Bill Smith

When is a parking solution not about solving a parking problem? It may surprise you to find out that parking garages can also provide solutions to non-parking challenges facing building owners. 

Cell phone coverage poses unique challenges in urban high rise residential and commercial buildings. It can be difficult to provide consistent service throughout high-rise buildings, particularly in underground parking areas. The deeper the underground parkade—the tougher it is to provide consistent cell service.

And the problem is only getting worse. The latest cellular standard, “5G”, operates at very high frequencies and doesn’t penetrate buildings as easily as previous generations of Cellular did. While 5G may be great if you’re sitting in your car downtown, you may not be so lucky in areas with less direct sightlines. 

Traditionally, developers and building owners have had to install distributed antenna systems ‘DAS’ to provide consistent cell service in their buildings. A distributed antenna system is a network of separated antenna nodes connected to a common source to provide wireless service throughout a structure or geographic area. DAS technology is effective but very expensive—a system can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to install in a single building. And with cellular technology changing so rapidly, there’s no guarantee that these
DAS systems will continue to work with each new generation of cellular technology. That’s a lot of financial risk for a building owner to take on. The challenge is particularly acute in underground parking facilities, where 5G is particularly unreliable.

A Parking Solution

That was the challenge facing Goddard Investment Group in Dallas. Fountain Place, an office building owned by Goddard Investment, was ready for a cell upgrade that would extend reliable cell service into the building’s underground parkade. But the prospect of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on technology that may only work for a short period of time was unappealing.

“We needed a reliable, future-proof, and cost-effective answer,” said Jason Williams, Senior Vice President of Construction and Property Management for Goddard Investment Group. “The people who work in and visit our building are often on their phones as they drive into the parking area, and we need to be able to provide seamless cell service so they can continue doing business as they arrive.”

With the help of his parking technology consultant, Williams found that the perfect solution was already at hand. 

“It was actually our parking technology consultant, Brent Van Loggerenberg of Professional Parking Technologies, who came up with the solution,” said Williams. “He convinced us to change the way we viewed the issue and focus on WiFi rather than cell service.”

Van Loggerenberg proposed extending re-engineered WiFi coverage throughout the underground parkade and areas inside the building that could benefit from stronger cellular coverage. He reasoned that most modern cell phones have WiFi calling capabilities, and that by extending a customized and managed WiFi solution, Goddard Investment could provide phone coverage for the garage and the building for a fraction of the cost of a conventional DAS. And because most of Fountain Place’s tenants already had their own WiFi setups in their offices, it would only be necessary to install WiFi technology in the underground parkade and common areas.

The heart of the system is located in the underground parkade, which was where Van Loggerenberg was presented with the greatest coverage and penetration challenges. A powerful Cisco-based enterprise solution offered high speeds, strong signal, and the ability to re-engineer the solution to specific cellular needs. He also strategically placed almost fifty repeaters throughout the garage to provide the necessary coverage, even for people who are driving. Additional repeaters were placed in the underground common areas of Fountain Place to make sure that there is a strong and consistent signal throughout.

“Now, the minute anyone enters the underground garage, they pick up this specific WiFi signal,” said Williams. 

“It was the perfect solution,” said Van Loggerenberg, managing partner of Professional Parking Technologies. “We created a tailored network of access points in the subgrade lobbies, hallways, and the parking garage. It provided better coverage than they would have gotten with a DAS system, and it was much less expensive.”

Parking Benefits

Of course, a parking solution should also provide parking benefits too. Because newer IP-based PARCS systems rely heavily on connectivity, the WiFi provided by the system can also be used to connect PARCS and other parking technology to cloud-based applications or to communicate with command centers and other remote sites. 

“This solution was designed to provide seamless calling coverage, but it certainly provides parking benefits as well,” said Van Loggerenberg. “Connectivity is the name of the game when it comes to parking technology, and this type of system can easily handle the connectivity requirements of PARCS, Parking Guidance, EV Chargers and other technologies. 

“When parkers use other parking technologies like mobile payment, pre-booking or EV Charging, they need their smart phones to be able to connect to those payment and reservations systems,” added Van Loggerenberg. “This system provides that connection.”

According to Van Loggerenberg, this approach can also help keep tech upgrade costs down. Owners who are looking to upgrade their technology can save a lot of money by avoiding having to replace costly wiring and other infrastructure.

“When I agreed to give this a try, I wasn’t thinking about how it could benefit my parking operations,” said Williams. “I was fortunate to have a partner in this process who fully understood parking facilities and how my existing parking assets could be used to provide WiFi to all my tenants. The fact that this system can save me money down the road when I upgrade my parking technology is a huge added benefit.”

Williams thinks every building or complex owner should consider this approach.

“This really is a great option for any building,” said Williams. “It provided terrific Wi-Fi coverage, which my tenants can use to connect their phones, and it saved me potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. I am very satisfied with this solution and believe we have provided our tenants with an excellent end product.” ν

About the author
Bill Smith is a business writer specializing in the parking industry.

He can be reached at bsmith@smith-phillips.com.

 

 

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