AT&T to Expand Cellular Service in Commercial Buildings


Wireless service continues to expand.

All four major carriers have signed deals with Transit Wireless to provide subway service, and AT&T is aggressively working to expand cellular service in commercial buildings, as well.

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ATT-sfSpan“I’d say between 2010 and 2012 we invested $3.3 billion to ensure customers have a fast and reliable experience,” Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T for New York State, said.  “We have been aggressive in our approach to ensure that there is full coverage throughout [commercial] buildings.”

AT&T has created Antenna Solutions Group to focus on areas with poor service due to high density levels: airports, stadiums and, of course, commercial buildings.

“This is a big focus for us at AT&T—to support the wired building solutions. We’ve created a dedicated organization within AT&T—the Antenna Solutions Group—and, specifically, our charter is to go tackle the part of the network that we have coverage problems due to dense crowds or due to the specific nature of the buildings,” Chad Townes, vice president of Antenna Solutions for AT&T, said.

As it pertains to New York City, AT&T is now tackling the commercial real estate space. It has begun to wire 30 buildings in the downtown area and has “many, many more in negotiations,” Mr. Townes said.

After first getting permission from landlords, which can be a time-consuming and cumbersome process, AT&T then builds a distributed antenna system (DAS), which helps boost mobile broadband and Wi-Fi coverage.

While DAS is more expensive than other solutions, its big advantage is that it is a neutral host. AT&T covers the initial expenses, and, if other carriers decide to join, they can as long as they are willing to share the cost of the initial investment and to cover a portion of the maintenance expenses.

AT&T anticipates that owners will appreciate this upgrade to their buildings and not transfer the costs they incur to carriers for the use of their equipment.

Upgrading cellular service will improve tenant productivity and possibly raise building values. However, the equipment requires roughly 350 to 700 square feet of space. As each additional carrier adds its equipment, approximately 100 to 150 square feet is needed for additional radios.

“We want owners and managers to think about this as a partnership. Their space becomes more leasable with good-quality wireless service in it. They shouldn’t be looking at it as a revenue opportunity.” Mr. Townes said.

One challenge has been execution. Property managers have been hesitant to open their doors. Many, understandably, get distracted with the day-to-day challenges a building provides. This is a new program, one that property managers have not had to deal with in the past. However, AT&T anticipates that familiarity with the program will, in time, cure this problem.

If you feel that service in your building is especially poor, service may be coming soon.

“Our focus is where we have the most customers that have a problem,” Mr. Townes said. “We want to make sure that we fill in the gaps wherever our customers don’t have a great experience. We want customers to know that their phone works exactly the same whether they are on a street corner, office or home.”

AT&T is succeeding. In a conversation with Kyle Wang, of Vibrant Media, a firm that facilitates advertising within articles by embedding specific words with connections to sites that sell the described items, Mr. Wang explained that poor connectivity was stalling company growth and internal operations.

“We had coverage issues in our office space,” Mr. Wang said. “We reached out to AT&T, and they responded. … Our service has increased dramatically. This has cleared a barrier and allowed us to get back to business.”