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What’s in store for retailers’ wireless coverage?

Monday May 14 2012

Communications infrastructure expert Morgan Kurk discusses why retailers need to address the wireless problems of tomorrow, today

Communications infrastructure expert Morgan Kurk discusses why retailers need to address the wireless problems of tomorrow, today


The rapid uptake of wireless devices in society has made comprehensive mobile network coverage a necessity. 


Morgan Kurk, senior vice president of enterprise intelligent buildings at communications cabling supplier CommScope, observed that modern consumers are no longer willing to accept anything less than always available, high-speed network coverage for their mobile devices.


As a result, he stressed that retailers need to support new ways to engage with the more tech-savvy shopper instore. "Wireless technologies will be key to helping retailers achieve this – making effective in-building wireless coverage absolutely critical," he said.


A clear signal?


Wireless technologies can provide a heightened shopping experience by supporting more sophisticated and versatile instore systems, as well as customers’ personal mobile devices.


Already, retail technologies like Wi-Fi access points, wireless barcode scanners and radio frequency identification (RFID) stock tracking are commonplace instore. Yet, Kurk pointed out that, alongside the role of wireless in connecting mission-critical retail technologies with central control systems, supporting the personal wireless devices of customers is just as important. 


"Without ubiquitous wireless coverage, customers quickly become dissatisfied at being disconnected from their mobile lives, hotels experience higher vacancy numbers and retailers face lower footfall," he explained.


Kurk added that wireless devices are also playing a greater role than ever in business-to-consumer (B2C) retailing as well. He cited, for example, the popularity of location-aware handsets is enabling a wide range of applications, such as context aware marketing. 


"However, the priorities for the architects behind hotels, shopping centres and other commercial structures are aesthetics, efficiency and comfort," he pointed out. "This often results in the heavy use of concrete and steel during construction, which results in poor wireless coverage – undermining all the potential wireless technologies hold for retailers."


Wireless in-building renovation


Kurk contended that relying on the traditional wide area network (WAN) to deliver reliable wireless coverage inside large structures is not feasible. "Building owners and developers are looking for cost-effective, long-term answers for equipping existing structures and new constructions with in-building wireless coverage," he said. 


The comms expert said that installing a cabling backbone throughout a building provides the physical infrastructure on which all wireless technology will function. The indoor antennas, coaxial cables, connectors and cable management apparatus that make up this structured cabling solution work together to flood a building with wireless signals. 


"Luckily, owners of existing buildings have an option for updating their facilities to combat RF [radio frequency] signal impediments," he continued. "Just as plumbing, and electrical wiring can be renovated in older structures, communications equipment can be installed post-construction to achieve universal wireless coverage."


He said the simplest post-construction in-building wireless solution is a passive distributed antenna system (DAS) that includes antennas, coaxial cable, a repeater and a signal source. And he advised that this type of wireless system would be ideal for smaller buildings that have high-performance mobility needs. Larger buildings can use antenna repetition to prevent coverage dead zones. 


"The main concern a post construction, in-building wireless system has to remedy is the interference of outdoor signals after the system is installed," Kurk explained. "This can be rectified by conducting RF site surveys for existing structures and designing a completely customised wireless system tailored specifically to that building."


Install early and save


As a result of rapidly evolving mobile trends, Kurk said architects and building developers are now paying attention to a new, compelling argument for implementing an in-building wireless system during the initial construction phase of new structures – something that has never been done before. 


"Installing utilities when a building is under initial construction is more cost-effective and non disruptive. It is estimated that the post-construction installation cost of a system is more than four times that of pre-construction work," he added.


Structured cable is installed with a higher density than its use demands by design. While this might seem inefficient, Kurk also said it has been determined to be the most cost-effective solution that allows for the inevitable changing environment. 


He concluded: "By approaching the wireless needs of a new building with a similar strategy, developers can ensure they have the infrastructure necessary to solve the wireless problems of tomorrow, today."