No, it’s not the bat signal. It’s something better: a cell amplification receiver.
To explain why that’s so important, let’s start with a problem you may have experienced if you live on campus: poor cell reception.
You’ve reported it, we’ve tested it and we can confirm that several areas in the residence halls historically have gotten spotty — or, in the worst cases, no — cell service.
The first floor of Dujarie is one example. The Pavilions provided the most severe case, with a number of areas registering zero coverage.
Why? Two main reasons: distance and obstruction.
First, let’s talk about distance. The quality of cell service on campus depends on which carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) you have, the technology they’re using and — most importantly — where their cell towers are located.
Carriers aren’t eager to disclose exact locations of their towers, but from what’s available via crowdsourcing and our own investigations, we know there aren’t any towers super close to campus. For perspective, think northeast of St. Edward’s on the opposite side of I-35 or southeast of the university on the other side of South First.
That’s a long way for a signal to travel. And when that signal reaches campus, it runs into the second issue: obstruction.
This is a college campus, so there’s a naturally high density of buildings. And because of the university’s commitment to sustainability, there’s an increasingly high density of “green” buildings. LEED-certified buildings like JBWS are designed to keep their interiors cool in the summer and warm in the winter without using a lot of energy.
But the materials used to block the elements also block cell service, as wavelengths hit the energy-efficient windows and bounce right off.
We can’t move cell towers. And we’re certainly not going to make our buildings any less green. So what can we do to improve cell service on campus? If you look to the rooftops, you’ll see what we’re already doing.
This summer, we installed receivers on two of the Pavilions roofs. Cell signals come in through these receivers and are then fed through wiring to the “brain box” inside of the building. That “brain box” does the work of amplifying the signal and then sends it via cabling to transmitters stationed in the hallways.
Your cellphone then picks up the signal from those transmitters. Bingo, you have service.
Cell signal comes in through a rooftop receiver (left) and is fed to the "brain box" (middle), which amplifies the signal and sends it to transmitters located in hallway ceilings (right).
Since installing this cell amplification system in the Pavilions, our Digital Infrastructure team has tested signal strength repeatedly. Previously, in the worst spots, calls would drop completely. Now, we see three bars of signal strength. In other, less severe areas, we’ve gotten a full five bars.
Bonus: This solution is carrier-agnostic. No matter which company provides your cell plan, you’ll notice these results.
Over the summer, we installed these systems to address problems in the Pavilions. (We’ve also installed one in the Operations Building as a test run.) Now, we’re focusing on other trouble spots on campus.
Additionally, we’re working to incorporate this technology into every new construction project on campus.
Want to help us prioritize future projects? Let us know when and where your calls get dropped or your cell service gets spotty by submitting a case to OIT support.
No bat signal required.