If you’ve been on campus for awhile you may have noticed that we have some zones around campus which are cell service “dead zones.” When you enter these zones you may drop a call, experience poor voice quality, have trouble sending or receiving text messages or face endless loading screens. The main buildings with this issue are the Alvin Sherman Library, the UC Spine, the PVA department, and the Parker Building. This may seem like a minor inconvenience to some, but it may have serious repercussions for educational purposes or even emergency situations.
The buildings at NSU block out cell service technologies due to South Florida Building codes which require these buildings to be reinforced with steel, concrete and other infrastructures to withstand the storm surges South Florida faces every year during hurricane season.
“We have cell phones for a reason and we should be able to use them anywhere on campus.”
According to Daniel Alfonso, vice president of facilities management, the major reason for change has to do with emergency response teams such as the fire and police departments. When responding to calls, they lose communications back to their central bases. These departments are requesting repeater services, which boost cell signals, to be placed inside the buildings to help their operations run smoothly.
For Indya Williams, a freshman general engineering major, the poor cell service interferes with her studies and contacting her family back home.
“Whenever I’m in the UC, Parker, HPD or any of the performance theaters including Miniaci, I have no cell service. We have cell phones for a reason and we should be able to use them anywhere on campus,” said Williams.
Alfonso said, “I have noticed we have poor cell reception in these areas. The OIIT department has [put together a plan] to improve our technology with a project known as DAS, or Distributed Antenna Service. The project that they have put together is estimated to cost the university about $3 million.”
A Distributed Antenna Service is a series of antennas that are distributed throughout a building that act as repeaters to boost the strength of the connection to the cell towers in the area. With a $3 million price tag, members of the OIIT department and Facilities Management are working together to provide other solutions that might cost the university significantly less money. They’ve reached out to numerous service providers to see what proposals they can bring to the table.
One company, Mobilitie, came to campus and conducted a study of our facilities and measured gaps in service to understand which spots have the biggest challenges.
“They are probably coming back to us soon with a proposal for the cell repeater services,” said Alfonso.
According to Mobilitie’s website, their system involves the same concept of OIIT’s, but their equipment is “non-intrusive and supports all major wireless carriers while providing ongoing maintenance and optimization.”
“They put up an antenna that can be used by any service provider. It’s easier than asking these individual carriers to put in their own antennas which could get complicated and be very costly, but they [Mobilitie] do all the work for us,” said Alfonso.
The goal, other than providing a service to students and faculty, also involves making it aesthetically pleasing, if possible. Mobilitie proposed something that serves that dual purpose. They are called “mini-cells,” which would replace the standard big cell with multiple mini-cells to enhance the strength across campus. Alfonso explained that this system is a working light pole with a mini-cell antenna which is 12 x 12 inch box on top of the pole.
Eventually the departments plan to bring these proposals to President Hanbury, but they want to ensure that these proposals are fully developed and present several options.
The main plan involves two phases. Once NSU finds a company that will comply with requests, the company, possibly Mobilitie, will start with phase one: outdoor receivers. By placing these light poles throughout campus, they can provide better cell reception around campus. However, penetration of these outdoor receivers is limited when entering the indoor environment, which is where phase two comes in. With phase two, receivers, which will connect to the mini-cells, will be put on top of the buildings. Then, repeaters will be placed on each floor at the core of the building.
Williams explained that a program like this would improve not only her academics but help her reach her family. If this program works, she hopes she can contact her family with ease and not search around campus for an ideal spot to make a call.
Alfonso expects that once these plans are proposed and negotiated, they can expect to have a set plan 60 to 90 days from now. They are also planning to put out an invitation to bid once they get back some proposals to see if they can get the same service from other companies for a different price or different version.