Cisco Systems Inc. and MobileAccess Inc. today announced a system designed to improve in-building cellular signals that uses copper cable integrated into corporate LANs and works alongside Cisco Wi-Fi networks.
The MobileAccess VE system enables users to make voice and data calls from dual-mode smartphones or handsets via Wi-Fi or cellular connections, and it costs about half the price of equipping a building with coaxial or fiber-optic cables, Cisco and MobileAccess officials said.
MIT is using the technology to improve cellular signals inside two of its buildings. And MobileAccess VE systems are also being used in a New York City hotel, an office center in San Antonio and a hospital system in Florida -- although details of those three installations were not released.
MIT had deployed 802.11n Wi-Fi throughout its Cambridge, Mass., campus, but it was finding that cellular coverage was still inadequate in some areas, according to Chris Kozup, Cisco's senior manager of mobility. "They are leveraging existing infrastructure with the same Ethernet links they've used," said Kozup.
The overall cost of MIT's MobileAccess VE deployment was not revealed, but it was estimated to be $100,000 less than the cost of installing new cable connected to traditional distributed antenna systems (DAS), Kozup said. MIT officials could not be reached for comment.
The MobileAccessVE system is composed of a cellular controller that's installed inside a switching closet found in distributed locations, usually on every floor of a building, as well as access pods located on the ceiling of an area being served, said Leila Nouri, director of product marketing at Vienna, Va.-based MobileAccess. One controller feeds up to 12 pods, and a single pod can cover about 9,000 square feet, roughly double the amount of a typical Wi-Fi access point, she said.
Each controller is connected to a cellular signal source box installed in a building by a wireless carrier. The controller is also connected to the Cisco switching network and out to various access pods and Wi-Fi access points. The cellular traffic from each pod travels over a separate frequency from the wireless LAN radio traffic, and both are over the Ethernet LAN cabling.
Nouri said a MobileAccessVE installation can cost from 14 cents to 30 cents per square foot of coverage area, compared with 53 cents to $1.20 per square foot for a distributed antenna system with cable.
Mobile Access had sold its VE system since October under the Encover VE name, but it changed the name when it joined with Cisco to market the product more widely, Nouri said. Cisco has the largest installed base of Wi-Fi customers, she said.
Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, said that to his knowledge, no other company is providing technology like MobileAccessVE to carry a radio frequency signal over Category 5 or Category 6 copper cable. However, "DAS will still be desirable in many venues" where connectivity between buildings is needed, he said. Communication services vendor ADC Telecommunications Inc. and other companies make the more expensive DAS systems, which are typically used for larger corporate campus settings.
Mathias acknowledged that the kind of cost savings that MobileAccess described might be accurate but, he added, "actual costs are highly dependent on local labor costs for installing cabling."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.