Serving up Cellular Coverage for Food Hall in Sub-Ground Level of Busy Mall

dekalb cellular coverage
By Joe Schmelzer, Senior Director of Products at Nextivity, Inc.

The Dekalb Market Food Hall is located in the basement level of the City Point mall in Brooklyn, NY. While it is a hub of innovative cooking and dining experiences for nearly 100,000 guests each week, poor cellular reception on this level of the mall prevented those inside the food hall from making or receiving calls.

There are a number of common factors that block cellular signals from penetrating throughout commercial facilities and reduce the signal power needed to provide good cellular reception for all occupants inside a building. For example, materials used in a building’s construction – thick concrete walls (particularly in sub-ground locations), Low-E glass windows, steel beams in the walls or between floors, internal walls, and large equipment – can block the signal and create pockets of dead zones or poor service.

“DeKalb Market Hall is located underground so cell service just wasn’t making it in. It’s a really dense environment from kitchen equipment to the rebar on the walls to the amount of concrete involved. Combined with a lot of people walking in and out, it is a particularly challenging cellular coverage environment,” says Sina Khanifar, President of RSRF, the systems integrator division of RepeaterStore, which specializes in providing cell phone coverage to buildings of all sizes. RSRF was engaged by City Point to provide a solution. “Our big focus is driving down the cost of in-building cellular coverage solutions and using the newest technology to make sure we are able to do that.”

There are several technologies and system configurations available to solve the cellular coverage holes, dropped calls, and poor reception that impact employees and guests inside multi-use buildings. Each technology comes with its own complexity, installation time, quality of cellular service provided, ease of maintenance, and price point.

A residential-grade analog signal booster or femtocell is easy to install and inexpensive to purchase but doesn’t provide the quality of service or capacity that a high-volume food hall, mall, or most multi-use buildings require. A high-end traditional active distributed antenna system (DAS) – such as those normally used at very large venues like stadiums or convention halls – is also not a good fit for most indoor facilities under 500,000 square feet due to the high cost and lengthy installation times (these systems can take as long as 18 months to get installed).

Rick Bernas, director of engineering at RSRF explains, “Dekalb needed coverage for all four major carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile – throughout the space and at a reasonable cost. An active, fiber DAS system, which requires each of the carriers to bring in their equipment, was way out of the price range.”

Instead, RSRF chose to install Cel-Fi QUATRA, an active DAS hybrid which delivers a signal 1,000 times stronger than analog boosters without the high price tag and complexity of a traditional active DAS. The hybrid also addressed the ease and aesthetics of the installation, two concerns raised by Jason Feinstein, the general manager of Acadia Realty. Feinstein handles the day-to-day management of the building that houses the City Point and Dekalb Market Hall, helping to ensure everything runs smoothly and maintaining positive relations with tenants.

“My biggest concern was also making sure we didn’t disrupt the tenants,” said Feinstein. “The installers were very professional, knew what they were doing, and were easy to work with.”

RSRF installed the active DAS hybrid in the 27,000 sq. ft. food hall in only three days using a two-person crew, without disrupting business. Despite all the new units and cabling, the system blended well with the appearance of the public space.

“Since the Cel-Fi QUATRA system uses Ethernet cables and the client already had Ethernet cable running all around the basement, it was just a couple of extra internal cables and nobody actually noticed when the system was finished. It looked exactly like it did before,” explains Bernas. “We were also able to hide a lot of the cables and antennas above the many vents throughout the space.”

Since completing the installation, the flourishing food hall is getting the cellular connectivity it needs.

“Everyone was happy. We picked access points such that you can’t see or even tell they are there,” says Feinstein. “The basement was a dead zone but RSRF helped us to get access. We get cell phone reception down there now and it is fantastic.”

For complete details on the system configuration and installation that solved Dekalb Market Hall’s cellular coverage challenges, download the case study: “Premier Brooklyn Food Hall Solves Cellular Coverage Problems with Cel-Fi QUATRA.”
About the Author
Joe Schmelzer is Senior Director of Products at Nextivity. He has developed a variety of products and industrial devices for chipset vendors, OEMs, and service providers, including products for Sony, Qualcomm, Google, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Dell and HP. He was also a founding member of CTIA’s Wireless Internet Caucus. For more information, contact hello@cel-fi.com or visit www.cel-fi-com

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