Every commercial and corporate facility is impacted by increasing demand for cellular service due to a surge in volume of voice and data use by occupants and guests, IoT applications, public safety concerns, operational necessities, and BYOD policies. Many building owners and managers have attempted to address this issue with different technologies that, unfortunately, no longer deliver the cellular connectivity this level of usage requires.
For example, Charter Dura-Bar, the world’s largest producer of engineered cast iron bar products serving more than 3,000 global customers, needed better coverage for both employees and IoT applications at its picturesque campus in Woodstock, Illinois. A lake and plenty of green space surround its three main buildings, which house administrative functions, metal services, and an iron foundry. Its somewhat rural location, coupled with the large amount of steel and cinder block walls in the foundry, made it difficult for cellular signals to penetrate indoors. As the company’s 10 older small cells were reaching the end of their lifecycle and the carrier no longer supported the equipment, Charter Dura-Bar was on the hunt for a new solution.
“Each small cell could only hold 15 numbers, so we were constantly having to make updates as employees moved around or phone numbers changed,” says Wendy Zeitler, a senior telecommunications technician at Charter Dura-Bar. “We also had to prioritize usage based on seniority, so it was very disheartening to tell employees we weren’t able to give them cellular coverage at work.” Ease of management was a key criterion for the new solution they sought.
Using cellular to power IoT and a better work environment
In addition to wanting to provide typical voice and data services over the cellular network to enable employees to communicate with one another between buildings, or for personal usage, Charter Dura-Bar also required cellular coverage in its metal services building and in its iron foundry house where industrial-sized vending machines that contain various tools and supplies is located. Employees working on the factory floor must enter a personalized code into the vending machines to access protective gloves or specific parts they need to operate a piece of machinery. The company’s credit card is then processed in real-time for these purchases.
Payment processing was running over Charter Dura-Bar’s network. But because the vending machines were operated by a third-party company, the security team wanted to separate this function from the company’s IT network to mitigate security risks in the event of a breach.
“By moving to a cellular network, we would gain peace of mind while enabling secure, machine-to-machine communication,” explains Trent Bruha, a service desk technician at Charter Dura-Bar.
Charter Dura-Bar also wanted to improve the cellular experience for employees taking part in the company’s BYOD program, and more generally to eliminate the inconvenience of team members having to run out to the parking lot whenever they wanted to use their phones.
Cellular carriers recommend system integrators to provide solutions
Because the cost of in-building cellular amplification systems is usually the responsibility of the building owner, and the quality of performance from available systems can vary greatly, cellular carriers will often recommend building owners engage independent systems integrators that have a track record of providing solutions that are the best and most cost-effective fit.
This was the case for Charter Dura-Bar. The company turned to KonectaUSA, a leading provider and installer of indoor cellular solutions. KonectaUSA decided to use the Cel-Fi QUATRA active DAS hybrid from Nextivity to build out Charter Dura-Bar’s cellular network.
“Cel-Fi QUATRA is a cost-effective solution that can provide reliable, multi-carrier coverage in places that have traditionally proved to be a challenge,” explains Mike Shortridge, a partner at KonectaUSA.
KonectaUSA began its work in the iron foundry, a 596,000 square-foot building that runs 24 hours a day in three shifts totalling 300 employees. A cafeteria, as well as administrative and engineering offices are located in the foundry. The vending machines are situated in an office next to the cafeteria because it is too hot in the foundry itself to make calls.
“When we tell customers that we can support applications such as credit card vending machine transactions over cellular, they love it because we don’t have to touch their IT network,” says Shortridge.
Three buildings in eight days
Next up was the 35,000 square foot, brick-exterior administrative building predominantly made up of offices, meeting rooms, and a cafeteria. Once this was complete, KonectaUSA turned its attention to the metal services building. The 57,000 square foot shop area is used to cut metal, with 30 employees split over two shifts to do this work. It also housed a vending machine.
In total, it took KonectaUSA’s cabling crew only eight days to complete the installation in all three buildings.
“It was a seamless and non-disruptive installation process,” says Bruha. “We were able to continue production without interruption.”
Realizing business benefits across the board
Charter Dura-Bar now has a separate, secure network to handle vending machine orders. The company has seen a number of operational benefits, such as easier communication between employees working in shipping and receiving with truck drivers trying to pick up or deliver materials.
Pre installation signal strength readings went from -120 and -110 to post installation readings of -85 and -75 throughout the different buildings, and capacity is no longer an issue—every employee now enjoys coverage. This has come with some unexpected, but welcome, benefits.
“One of our employees received a text from her child’s school while she was at work, and she was able to see it and deal with it immediately,” says Bruha. “That simply wasn’t possible before. Our employees are very much enjoying this soft benefit, and morale has definitely improved.”
It has also eased the burden of IT management on the Charter Dura-Bar team, who estimate they’ve saved several hours a month from not having to manage the previous solution, or employees’ expectations around coverage.
“Our president was behind this 120% and is beyond thrilled with Cel-Fi QUATRA,” says Zeitler. “He understands the impact it has on the business and is so very appreciative.”
Finding the best solution
One size does not fit all when determining the best in-building cellular amplification solution for a facility. For examples of how you can leverage the advanced capabilities of cellular-based IoT applications in your facilities, download “Cellular IoT: An Opportunity for Billions of New Deployments”.
About the Author
Dean Richmond is the Senior Director of Marketing at Nextivity. Over the span of his career, he has developed strategies and launched products across the information technology and wireless product spectrum. Dean has built strategic partnerships between channel partners, operators, broadband providers, and brands such as Microsoft, Google, Intel, Sony, and Toshiba to grow business units successfully. For more information, contact email@example.com or visit www.cel-fi-com