This fall, Cobham Wireless came together with a number of organizations, including local first responders, to provide Evanston Township High School with duel 4G LTE cellular and public safety communications in-building wireless systems, based on the OEM’s Intelligent Digital Distributed Antenna System (idDAS) product.
High schools are probably not the next high growth area for in-building wireless. Nevertheless, Evanston, which is the largest high school under one roof in the United States, gave Cobham the opportunity to do a good deed and show off its chops in solving in-building coverage problems. It also marks the British company’s first deployment of its idDAS in the United States.
“We were trying to find a good way to launch our digital DAS in North America, and the high school had some coverage issues,” Matt Thompson, VP sales Americas at Cobham Wireless. “We took the lead but also worked with other business partners that contributed either equipment or services so we could provide a free system for the school.”
To set the scene, Evanston Township High School, located in a suburb north of Chicago, occupies a building that was built in the mid-1920s. After a number of additions over the years, the structure now covers 1.2 million square feet. The student body has grown to more than 4,000 and the public safety staff now numbers 50.
There is an AT&T tower located at nearby football field, but the core building of the high school is shielded from the signal by the wings. Both public safety and cellular coverage needed to be improved so that the first responders could communicate in the building, and text messages informing people in the building of a lockdown situation could also be delivered to cell phones.
“Problems over the years with in-building radio coverage to support public safety emergency and first responders necessitated the need to investigate ways to increase coverage within the high school,” said Evanston Police Department Communication Coordinator, Perry Polinski.
Cobham Wireless worked with Radvisory 5G, as well as RFS, Galtronics, Graybar, Chicago Communications and Fullerton Engineering, to design and deploy the coverage system. All parties contributed equipment and services, with AT&T donating testing and engineering time and a five-year maintenance contract. In the end, the system was fully financed at no cost to the school.
“Improving cellular and public safety coverage in the ETHS building ensures that staff and students are able to communicate rapidly and reliably with Evanston’s police and fire departments in emergency situations, as well as providing a high quality of service to AT&T subscribers,” Thompson said.
Cobham deployed a digital DAS fiber/coax hybrid system, which takes the signal off the air, digitizes it and sends it to a CPRI router. The signal is then distributed to antennas located in the building.
“It is all about flexibility. Digital technology allows the sectors of the DAS to be increased without rewiring, Thompson said. “It can all be done through software with a click of the mouse. Operators also like digital DAS because of the ease of commissioning. It is all automatic, which means less labor during the deployment stage.”
The Public safety DAS and cellular DAS were kept separate to keep the costs down. The planning for each was done simultaneously and the labor was shared, which also kept costs down.
“People tend to build out these systems in a piecemeal fashion,” Thompson said. “But you really need to look at it all at the same time. You will save money, since the majority of your cost is the labor.”
Many public buildings – courthouses, city halls, State offices, capitol buildings — have the same coverage problems as ETHS. They are old brick and marble structures with byzantine hallways surrounded by added wings. And the safety of the public that visit these buildings is no less vital than young adults that attend the high school. It is this market, Thompson believes, that is ripe for a surge in DAS deployments.