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RF Connect Deepens Involvement in CBRS

By J. Sharpe Smith, Senior Editor, AGL Media Group

RF Connect’s strategy of expanding its portfolio to include CBRS-enabled Private LTE offerings was highlighted this month when the company joined the CBRS Alliance.

“Given RF Connect’s market outlook, joining the Alliance and expanding the portfolio works well for those sweet spots in the industrial and enterprise sectors, both of which where we have strong relationships,” Jeff Hipchen, executive vice president at RF Connect, told AGL eDigest. “This is an opportunity to join a group of recognized innovators, disruptors and forward-thinking companies in the CBRS marketplace to advance widescale adoption.”

Involvement with the Alliance has led to opportunities for RF Connect to partner with the likes of Ruckus Networks (now part of CommScope), Geoverse, Cradlepoint and other ecosystem participants, and to promote the new service.

“The Alliance has helped tighten up some relationships that we had through attending some of their membership meetings,” Hipchen said. “As an ecosystem, we are all collectively out there in the market promoting CBRS. As with any new solution, there is a lot of market education involved. Many of our customer discussions center around how CBRS solutions make their lives better. It is an exciting time to be one of the proponents of CBRS.”

CBRS provides many of the advantages of 5G, if not more, including tremendous bandwidth and low latency, according to Hipchen.

“If you design an in-building system for private use, in theory, you could use the whole band of frequencies, because you are not at risk of interfering with anyone. That is what makes the CBRS opportunity so compelling,” he said.

Like other Alliance members, RF Connect is involved in CBRS deployment trials. So far, its trials include a school, gaming casino and an office building.

“Most people are looking at CBRS for mobility applications, but there are also compelling fixed wireless use cases, such as campuses where it is not cost-appropriate to run fiber, and for surveillance or building access. This is an application where there is keen interest,” Hipchen said.

RF Connect is in the proof of concept stage working with a school district in Florida that wants to provide broadband service to underprivilege students in their district.

“The school district received a grant to give the students access to laptops and a wireless broadband signal so they can do their homework,” Hipchen said. “Wi-Fi was not cost-effective for them, and the signal-to-noise ratio caused coverage issues. So we are designing, deploying and managing a fixed CBRS point-to-point hook up to a tower, where a point-to-multipoint signal is sent out.”

Additionally, as the FCC sets the CBRS standards and the government spectrum auctions move forward, the Alliance is providing companies such as RF Connect a voice in influencing what the final radio service will look like.

“The CBRS Alliance has been very active in helping the FCC develop the 3.5 GHz spectrum auctions,” Hipchen added. “Some of the lobbying by the CBRS Alliance has led the FCC to limit licenses to a countywide area, as opposed to a nationwide license. That makes it less likely for monopolization of these frequencies and instead possible for more localized ownership of these frequencies.”

CBRS Alliance President Dave Wright will join RF Connect and other subject matter experts to discuss Private LTE and Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications and use cases during a livestream presentation on September 11th at 8:30am ET. Learn more here: https://members.automationalley.com/events/details/tech-takeover-jump-start-your-private-lte-journey-11487.

Enterprises Need a Hand in IBW Deployment — Butchko

Since the birth of the iPhone in 2005 and the resulting wireless data demand, in-building wireless (IBW) systems have gone from curiosity to luxury to amenity and, finally, to utility status. Most recently, IBW communications —DAS, public safety and Wi-Fi — have crossed the chasm from being seen as a technology to being accepted as an intelligent building solution, RF Connect marketing executive Bob Butchko told DAS Bulletin.

“Today, the commercial real estate industry recognizes that having a positive in-building smartphone or tablet experience is critical to tenant acquisition and retention,” Butchko said. “It is commonly accepted that most commercial, residential or office buildings need, or will need, some form of in-building wireless enhancement if only for satisfying government-mandated public safety radio regulations.”

But that success has led to its own challenge: Who is going to pay for this solution?

As DAS moves from amenity to utility, building owners must figure out how to deploy and pay for wireless within their buildings. Carriers, which deploy DAS in hundreds of public venues and for thousands of their major accounts, are not much interested in the 1.2 million or so commercial buildings, most of which are not strategic to their business plans. Tower companies work on the same ethic; if the carriers don’t see a site as strategic, the tower companies won’t build there.

The only option left for most building owners, unless their building has a very high profile, is to purchase and deploy the IBW systems, which sets up a new dynamic. Building owners who are not knowledgeable about DAS are pressed into the position of project managing a wireless deployment, interfacing with carriers, the building tenants, municipality, general contractors, system integrators, OEM manufacturers, financial/legal experts and consultants. Butchko points out that just negotiating with the carriers is fraught with complications.

“[You need to] go to the carriers and find out if the building is strategic or not. What would they be willing to do? Would they provide a base station? Would they want to put antennas on the roof?” Butchko said. “What are their restrictions? Any DAS plan must be cleared by the carriers.” He recalls a DAS that was built at a hospital, and the carrier came by and told them they couldn’t do it.

To assist building owners in deploying an indoor wireless system, at RealComm IBcon 2013 on June 12, RF Connect launched a new service, known as the RFC Connection, which elevates RF Connect from the status of mere integrator to business partner and consultant for the building owner.

“Instead of skinnying down the bid to beat the competition, we will be trying to put the wireless systems that are really needed in the building for the lowest cost and best results over the long term for the client,” Butchko said.

The RFC Connection offers an end-to-end integrated package of services, where it assesses, designs, implements and provides long-term support for the wireless systems, as well as serving the building owner as a partner and advocate.

“The industry needs a new approach where a third party looks out for the building owners’ interests,” said Butchko. “Effectively, the burden of providing and supporting cellular coverage, Wi-Fi and all in-building wireless capabilities is contractually outsourced to RF Connect. All this adds up to a much better outcome for the owner.”

Healthcare Provider Enhances Patient Care with DAS

July 30–RF Connect has deployed a DAS at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor in Ann Arbor, Mich., expanding the facilities wireless footprint and improving its overall connectivity.

A Corning MobileAccess2000 DAS, a multi-carrier, multi-service indoor wireless platform which supports existing and legacy wireless services, like 2G and 3G, and emerging services, like 4G LTE, was deployed in the 100-year-old, 537-bed community teaching hospital.

“The Corning solution not only allows patients and visitors to easily communicate with family and loved ones outside of the facility, but it also improves access to physicians and staff, improving response time in the event of emergencies and enhancing overall efficiency of our operations,” said Tom Tocco, vice president, support services and capital projects, SJMHS.

The Ann Arbor deployment follows the installation of a DAS by RF Connect at a sister hospital, 443-bed St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Mich., which also comprised Corning MobileAccess equipment.

“The installation of the distributed antenna system has greatly enhanced our physicians’ ability to utilize their wireless devices in the hospital for text and voice communications. This new system eliminates St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital’s need for pagers and reduces the number of devices that a physician needs to carry throughout the day,” said Paula Hartman, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland telecom supervisor.

The MobileAccess2000 did not require major construction, reducing disruptions of the work at the institution. Additionally, the modular equipment eased the process of adding services or carriers. They system will carry electronic medical records and wireless medical telemetry, along with cellular communications.

So far, RF Connect has outfitted three hospitals in the Saint Joseph Mercy Health System (SJMHS), which covers six counties in southeast Michigan, and five in the Trinity Health system. All told, RF Connect has outfitted 50 hospitals with in-building wireless systems, so far, including University of Indiana Clarion, Kettering Soin Medical and the Cleveland Clinic.

“We like the complexity of the venues; they are usually carrier neutral and include public safety,” said Jeff Hipchen, principal, RF Connect. “We providing a solution that benefits hospitals and enables the staff, patients and visitors.”