Category Archives: DAS

Public Safety BDA/DAS Re-Certification: Why You Need It and How to Get It

In 2009, the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) implemented first-responder radio coverage requirements to their respective books of fire codes. The intent of the codes is to ensure that firefighters, police, EMTs and other emergency responders will be able to communicate from within any structure, uninhibited by in-building signal loss. As part of those requirements, contractors must ensure that emergency responder radio coverage exists in new constructions and heavily renovated buildings. If emergency responder radio is not adequate, bi-directional amplifier’s (BDA) or distributed antenna systems (DAS) must then be installed to boost coverage in these buildings.

However, beyond that initial installation, the onus falls on property owners or building managers to show proof of BDA/DAS re-certification, as directed under 510.6.1 of the ICC code, “Testing and proof of compliance,” and NFPA 72, “National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.” This sounds simple enough in theory, but it can prove complicated in practice.

A Recent Regulation

Enforcement of ICC/NFPA regulations has just begun within the past three to five years, and only in some municipalities. As a result, many building managers are suddenly receiving notices from fire marshals about BDA/DAS annual re-certification, or what NFPA refers to as “acceptance testing.” Often, these managers don’t know the requirements, or for that matter, who to call for help in ensuring that their property is compliant.

For the sake of shedding some light on these recently implemented enforcement standards, below are explanations for the “what,” the “why,” the “how,” and the “who” of BDA/DAS re-certification.

The ‘What’

The ICC/NFPA mandate that all emergency coverage radio systems receive inspection on an annual basis, and when any additions or structural changes are made to buildings that, as the ICC worded it, “materially change the original field performance tests.” The purpose is to make sure that signal readings and other BDA/DAS manufacturer specifications have not changed or degraded.

In the past, not all municipalities abided by the ICC/NFPA requirements, and many cities created loose iterations of it  – for instance, that recertification needed to happen once every five years. However, local governments are now starting to adhere more rigidly to ICC/NFPA standards. In addition to the requirements mentioned above, municipalities are now asking buildings owners to annually prove:

  1. Acceptance test procedures are upheld.
  2. Backup power or batteries can support communication for up to a complete hour.

The ‘Why’

From an enforcement perspective, the risk of non-compliance can range from fines to, more drastically, fire marshals informing building owners that fire departments cannot respond to certain calls.

The deeper and more meaningful reason for BDA/DAS re-certification is to ensure that first responders have the communication capabilities they need to help people within a building in an emergency situation. Consider this haunting example:

In the minutes following the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, a police helicopter radioed out that the second tower was also in danger. “I don’t think this has too much longer to go. I would evacuate all people within the area of that second building,” he said, according to the New York Times. Unfortunately, most firefighters never heard that warning, and neither did many police officers responding to the attacks, because the radio system had failed. Twenty-one minutes later, the building collapsed.

In a more common scenario, a signal booster that is not functioning properly may cause interference on the local public safety radio network, causing the entire network to be compromised.

Needless to say, building managers are highly encouraged and, in an increasing number of cities and towns, required to prove BDA/DAS re-certification on an annual basis to avoid similar catastrophic communication failures, beyond noncompliance penalties.

The ‘How’

Property owners typically have no connection to the original BDA/DAS manufacturer, or for that matter, the construction company or subcontractor that installed the equipment. The result: building managers literally left to their own devices.

However, the BDA/DAS re-certification process doesn’t have to be conducted by the original equipment manufacturer or installer. Any FCC-qualified technician with the appropriate BDA/DAS manufacturer certifications can handle monitoring and ongoing maintenance of a system. Taking this route eliminates the need to chase a paper trail.

During the actual re-certification process, the technician will conduct a coverage test, make sure the amplifier and battery backup system function properly and provide the required documentation for proof of compliance.

For the intents and purposes of a building manager trying to be compliant with local fire code enforcement, the most effective course of action is to contact a trustworthy name in the industry.

The ‘Who’

Day Wireless Systems is one of the most widely recognized experts in the in-building wireless communication industry. Since 1969, Day’s main objective has been to supply and implement reliable emergency responder wireless communication systems, and to service existing systems, regardless of the manufacturer or installation contractor.

When it comes to BDA/DAS re-certification, property owners may not need a brand new installation. However, as municipalities continue to adopt ICC/NFPA regulations, they will need knowledgeable technicians who can perform the required inspection and, if necessary, provide actionable steps for customers whose systems are not up to specifications. DWS provides both of those services, and much more.

Re-certification of critical communication systems is extraordinarily important, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unexpected or complicated. Contact DWS today to get ahead of ICC/NFPA emergency responder radio coverage requirements.

Different Types of Cellular DAS, Trends, and Purchasing Models

In building cell phone user

I recently had a discussion with Jim Muzynoski, who manages our DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) business sales team.  The conversation revolves around cellular DAS solutions, market trends, and different purchasing models.

What are the different types of cellular DAS solutions available?

I’ll talk about non-engineered solutions, semi-engineered solutions, full blown engineered DAS, and I’ll also talk about small cell.  I’ll start lowest to highest, so I’ll start with non-engineered solutions.

Non engineered DAS solutions

Non engineered solutions are low powered cellular boosters that can cover all four carriers but you don’t need to have official carrier approval on them.  These devices are manufactured by Wilson or Surecall, and there are a couple others out there.  They are less than a watt of power.  They are basically monitored within their own hardware to shut off if there’s any interference with the carriers.

You just have to register these devices with the FCC which is easy to do.  They don’t need any sort of carrier approval, the carriers have deemed them low power enough that they won’t impact the macro cellular network, and they are fairly inexpensive. These solutions can probably cover around 20,000 square feet per system, so if you have a 50,000 sf building you might need 2 or more systems in a building.  You can install these inexpensively as well; it’s not using really thick coax or fiber so it makes sense that it’s going to be less expensive for installation.  They work okay as long as you have the proper expectation. If you have decent signal strength on your rooftop and you put one of these systems in, you’ll be able to take and make calls.  It is just limited from a power and capacity perspective so make sure your integrator is going over this with you.  You are not guaranteed coverage since these systems aren’t engineered.  However, your integrator will do their best to map out coverage units based on your floor plan.  Typically we’re seeing pricing come in at $0.25-$0.45 per square foot including installation for non-engineered systems.

Semi engineered DAS solutions

The next step up from a non-engineered solution is a semi-engineered solution and until recently there were no solutions in this niche…it was either non engineered or full blown DAS which could be pretty costly.  Now there’s a company called Whoop Wireless that can provide a lightly engineered solution that usually is in the ballpark of $1-$1.50 per square foot and it is engineered through your integrator. You do need to have carrier approval but those carrier approvals are easier to get than full blown DAS.  They are a little higher power than the non-engineered solution, but it is still not anywhere near the power of traditional neutral host DAS that has all 4 carriers on it and can handle a ton of users and has a huge pipe for data.  This lightly engineered solution by Whoop Wireless can handle capacity but only up to maybe 60-80 users at a time, it’s kind of in between non-engineered and fully engineered and the solution is not as extensive from an installation perspective as well and that’s where some of the cost savings come in as well.

How does Whoop work?

It’s very similar to traditional DAS but there are a couple of differences.  The amplifier is included in the Whoop Wireless solution.  They’ll have it in the head end room.  From the power perspective it’ll be a little less amplification than traditional DAS and you won’t have that thick coax once again.  What’s really different about it is the remote units are actually next to the antenna so instead of having all that signal loss from the amplifier to the antenna you basically have full power coming out of the antenna and that’s what allows them to cover a larger area than a non-engineered solution.

It has good capacity but it’s not nearly enough for a stadium or amphitheater an application for a ton of users.  That’s not what it’s made for.  It is made for apartment complexes and hotels, you know, the 100,000-200,000 sf buildings that struggle to get carrier coordination and struggle to get carrier involvement in any way and need a solution that is fairly inexpensive but still works well.

Fully engineered DAS solution

The fully engineered solution has been around for a while now.  This is what you’ll need if coverage and capacity are driving your needs.  These are going to be active DAS systems meaning power will transport the signal through a distributed fiber network, and the signal will be reconverted to RF by remote units.  That means that building size really isn’t an issue.  You can deploy an engineered DAS for millions of square feet if you need to.  That’s the traditional Commscope, or SOLiD, or Corning solution and is a neutral host solution that can house any or all of the four cellular carriers.  It could be a high power solution in some cases up to 20 watts.  The carrier coordination is usually pretty extensive.  They want to look at all of your full designs in a certain way and they want to look at the macro network surrounding the building to make sure it makes sense to put something in.

Fully engineered solutions have a little bit of uncertainty because you may or may not get the carriers to sign on.  An integrator can talk to the carriers to make sure they do everything they can to sign off but ultimately the carriers control their signal, their frequencies, and can decide whether or not they want a system in place.  Costs can vary quite a bit and you are looking at anywhere from $2-$5 per square foot for this type of system.

Small Cell DAS

Something that is changing in the market right now is engineered cellular DAS has been the go-to solution for carriers and integrators for a long time.  There’s a new solution out there right now called small cell, and small cell for in-building wireless are devices that look very similar to Wi-Fi access points.  All you need for carrier source is an Ethernet backbone.  You don’t need a base station or an amplifier or heavy coax.

They can often only cover a small frequency range and in many cases it’s just a one carrier solution.  You might need multiple access points per carrier but it is a solution that is up and coming and they are trying to figure out a way for one access point cover the entire spectrum of all four carriers.

When that happens it’ll change the market because that solution will be a lot less expensive than an engineered DAS, but it will provide the same or better capacity than a full blown DAS and provide better coverage.  It’s something that has been in the industry for the past 3-4 years and people have been talking about it, expecting it to take off, but because of the limitations of needing multiple small cell devices per carrier it just doesn’t quite make sense yet.  They are making changes and as that comes along it may potentially change the market.

You mentioned the cost for engineered DAS being anywhere from $2-$5 per square foot which is crazy to think about…who has the money for that?  In the past perhaps the carriers footed some of the bill for some of that but can you tell me where the industry is going and are carriers willing to spend money on cellular DAS like they used to?

The carriers in general have changed their outlook on how they’re spending on DAS, especially in the past 10 years there was a huge push for carriers to put in-building systems in place for all large venues- stadiums, hospitals, malls, high rises, and buildings like that.  They were spending a huge amount of money to get coverage in those buildings.

Over the past 2 years carriers have really cut back on their spending and that’s the trend going forward.  A lot of that has to do with they’ve recently spent a lot of money expanding their networks to 4G.  Everybody that needs a cell phone has a cell phone, everyone who needs a tablet has one.  There’s not as much growth in the market anymore, they are not getting a lot of new subscriptions like they used to.  So carriers are less willing to spend money on DAS systems.  In many cases even if you are a large customer of a carrier they are still going to have you foot some of the bill whereas 3-4 years ago they may have paid for it themselves.

Do you have any tips where an end customer can either get the budget for the right solution or minimize their cost in some way?  What are some of the different ownership models for cellular DAS?

This is where an integrator can help find the right fit.  We run into a lot of situations where the customer just needs voice coverage and light data and that’s all they need.  In those cases maybe it’s a non-engineered solution if you don’t have a ton of money to spend.  As you get into needing more data and call capacity then you might run into those semi-engineered or full blown DAS solutions.

There are a few ownership models out there depending how you want to do it.  You can go straight to an integrator and buy your DAS, put the system in and manage the system yourself.  Or, there are companies out there called 3rd party operators that in some cases are willing to buy the DAS, bring in the cellular carriers, and they will in turn charge the carriers a rental on that DAS system.  The use case for 3rd party owned is larger facilities 500,000 sf or more, campus environments, stadiums, convention centers, buildings like that.  You can even set up your own neutral host DAS, but that’s where it’s going to be a lot of money, $2-$5 per square foot, with no guarantee that carriers are going to pay to be on your system.

Lastly, if you have a really good relationship with your carrier, perhaps your carrier will be willing to share the bill for the DAS.  Typically it will be a single carrier situation only.  It’s just that in the past they were much more willing to do that than they are now.

 In order to save money should I have a cellular system and a public safety system on the same DAS?

It’s a question that has come up a lot in the past year.  You can definitely have a cellular system and public safety system on the same DAS but I wouldn’t recommend it.

In many cases new construction projects have to have an emergency responder radio system installed.  And these DAS systems have certain code requirements you need to meet such as 24 hour battery backup, NEMA 4 requirements on the remotes, alarming to name a few.  Due to the different requirements from the emergency responder coverage perspective it is costly to include cellular in the same system…because all of the cellular remotes need to have the same requirements.  In many cases having 2 parallel systems, 1 cellular and 1 public safety is less expensive than having 1 DAS that houses both.  In addition, Public Safety emergency responders like them to be separate because they don’t like having cellular carriers mess with a DAS system that houses public safety and potentially will be turned off or on if the carriers are having trouble with the system.

 Where does Day Wireless fit into the integrator space when it comes to cellular DAS?

In the past we’ve shied away from fully engineered DAS solutions because of the massive amount of carrier coordination and the approval process with the carriers.  But now we can really provide all of the solutions – non-engineered, lightly engineered, fully engineered DAS, and small cell.

We have good relationships with the carriers and understand how to work with them.  We really feel comfortable selling these systems… we’ve done a lot in each niche and we’ve completed a lot of systems.  So there’s nothing we really can’t handle at Day when it comes to cellular DAS.

How to spot contenders vs pretenders when it comes to DAS Integrators?

I recently had a discussion with Jim Muzynoski, who manages our DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) business sales team. The following series of posts are excerpts of our conversation. The conversation revolves around the requirement for Emergency Responder Radio Coverage in buildings (International Fire Code ICC Section 510) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 72).  DAS systems along with signal boosters are used to provide first responder/public safety radio coverage in buildings and other structures.

Part 3 of 3

What do you look for in a DAS integrator to show that they are a contender?

The first thing is certifications with the manufacturers. Are they certified installers of Commscope, or Solid, or TE or Corning, or any of the manufacturers that we represent? If you have certified technicians and engineering staff for these manufacturers it shows that you are a legitimate integrator. Do you actually have a design team that can design these systems? In many cases there are companies out there that are just guessing where to put the indoor antennas. They might be able to get away with it on a couple of projects but in the long run, those systems are not going to work and be balanced, optimized systems.

Along with the design team, do they have the design software? The industry standard is IBWave. If you have an integrator that has IBWave, they are a legitimate company. Having general radio license GROL, a lot of the guys out there are not radio technicians and were dealing with public safety radio enhancement systems. So you want an integrator that actually knows radio frequencies and public safety radio frequencies and not just the carriers.

We carry spectrum analyzers, we carry Anritsu’s which analyze frequencies and strength of signal of these signals from VHF to 2700 mhz so we can handle all spectrum. We also have PIM testers as well, it shows what interference you may potentially run into based on the different frequency bands you are amplifying. PIM testers are usually used in cellular deployments. That gear is expensive gear and it’s definitely a differentiator between legitimate companies and ones that might fly by night.

Day Wireless is public safety radio focused. We have relationships with all of these public safety radio agencies. Because of that if we were to turn up a system and the system were to have a negative effect on the overall wide area network, the customer would actually end up calling Day Wireless to fix the wide area network. So we actually have a vested interest in making these systems work because we would be the ones fixing it locally at the amp, but also at the wide area network level as well. Because of that, we are different than most of our competition.

What happens when you cause interference on a public safety radio system?

If there is significant interference, the public safety radio system on the wide area network will actually not work. Police and Fire will actually try to key up their radios and they won’t be able to talk to dispatch or each other. If there is an emergency situation, they would have no way to communicate. And those types of situations we want to avoid at all costs. For companies that don’t know what it’s like for those guys and don’t live in that world everyday they are not necessarily concerned with that. Whereas that’s all we’re concerned about. We want to make sure there is none of that at any time. And the fines for that type of things can be pretty extensive as well. The FCC can charge you thousands of dollars per day. So there’s definitely reports of issues and if you don’t immediately fix them the FCC will drop the hammer.

Want to learn more about DAS? Check out the rest of our interview with  Jim Muzynoski, manager of our DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) business sales team. 

Part 1: How Much Does a DAS Cost?

Part 2: What is the Biggest Mistake Customers Make When Buying or Installing a DAS Solution?

What is the biggest mistake that customers make when buying/putting in a DAS?

I recently had a discussion with Jim Muzynoski, who manages our DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) business sales team. The following series of posts are excerpts of our conversation. The conversation revolves around the requirement for Emergency Responder Radio Coverage in buildings (International Fire Code ICC Section 510) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 72).  DAS systems along with signal boosters are used to provide first responder/public safety radio coverage in buildings and other structures.

Part 2 of 3

When a customer is building a new building, they put out a bid to a bunch of electrical contractors and the public safety DAS is in the scope and integrators end up bidding on the DAS portion. Often times, the DAS is viewed as something that might not be a mandatory item in the project. So it ends up being taken out of the scope and they’ll say they’ll do a change order if we need to later. Then they don’t plan for it, and forget about it as construction goes along and then at the last minute the fire marshal will come in and say they need a DAS. What that does is it drastically raises the cost because electricals need to run the cable, it’s very difficult to run cable on an already built building. Lead times are long on this equipment. It costs the contractors a lot of money because they can’t close out the project. And it causes a lot of stress on the deal because you’re rushing through this project when you’ve had years to work on it. So the most important thing is when it is in the scope, keep it in the scope. Plan for those costs because they are necessary. The fire marshal will demand that it goes in. Even if they are not mentioning it now doesn’t mean they won’t remember it at the last minute because it is a hot button issue.

One example, we just had a project in LA where the customer started the project in 2012. He hadn’t thought about the DAS since even though it was in the scope in the beginning. They took it out of the scope and didn’t think about it, three years later literally the day before occupancy the fire marshal comes in and says you need a DAS system. The owner ended up having to pay extravagant fees because they could not occupy the building until the DAS system was put up and it took about 6 weeks to get the system in because it takes a long time to get specific amplifiers in low frequency bands such as VHF and UHF. In that case it probably cost the guy a couple extra hundred thousand dollars just because he waited when he could have planned up front. We run into this sort of situation, it seems like almost every day.

Want to learn more about DAS? Check out the rest of our interview with  Jim Muzynoski, manager of our DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) business sales team. 

Part 1: How Much Does a DAS System Cost?

Part 3: How to Spot Contenders vs Pretenders When It Comes To DAS Integrators? 

How much does a DAS system cost?

I recently had a discussion with Jim Muzynoski, who manages our DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) business sales team. The following series of posts are excerpts of our conversation. Our conversation revolves around the requirement for Emergency Responder Radio Coverage in buildings (International Fire Code ICC Section 510) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 72).  DAS systems along with signal boosters are used to provide first responder/public safety radio coverage in buildings and other structures.

Part 1 of 3

How much does a DAS cost? What are the things to consider when pricing out a DAS system?

DAS (Distributed Antenna System) costs depend on a few different things. The first thing is the frequency range whether it is VHF, UHF, or 700-800 MHz public safety. Cost is going to vary based on the frequency; if it is all of the above it is going to be much more expensive than just one of those frequency bands. 700-800 frequencies are usually the easiest to do therefore it is usually the least expensive. VHF/UHF is more complex and it’s going to raise the cost. And if you need cellular frequencies obviously that’s also going to raise the cost. It’ll rise significantly if you need to get the 4 carriers involved.

How would I know what frequencies I need to amplify when it comes to Emergency Radio Coverage?

That’ll be based on each city or AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). If you are in the City of Portland they have a radio system and would have certain guidelines and frequencies. If you go out to the Beaverton or Hillsboro (Oregon) area it is going to be a completely different radio system. Completely different frequencies. As a DAS integrator what we do is know the frequencies and fire code for the different cities and jurisdictions.

What about the building type? Do you see different complexities in say, condos vs a hospital?

There are a lot of variances with buildings. That’s definitely another factor that determines price. If you are dealing with a wood structure with regular windows (non-low-E) you might not need a DAS because the radio signal can penetrate very easily. But if you have concrete or steel or brick along with low-e windows it’s basically shielding the inside from the building from ever receiving radio signal. So you are definitely going to need a system for that. If you have underground parking in a structure you are definitely going to need a system.

You brought up something interesting in that you may not need a DAS system. So what would the process be like under this scenario… I’m breaking ground on a building and emergency radio coverage is in the fire code, but I don’t know if I’ll need a DAS or not. What is the process like in order to test if a DAS is needed?

Basically it’s almost impossible to test on greenfield new construction. Because most fire code says new construction 50,000sf or more needs a system if coverage isn’t already there, that’s what’s driving the test. As the building is being built, once the walls are in, the windows and ceilings, we’ll do a preliminary test to see what the coverage is in the building. And they have to meet certain radio signal standards. Which is -95 db for 90% of the building. 99% of all stairwells and elevators, critical areas. We’ll go in and do a 20 or 40 grid test, breaking each floor into even squares and test signal strength in those squares and we’ll see if it meets the criteria for fire code or not. If it doesn’t then it will need a system. If it does then you are good to go. We can provide you a certification to give to the fire marshal.

What would be the first step for someone interested in learning more about DAS?

If you don’t know what you need the first part of it is calling an integrator and seeing whether you need a system or not. That test is going to decide everything. A lot of times we’ll be able to tell you right upfront if there’s underground parking, there’s not going to be any coverage down there. That’s a guaranteed system that is needed. Or we would come out and do some testing to see exactly where you would need a system and we would design accordingly. So the first thing would be to contact an integrator and figure out what to look for and we can basically do a design and put you in a spot where you are not worrying about putting a system in at the last moment because that will raises cost as well.

A big thing we run into often with construction companies is that they’ll wait until the last minute to do a DAS system because they think they won’t need it, or it won’t be enforced by the AHJ. And then it’ll be the day before occupancy and the fire marshal will say “Where’s your DAS?” and then you’ll be in trouble. If you end up doing that and running that risk, that’s a costly risk because in most cases you’ll need cat & cable pathways and a lot of times you have hard lid ceiling it’s not an easy thing to do once the ceilings are up. It’s better to put these systems in while planning for them up front than to ignore it and hope it goes away, and then pay for it in the end because the install costs are dramatically more if you have to cut through hard lid ceiling as opposed to putting it in before the ceilings go up.

Typically if you are looking at DAS systems can you comfortably throw out a price per square foot based on different categories?

It really does wildly depend. If you gave me a specific jurisdiction where I knew the frequencies and I know the building type I could tell you.

For instance in Portland, OR a low-e glass, steel structure, 100,000 sf I would probably budget about a buck a square foot for public safety.

That same 100,000 sf building in San Jose might be $200,000 for that same building. If you add cellular it could be $400,000. So it can really go from 50¢ per square foot up to $5.00 per square foot depending on all these different factors.

Want to learn more about DAS? Check out the rest of our interview with  Jim Muzynoski, manager of our DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) business sales team. 

Part 2: What is the Biggest Mistake Customers Make When Buying or Installing a DAS System?

Part 3: How to Spot Contenders vs Pretenders When It Comes To DAS Integrators?