Monday 31 January 2011

Wireless Friendly Buildings

Long back I wrote about problems with Radiation Proofed homes. Since then the wireless technologies have got more popular and the technologies in infancy have become mainstream.

Last week I heard Professor Richard Langley from Sheffield University speaking on the topic of wireless friendly buildings. The problem now is manifold rather than just keeping the wireless signal in or out.

Think about the WiFi that is installed in nearly every house. The signals from WiFi are best kept indoors to avoid the interference to neighbours. Wifi uses 2.4GHz ISM band. On the other hand we may want the mobile signal to penetrate the house so that we can get good reception. In Europe UMTS is mostly 2.1GHz and LTE may be mostly 2.6GHz. The intention of the building should be to keep the WiFi signal out and the UMTS/LTE signal in.

The problem we have to remember is that with the frequencies going higher, the penetration of signals are becoming a problem. This means that the construction of the buildings should be modified to keep the attenuation to minimum, higher the frequency.

With femtocells most likely to become more popular by the day, you may want to keep these frequencies from going out of the house but allowing them to come in. This presents a big challenge. The intention of the buildings design in the western world is to keep the cold/heat/radiation out. The concept of 'wireless friendly building design' is the least important in the mind of the architects and civil engineers.

The may change over the time due to effort by the organisations like the Wireless Friendly Building Forum (WFBF).

From an article in

At the moment, says Chris Yates, chairman of the Wireless Friendly Building Forum (WFBF), predicting the performance of a building to handle wireless signals is almost impossible. “There is a lot of spurious science around and software that purports to give plots of wireless coverage in a building. It’s utterly naive and doesn’t reflect reality,” he says.

One of the reasons the forum was set up at the end of last year was to co-ordinate research into the area of wireless systems in buildings. As the use of wireless devices increases, more and more issues over performance will arise, explains Yates - and there is nobody taking an interdisciplinary approach on how this performance can be improved.

With wireless looking set to be a mainstay of the way we work in the future, the WFBF ultimately wants to develop a way of defining and assessing its performance in any one building, similar to the way in which BREEAM or LEED rate a building’s environmental performance. “Then a value can be placed on it and developers and end users get interested and it becomes part of their decision-making process,” says Yates.

But until this is achieved, what should designers be doing? Here, we take a look at three wireless applications and the main implications for buildings.

Cellular signals are broadcast by public masts and are actually very difficult to keep out of a building. The main path in is through the glazing, but once inside, things can start to go haywire, with signals reflected or absorbed by the building’s structure.

Columns, lift shafts and risers in particular can create blackspots where reception becomes poor or non-existent. Concrete floors cast on lightweight metal decks will block most signals, as will materials such as lead roofing and the metal foils on the back of some insulation materials.

A common way to deal with this is to boost the signal or re-broadcast it using a repeater. These systems usually use an external antenna to collect the signal, which is transmitted to an amplifier and retransmitted locally. For multistorey buildings, several transmitters might be needed.

Of course, this equipment needs to be accommodated and installed, but when this should be done is a source of some confusion. The current BCO guide to specification does not outline at what stage ICT infrastructure should be installed, but according to Yates some sort of infrastructure provision should be made at the core and shell stage, even if the active equipment isn’t installed.

Signal strength can also be significantly decreased by the use of high-performance glazing and solar shading, which are becoming commonplace with the tightening of Part L of the Building Regulations.

Mitigating action can be taken. Buro Happold’s specialist facade division, for example, is now beginning to consider the effect that facade components have on wireless performance, while also considering trade-offs in acoustic, blast, thermal performance and aesthetics.

According to Yates these trade-offs need careful consideration. Some glass options might give marginally better performance in terms of thermal behaviour, but completely ruin the wireless service, whereas another option might give negligible degradation for a similar price. “

So it is something to think about. It’s no good handing the building over and then telling them there’s no wireless signal,” warns Yates.

The following is an interesting presentation on the related topic:

1 comment:

Pedro Claro said...

Hello Zahid,

WFB's work is great and some of their conclusions definitely provide a solid ground for the future in terms of "wireless-ready" buildings.

There's a lot of work to do in this area, much because, as you mentioned, architects and civil eng. don't care much about RF propagation.

A small step to the long term goal, was to have the material manufacturers (windows, doors, elevators, etc) make some frequency attenuation testing and put the results on their product datasheets/manuals. As in-building wireless designer, that sort of information will be gold.

Pedro Claro