Safety DAS and Cell Boosters: You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated

Last Updated: August 01, 2023

Illuminati Labs designs and installs two types of DAS systems – Life/Safety DAS and cell phone repeaters — and we are constantly being asked, “What’s the difference?” New laws make it an important distinction for building owners to know, so let’s delve into this as simply as possible.

What is DAS?

DAS stands for Distributed Antenna System. A DAS system takes signal from an outside source (picked up by antenna), brings it inside and distributes it throughout a building or specific area via a wired series of domes (repeaters). Even though all DAS systems employ the same antennas, wires and domes, the systems have many different uses:

  1. DAS Life/Safety for first responders such as the police, fire fighters or any public safety workers who rely on flawless, dependable communication.
  2. DAS for internal network communication like the walkie-talkies used by building maintenance crews or the wearable, voice-controlled devices worn by some retail employees.
  3. DAS for other radio frequency signals such as the ones found in a patient’s wristband in many hospitals.
  4. DAS for cell phone signal (voice, data and text) enhancement. This is DAS for rest of us – for the civilians. This is for apartment dwellers and office building occupants who need reliable cell phone service to conduct their daily lives. It’s also for university or hospital administrators who want to send a mass text to every person on campus to notify them of an emergency evacuation or an active shooter or other crisis situation.

Are building owners required to provide coverage?

Yes, at least for the Life/Safety part. In the majority of US cities, local Building and Fire Codes say first responders must have radio frequency coverage in 95-99% of the building in order for a newly constructed building to get a Certificate of Occupancy and in order for an existing building to stay open. Every year, the Fire Marshal is required to conduct an annual inspection of your building. If they do not find appropriate coverage they can literally shut down your building and kick everyone out until it meets Code. The easiest way to reach compliance is with a DAS system.

Is a DAS system the only way to get the required coverage?

Well, if your building is constructed around a cell tower and made of signal-friendly materials like cotton candy and ‘Nilla Wafers, you might already have acceptable coverage without installing a DAS system. Otherwise, probably not. But here’s the kicker: there’s no way to know whether you have the required coverage until AFTER your building is complete and the Fire Marshal can conduct a test. At that point, to go back and retrofit a DAS system would be a very costly proposition. That’s why most building owners opt to put in a DAS for the first responders right from the beginning.

Can building owners save money by having their occupants use the same DAS for their cell phones as the first responders use?

Nope. No sir. Not any more. Years ago, building owners could provide a combined communication network for everyone. Then the events of 9/11 made it clear that allowing everybody to share a network spreads the signal too thin, causing communications failures and costing lives. As a result, most Building and Fire Codes now require a first responder system that is separate from the cell phone enhancement system. Industry insiders tell us they anticipate this separation becoming a federal requirement soon.

This is why Illuminati Labs installs both Life/Safety DAS and DAS for cell phone signal enhancement. We refer to the latter as “cell phone repeater systems.” You may also hear these called cell phone “boosters,” although technically, they’re not boosting the signal, they’re just capturing what’s already there and repeating it throughout the building or campus so that it’s available to everyone.

Can a building owner save money by having the occupants each provide their own booster or M-cell?

An individual booster or an M-cell is a plug and play, single carrier device with a small coverage area such as an individual apartment or small office. In a detached single-family home or office, these M-cells usually provide sufficient coverage. But in a multi-unit home or office, the signal from one person’s Verizon booster will step on the signal from his neighbor’s AT&T signal and effectively cancel each other out so that neither person gets sufficient coverage. This becomes a frustrating game of one-upmanship. With a cell phone repeater system, an antenna captures ALL of the available signals from ALL of the carriers and distributes them evenly throughout the entire multi-unit home or office building.

What about a campus with multiple buildings – does each building need its own DAS system?

Normally yes, and this dramatically increases the cost to the building owner. But Illuminati Labs recently found an uber-efficient way to allow a single first responder DAS system to cover multiple buildings. We knew that fiber optic wire can carry signal over a much greater distance than regular RG11 coax wire without the signal degrading. So at the new US headquarters of plumbing technology giant, Viega, we ran fiber optics through conduit between their buildings and were able to create one life/safety DAS system for both of their buildings – thereby saving them the cost of installing two complete life/safety DAS systems. At the same time, we installed cell phone repeater systems in both buildings as well.

Of course, we had to be sure the life/safety DAS and the cell repeater systems operated completely independently from each other as is required by law. This was tricky because both systems used identical-looking equipment. Working with literally miles of wires, it would have been very easy to cross them up. Our solution was to carefully color-code each system (life/safety DAS was blue wires, cell phone repeater was black wires) so that we could keep them separated.

Because Illuminati Labs covered two buildings with one Life/Safety DAS system, Viega was able to achieve this at a fraction of the expected cost. Now Viega’s gorgeous new buildings both have a dependable (and legally required!) public safety DAS system as well as cell phone repeater systems which enable the workers, customers and staff to enjoy reliable connectivity.