One of the issues that we have inside some of our buildings, particularly on the Garthdee Campus, is that the strength of mobile phone signals varies and is quite poor in some places. We’re not alone in having this problem – it affects other Universities as well although I am sure it varies hugely depending on the types of building and their location.
Just about everyone uses a mobile phone, so early on in looking at the Estates Masterplan, we decided to see what we could do to improve the signal strength inside our buildings. This turned out to be anything but a straight forward exercise. First of all, OFCOM regulations mean that only a licensed mobile telephony operator can legally operate the equipment that we would need to install inside our buildings. So, before we could do anything we had to find a mobile operator willing to help. We did find one of the big operators who was willing to take a look at this with us, but it was very unclear whether or not we would be able to reach an agreement with all the main mobile operators.
There are significant costs for the mobile operators to install their own equipment on campus, and they have their own cost/benefit calculations to go through before they will make any commitment. On top of that, there are also significant costs for the University and complete high quality indoor signal strength across the Campus, even for one operator, was starting to look very expensive.
So, faced with a situation where (a) a total coverage solution was very expensive and (b) we had no guarantees that we could persuade all the main operators to come on board, we went back to the drawing board:
Most people today have a “smartphone” as their mobile phone. This gives:
i) Ability to make and receive phone calls (!)
ii) Ability to send and receive SMS messages
iii) Ability to access the Internet for web browsing, web-based services such as e-mail, Facebook, etc
iv) Maps and location based services
v) Personal communication media including voice and video conferencing across data networks using services such as Skype, instant messaging and Twitter
(iii), (iv) and (v) can all be done on the University wireless network. SMS messages can usually get through even where signal strength is very low, and that just leaves voice calls.
Interestingly, from around 2010, data traffic carried across mobile networks had exceeded voice traffic, and is forecast to grow significantly. Some figures suggest that by 2015 95% of mobile traffic will be data related and all of that will be accessible inside our buildings on the wireless network.
So for the time being, we have concluded that it is not cost effective to implement a complete indoor signal solution for mobile phones across the Campus, as the wireless network will cover most uses. There are still other ways to make voice calls over the wireless network (e.g. Skype) and our new “Unified Communications” system will also allow members of staff to install “apps” on their smart phones to access the University telephone system.
We won’t completely lose sight of indoor mobile telephony, and we may yet put some small, low cost, solutions in particular areas if there is a real need for mobile voice access. We’re working with other Universities to see how best to do that.