In-building wireless solutions The Complete Guide

Has there been any device that seamlessly converges major technologies better than the cell phone?

Our daily dependence on mobile devices has become a part of our modern essentials like water, gas and electricity. It's our internet, email, personal computing, camera, video recorder, social media, TV, movie, music, maps, calendar, book reader, podcast, gaming, apps, and of course, our talk & text.

This "fourth utility" marks a new generation the way radio, cars, and refrigeration changed mankind's destiny. But as with any emerging shift, there are always some speedbumps.

Why Do You Need an IBW Solution?

Poor cellular reception affects everyone. With the growing demand for faster speeds and more IoT (Internet of Things) devices, having quality cellular service at all times is an absolute requirement for work efficiency and satisfaction.

Are people complaining about poor cellular coverage indoors?

Does it hamper workflow & productivity?

Are people getting near a window or going outside to make a call?

Are these liability issues (such as no signal in an elevator or stairwell)?

Cell phone & other cellular device used indoors.
People experience poor service, dropped calls and slow internet.1
Of commercial buildings have an In-Building Wireless systen.2
Request Free Consultation.
Talk to one of our RF Experts: 1-800-470-6777 (Mo-Fri 8AM-6PM CST)

Improving Cellular Reception with In-Building Wireless Solution


Stronger signals lead to better service, reliable connections, faster data, and always-on dependability. The need for seamless and robust wireless coverage is critical for workers to be efficient and visitors to be satisfied.

An in-building wireless (IBW) system is a growing solution for many businesses to improve their wireless communication infrastructure.

It provides augmented & ubiquitous network coverage for all mobile devices. It remedies the causes & problems of poor in-building cellular service. Whether in an urban or rural area, getting poor signal because of cell tower distance or building material, IBW systems provide constant, reliable network coverage with no interruption to work, entertainment, and/or emergencies.

IBW systems are scalable, able to serve small commercial buildings & SMBs (small medium businesses) to large venues such as stadiums, airports, and convention centers.

Various Benefits in Owning an IBW System:

Benefit - Costs Strong indoor cellular service increases property value by 28%
Benefit - Public Safety More federal & local requirements aim to improve public safety communication.
Benefit - Signal Customers, visitors, and tenants expect good 3G & 4G indoors, especially in retail environments or any place of entertainment.
Benefit - Green Changes in building construction standards include more green technology which disrupts or reflects incoming cellular signals.
Benefit - Increased Adoption Increased adoption of smartphone, tablets, and other IoT devices = a higher rate of BYOD (bring your own device) in enterprise environment.3

3 Major Parts of In-Building Wireless Systems

Major Part - Signal Source
Signal source
A signal source is needed to generate a signal inside. They can come directly from the provider's core network, a third-party gateway, or off-air signal from the donor site such as a cell tower.
Major Part - Central Processing Point
Central processing point
The central processing point regulates the signal to the areas in need of better coverage. Depending on the type of IBW, some network equipment relays signal while others amplify the signal.
Major Part - Distribution Units
Distribution unit
The distribution unit is generally a set of indoor antennas that broadcast the signal inside.

There's an IBW System Unique to Every Situation.

Complementary IBW Systems: WiFi & Cellular

Wired (Ethernet/WiFi)
Wireless (Cellular)
Wireless (Satellite)
Public Safety

Wired (Ethernet/WiFi)

The most ubiquitous solution for IBW coverage, WiFi is the front-runner for providing wireless connectivity for enterprises.

Service is provided by an ISP (internet service provider) such as Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T's Uverse.

Signal source for WiFi is introduced by a fiber optic or copper wire, then distributed by a wireless router. Typical speeds range from 50 Mbps to 1Gbps depending on the provider's plans.

Wireless (Cellular)

The fastest growing IBW solution especially with the cellular industry. With proposed 5G speeds able to match and exceed landline broadband internet, many industry analysis predict a new world of connected devices such as autonomous cars and smart buildings.

Service is provided by network carrier such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

Signal source for cellular IBW is provided by the carrier network through macro sites (cell towers & antennas) or directly to the core network by a base station. It's then processed by the network equipment such as a BDA (bi-directional amplifier) or head-end unit and distributed by indoor antennas.

Typical speeds range up to 50 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads for LTE depending on carrier plans.

Wireless (Satellite)

Satellite ISPs are provided by HughesNet and Exede with download speeds up to 25 Mbps and data caps ranging from 10 to 50 GB. While mostly for consumer services, companies such as Google, Facebook, SpaceX, and OneWeb have invested in various trials.

While still in the early stages of their pilot programs, there is hope that industrial satellite internet will be able to match terrestrial-based broadband.

Public Safety

As with mandatory plumbing, fire sprinkler alarm systems, and accessibility, reliable cellular coverage for first responders is an absolute necessity in times of emergencies.

Newly established guidelines by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and FirstNet require 95 to 99% in-building coverage for first responders when in search & rescue missions during natural or man-made disasters.

Public Safety IBW is still in the early stages but will continually grow aggressively as FirstNet regulations are adopted by States.

Wifi & Cellular IBW Systems: Benefits & Limitations

Benefits Limitations
Wired (Ethernet/WiFi)
  • Available in most major areas especially urban.
  • Best speeds.
  • 99.9% reliability.
  • About 10% of US population has absolutely no access to broadband internet which equates to 34 million Americans with 39% of rural areas with no coverage.4
  • Limited wireless range, so large amount of drop-offs when moving.
Wireless (Cellular)
  • Highest level of availability with up to 97% nationwide in USA.
  • Higher wireless range & handoffs when moving.
  • 99.999% reliability: 5 minutes of downtime a year compared to 9 hours of downtime annually for WiFi.5
  • Slower speeds when compared to WiFi although that might change with 5G which aims to achieve 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps
  • Difficulty with in-building penetration.
Wireless (Satellite)
  • Possibility of 100% worldwide coverage.
  • Much slower speeds.
  • Expensive.
  • Not much commercial support.
Public Safety
  • Provides critical communications for police, firefighters, EMS, and other first responders in times of crisis.
  • Still in the early stages of adoption.
  • Building owners are 100% accountable for cost.

IBW Systems for Enterprise: DAS Solutions

A distributed antenna system (DAS) is the most common type of IBW system for improved coverage and capacity. Designed by networking a series of indoor antennas, it provides the strength of outdoor macro networks but deployed indoors for users.

This leads to the highest quality of in-building coverage and service. The unique value in DAS is its scalability and versatility. DAS solutions are able to expand to accommodate future building expansions and options, therefore, keeping costs low should an upgrade be needed.

Active DAS
Passive DAS
Small Cells

Active DAS

Active DAS provides boosted 3G & 4G LTE cellular coverage for buildings over 500K sq. ft.

Active DAS works by directly connecting to carrier networks. Signal is converted from analog to digital and carried through fiber optic to maintain signal integrity regardless of cable run and coverage area.

Active DAS is best-in-class in terms of signal boosting and coverage range. However, permission to connect to the carrier network is often a long bureaucratic process. This may extend deployment time from conception to completion with a range of several months up to 2 years.

Passive DAS

Provides boosted 3G & 4G LTE cellular coverage up to 100,000 sq. ft., although with multiple units, it's able to cover up to 500,000 sq.ft.

Passive DAS is a cost-efficient solution with under $1 per sq. ft. compared to the $5-10 of active DAS. It also has a much quicker deployment time from days to several weeks, since most passive DAS systems are multi-carrier and already pre-approved by all cariiers.

Because of the relative affordability and coverage limits, passive DAS solution for best for small to medium businesses.

Small Cells

Small cells provide boosted 3G and/or 4G LTE cellular coverage for small and medium businesses.

It is newer technology that potentially can change IBW solutions. Whereas DAS has one central processing point (or base station) connected to many indoor antennas, for small cells, both the base station and indoor antenna are integrated. In essence, each small cell is a mini cell tower.

In-building small cells are still relatively early and have not reached widespread acceptance yet. However, if carriers can agree on sharing a common base station and/or neutral spectrum, there's potential for massive growth.

So Which IBW System is Right For You?

No building is ever the same, so no IBW solution is also the same.

Active DAS

Best for environments over 500K sq. ft. needing wall-to-wall coverage. Carriers will assist in the operating costs of the equipment only if the amount of subscribers onsite justify the investment.

Deployment time is long from several months to 2 years, because of the bureaucratic process of getting carrier permission to connect to their networks. When not assisted by a carrier, expenses are very high for the building owner & operator.

Passive DAS

Best for environments under 100K sq. ft. needing spot coverage for priority areas. However, multiple units can be used to increase coverage up to 500K sq. ft.

Deployment time is fast from several days to weeks. It is cost-effective with under $1 per sq. ft. compared to the $5-10 per sq. ft. of active DAS. However, because it is dependent on off-air donor sites like cell towers, coverage quality isn't as robust as active DAS.

Small Cell

An emerging solution for small and medium-sized buildings.

Until multi-carrier small cells are accepted by carriers, it's best to wait or look into the other DAS solutions.

Deployment Process of In-Building Wireless Cellular Systems

1. Assessment
  • Pre-survey
  • Site survey
2. System Design
  • Data analysis
  • Floor plans
  • Equipment & Pricing
3. Installation
  • Installing equipment & antennas
  • Optimization
4. Support
  • Documentation
  • Monitoring & support

Conclusion: It's Not Rocket Science, But It Sure Is Close

There is no "one-size-fits-all" IBW system.

A full deployment from consultation, measurement, recommendation, installation, and post-support is a complicated process. RF signals are much like the wind and waves. Shaping such irregular signals is as much as a craft as it is technical.

Request Free Consultation.
Talk to one of our RF Experts: 1-800-470-6777 (Mo-Fri 8AM-6PM CST)
IBW References

At Signal Boosters, our team consists of industry telecom veterans who have formerly worked at AT&T and Sprint as well as some of the most skilled system integration teams across America.

Our motto: Provide solutions, not boxes.

This means we keep our service brand-agnostic with no upsells and sales jargon. We serve our clients 110% of the time, period.

If you have any questions or comments about improving your wireless in-building signal, we'll be honored to help, and share our insights to enhance your experience.