Enterprise Small Cells are making a huge difference to many businesses and venues where they’ve been installed. Here we take a look at a factory site in New Jersey that had no cellular service. After trying several potential solutions, SpiderCloud’s LTE Enterprise RAN solved the problem. We spoke to their IT Manager, Bob Howe, to learn about his experience and the difference it made.
Thriving business moves to larger factory site
Bob Howe has been IT manager with Railing Dynamics Inc. in New Jersey since 2003, which was acquired by Barrette Outdoor Living in 2013. The company manufactures residential and commercial fencing for sale throughout North America. Barrette has manufacturing and distributions locations throughout the United States and Canada, and has a nationwide corporate contract for mobile service with Verizon Wireless.
Due to strong growth, Barrette moved into a much larger, brand new warehouse and office facilities next to the Atlantic City airport. The 400,000 square foot property is one of the few places in New Jersey with virtually no Verizon wireless coverage. Its metal construction certainly isn’t friendly for cellular signals. You can make a 3G call when outside but get absolutely no service within the building. It was clearly a major issue for business operations.
Barrette could either switch all employees at this facility to AT&T or find a way to make it work. There was a lot of discussion with Verizon and increasing pressure to resolve the issue. Several solutions were tried and tested without success.
Tried Femtocells and Wi-Fi Calling
When employees first began moving into the building, Bob explained how they tried Verizon Network Extender – a standalone 3G femtocell solution designed for home and small offices. Initially, this worked adequately in a small office area, but couldn’t support the larger production building where several were installed. The majority of voice calls dropped or failed entirely.
When Voice over Wi-Fi came out natively on the iPhone 6, Verizon provided free upgrades for all older, incompatible handsets. Barrette had its own in-building Enterprise Wi-Fi which worked well for data, but found that Wi-Fi Calling had very mixed results. While better than multiple Network Extenders, and coverage was pretty good, there remained a large number of dropped/poor quality voice calls. Some handset models handled it better than others. Battery drain was high.
It took a lot of local IT support effort. They found that manually switching off cellular to operate using Wi-Fi-helped, but that led to sometimes overlooking switching it back on when leaving the building. There was confusion about whether the network was connected. It just wasn’t a sustainable solution.
They tried other Wi-Fi voice Apps, such as Cisco Jabber, which they thought might save them. But this gave mixed results and wasn’t ubiquitous because not everyone had an account setup. Others forgot to login/open the App and weren’t available for incoming calls.
The situation became more urgent to resolve as more employees moved into the facility, and Barrette put more pressure on Verizon to come up with a solution or they’d have to switch carriers.
SpiderCloud to the rescue
Verizon proposed installing a dedicated SpiderCloud system at their expense. After the commercial decision was taken, the project went extremely quickly.
First, Verizon sent an RF Design Engineer to the site, who quickly confirmed the poor coverage and came up with an initial design for SpiderCloud deployment, working out the number and precise location for each radio node.
Verizon then subcontracted the wiring and switch installation to SAI communications, who made use of the same contractors that were familiar with the Enterprise IT cabling in the building. It took about 2-3 weeks to have the fibre optics tipped and spliced, PoE switches installed, pull through CAT5 cables and attach the radio nodes onto the walls and ceilings.
What surprised Bob most was the final commissioning and configuration stage. SpiderCloud experts turned up and had the system fully operational in a couple of days, with further visits to verify performance over two weeks.
As far as the project installation and commissioning are concerned, Bob thought that a month is not an unreasonable timeframe for completion. The biggest delay was the budget approval to proceed and subcontracting the work. Everything came together very quickly once those decisions had been made.
Any technical hiccups?
A dedicated fibre backhaul connection was planned for the system, but the timeframe to install this was several months – not unusual for Enterprise fibre services. In the meantime, a dedicated 50Mbps Comcast broadband business internet connection was used. SpiderCloud helped by convincing Verizon that this would be adequate, and it all seems to be working well. Barrette expects to upgrade to fibre backhaul in the next few weeks.
The radio nodes are aesthetically neutral, with an unobtrusive sleek and modern design. Bob initially had some concerns about mounting these in corporate/administrative areas but they are so similar to existing Wi-Fi access points that they discretely blend into the background. A few were positioned next to the Wi-Fi points but most were just within eye-shot. A couple were hidden above the drop ceiling. This was less of an issue in the warehouse.
It just worked
Bob told me that originally when they had issues with cellular service and Wi-Fi calling, everyone was aware how bad the problem was and he was getting a constant stream of complaints. Since SpiderCloud went live, he’s not heard a peep. He talks with directors, managers and employees every day and finds nobody has had an issue.
There have been no outages to date.. Verizon would be aware of any issues before him – their operation centre is directly hooked into the system – and would be able to respond proactively. So far, installation has just seemed like a normal Enterprise IT network and it has been as stable.
Cellular service is 4-5 bars everywhere – it behaves as if they had their own cell phone tower onsite.
This system is 4G only and can only be fully used by fairly recent smartphones with Advanced Calling (VoLTE). iPhone 5/5S models don’t support that through Verizon. Since everyone’s handsets had already been upgraded to support Wi-Fi Calling, and these models also support VoLTE, this wasn’t a problem. There are occasionally a few visitors from other sites with older phones, but these will be upgraded in due course.
E911 service is inherently supported everywhere in the building, with calls being automatically routed to the correct emergency answering centre. What’s more, mapping the location of each radio node used allows first responders to know exactly where the call originates, meeting the new FCC rules to identify the “dispatchable location” of emergency calls to within 50 metres.
With good Verizon service now onsite, the operator may even setup a temporary shop a few days a week to sell to employees who don’t have corporate phones (e.g. factory floor workers) and win some additional customers.