National Instruments overcomes geography with in-building wireless solution

Like many organizations today, National Instruments was experiencing inadequate cellular coverage due to poor geography and weak signals from external cellular towers. This case study explores the in-building wireless solution that provides National Instruments with pervasive coverage and high performance.

For the past 30 years, National Instruments (NI) has been a technology pioneer and leader in virtual instrumentation for test, measurement, and design applications. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, the company has more than 4,000 employees with direct operations in nearly 40 countries.

The NI corporate campus includes three buildings: an eight-story building that houses executive offices, conference rooms, and a training center; a five-story office building; and a two-story manufacturing facility. In all, over 2,000 employees work at the campus. Most of these employees have cellular phones, and the eight-story building's conference and training centers often host customers and salespeople from NI worldwide offices.

"We have a lot of people who come to our campus for our training classes and sales conferences," said Kris Curtis, telecommunications specialist for National Instruments. "Cell phones are mostly a convenience for our employees who work here, but our executives and visitors need consistent wireless services for their cell phones and smartphones."

The problem is geography. The campus is located in a small valley, and the all-glass buildings have energy-conserving film on their windows. While the two-story manufacturing plant receives adequate coverage, signals from nearby external cell towers cannot penetrate the interiors of the eight- and five-story buildings, which are at lower elevations. "Even standing outside the two larger buildings, the signal is about half strength, and once you walk into the building, you're pretty much cut off," said Curtis.

Investigating solutions
In devising a solution, NI staff knew that they would need to provide multi-vendor coverage inside the NI buildings. Curtis conducted extensive research on the range of available in-building coverage options, and asked three vendors to bid, including Mobile Access and LGC Wireless.

"There are several solutions out there, but many of them seemed like low-end products," said Curtis. "Some wouldn't scale up to give us the coverage we needed throughout the building, some didn't have monitoring or other features we wanted, and some would have been difficult to install." Ultimately, Curtis chose the InterReach Fusion SingleStar system from LGC Wireless because it offered a unique combination of overall system simplicity (with one set of electronics supporting all carrier frequencies), uniformly high signal strength at each remote antenna, end-to-end monitoring (with Web-based access), and a low-cost, non-disruptive installation.

The Fusion SingleStar system includes a hub connected to the carriers' network (repeater or base station) at one end and to as many as eight remote antennae (or RAUs), which are placed throughout the building to distribute the wireless signals. One Fusion SingleStar hub can support 800/900MHz and 1,900 PCS carrier frequencies, covering the range of signals used by major cellular carriers within the U.S.

Fast, painless deployment
For the first phase of the deployment, Curtis targeted the eight-story, 325,000 square-foot building. The deployment included three Fusion SingleStar hubs located in a fifth-floor equipment room, 24 RAUs (three per 45,000 square-foot floor), and rooftop antennae that pulled in signals from nearby cellular towers operated by Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon. Thanks to Fusion SingleStar's use of standard CATV cabling to link its hubs with distributed antennas (or RAUs), a local networking cabling contractor was able to handle the installation.

"Our cabling contractor did everything except turn up the power and fine-tune the system," said Curtis. "Once everything was installed, LGC staff came out with the carriers, and they provisioned the system. It was a pretty simple installation – there were no disruptions."

As with other LGC Wireless deployments, the one at NI has worked flawlessly from day one. "Everybody is very, very pleased that they have great cell signals everywhere in the building," said Curtis. Now, employees and visitors can maintain contact with their wireless voice and data services at all times.

Next steps
T-Mobile will be the next carrier to deliver coverage through the NI in-building system. Unlike the other three major carriers, T-Mobile will be installing a micro base station instead of a rooftop antenna. The base station will be linked to T-Mobile's network via a terrestrial T1 line. Having a local base station will give T-Mobile the ability to closely monitor traffic and manage its service over the network, and it eliminates the possibility that high traffic from the NI campus will draw too much capacity from the nearby external cell tower.

Curtis is already investigating an expansion of the deployment to the NI campus' five-story office building. When this occurs, LGC Wireless will install a new Fusion LS Main Hub in the eight-story building and tie that into two Fusion Expansion hubs supporting 16 RAUs in the smaller building using fiber between the buildings. This deployment will allow both buildings to be fed by the existing radio input sources (rooftop antennae and T-Mobile's base station) already provided by the carriers.

In the meantime, employees and visitors in the largest building at the NI corporate campus in Austin can now stay connected via their cellular phones, PDAs, and smart phones; while employees in the five-story office building have a solution on the horizon.

Challenges

  • 2,000 employees in two multi-story buildings using four different wireless carriers for cellular service.
  • Frequent visitors and employees from remote offices using 325,000-square-foot main building for training and sales meetings.
  • Inadequate cellular coverage due to poor geography and weak signals from external cellular towers.

Solution

  • LGC Fusion SingleStar system in main building enables pervasive coverage with high performance everywhere.
  • System supports all wireless carriers.
  • Easy, cost-effective expansion to additional five-story building.

Source: LGC Wireless

This was first published in January 2007
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