky challenge because for sterility purposes, we are only allowed to have one open ceiling tile at a time and we usually have to use a “birdcage” -- a containment unit which keeps contamination to a minimum. Staying out of the way in a busy ER means being ready to literally drop everything and leave at a second’s notice then come back and pick up where we left off. Installing a cell enhancement system in a hospital psychiatric ward requires careful coordination with the staff because noise and disruption can be triggers for the patients. No tools whatsoever are allowed on the psychiatric floors, no screwdriver, not even a pen or pencil, so our installations have to be done entirely by hand. This is a slow and painstaking process but it creates a safe and calm environment for everyone.
5. How will I know that the signal has improved when the system is installed and operational?
To confirm the enhancement of coverage, we create a “heat map.” Using phones from each of the four networks, (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile), we walk the building, stopping at designated points and letting each phone take readings on the voice/data/text -- first with the system off and then with it on to show the improvements achieved. We then send these readings to a third-party software firm which compiles the data and sends us – and you -- the full report. Please click here to see a sample report from a recent project.
1. How will 5G effect my building’s cell coverage?
Your current cell service will not be affected; if you have great 4G now the arrival of 5G will not change that. Even better, 5G will add drastically improved data speeds -- up to 100 times faster broadband –- plus “smart” networks that can evolve with your growing Internet of Things (IoT) demands. The catch is that before you can enjoy all that, you’ll have to bring the 5G into your building from outside with a cell enhancement system.
Despite the hype being advertised by the big phone carriers, true 5G for the public is still several years away. However, building owners and managers are wise to get prepared for 5G today. Prepping now will mean saving money, saving time and not experiencing any cell coverage losses when 5G is actually deployed large scale. Read the details about 5G and answers to the most common 5G questions here.
2. What can I do now to be prepared for 5G?
Building owners don't need to wait for 5G to install a cell enhancement system. The digital systems Illuminati Labs use today allow us to deploy infrastructure that provides the foundation for 5G and private LTE networks as well as immediately broadcasting state-of-the-art 4G, 4G LTE and 4G LTE enhanced networks.
3. If I buy enhancement today will it still work in the future?
Having a cellular enhancement system for your building's 4G and 4G LTE networks already provides significantly better cell coverage today. And according to top enhancement technology manufacturer, Wilson Electronics, "Those 4G and 4G LTE networks will continue to be in use well into the 2030's."
This is the infrastructure we referred to above. Nextivity, another top cell enhancement technology manufacturer, agrees, "The most sensible 5G strategy for a middle-rise building owner is to pick equipment that will withstand a transition from 4G LTE to 5G within the existing <6 GHz bands being provided inside the building." Both Wilson's and Nextivity's Cel-Fi products will be able to handle these transitions.