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Signal boosters could alleviate mobile dead spots for UK retailers

Signal boosters could alleviate mobile dead spots for UK retailers

Nextivity, Pan RF collaboration seeks to alleviate mobile dead spots, low data-throughput and dropped call challenges

Nextivity’s recent partnership with Pan RF will provide Cel-Fi signal boosters to alleviate the problem of mobile dead spots in the U.K.’s retail environment. According to Colin Abrey, VP of Channel Sales at Nextivity, mobile dead zones are a “huge problem from an in-building perspective.”

“In the U.K., there are tens of thousands of buildings with poor or no cell coverage breaking into the building,” he continued. “The number of frequencies used by cellular operators has gone up, and so has general use of cellular networks. This has led to a worsening situation in terms of in-building coverage.”

To illustrate the severity of the problem, Abrey referenced a report by uSwitch, which indicated that up to 40% of new homes being built in the U.K. will have poor or no cellular coverage.

For the retail space in particular, the problem can be even more pervasive. The Nextivity/Pan RF collaboration seeks to alleviate mobile dead spots, low data throughput and dropped call challenges, as well as provide reliable 4G coverage to facilitate mobile payment services.

“Delivering high speed coverage networks expected in retail environments has always been challenging due to design architectures, basement locations and the materials used. Glass and metals, which are prevalent in fitouts, are the ultimate mobile signal blockers,” said Abrey. He added that distribution sites can also be a challenge simply because of how large they are.

These, said Abrey, were the original reasons that retailers needed better coverage. “Now,” he explained, “The driver is to facilitate customer access into [the retailer’s] own shopping app.”

When a customer enters a store, they rarely connect to the store’s Wi-Fi, and so if cellular coverage is poor, the customer will not be covered, and therefore, can’t access the store’s app.

“By Improving cellular coverage,” explained Abrey, “you improve 100% of people’s coverage.”

Another driver from the retail space is the enablement of mobile payments, as opposed to proximity payments, such as cash or credit card. Abrey also said that Nextivity and Pan RF have seen interest in providing coverage so that shoppers can perform price checks while shopping.

“The habit of the shopper is changing. If they can’t price it, they will leave and probably not return. Even if it’s a bit more expense in the store than online, a customer that is in the store already will probably still buy it,” he said.

Pan RF’s Managing Director Ross Hulley confirmed the importance of providing customers with reliable coverage in a press release, stating, “70% of instore purchases are made at the point of decision. By providing seamless connectivity, not only can shoppers interact with technologies like lift and learn or QR codes, thereby encouraging longer dwell times in-store and higher spending rates as a result, retailers themselves can benefit from applications such as targeted advertising messages based on location based services, thus increasing brand loyalty and maintaining the bottom line.”

The answer to retailer’s coverage woes, according to Abrey, are repeaters or signal boosters. The easiest way to provide in-building coverage in by taking the outdoor signal, which is usually pretty good, and bringing it indoors. The is typically done by placing an antenna outside and then cabling to a Cel-Fi device, and then from there, cabling to an antenna inside the building.

“With a Cel-Fi booster, we take that good outdoor signal, improve it — or boost it — and then repeat it inside,” explained Abrey. And this dramatically improves coverage because the user receives a “boosted” version of the outside signal.

The use of signal booster technology to resolve poor coverage problems has historically been severely hampered by regulatory agencies, which made their deployment both expensive and complex. However, thanks to a relaxation in licensing laws for the use of mobile signal boosters, introduced by Ofcom in April, repeaters can now be freely deployed in the U.K. as long as they meet certain specifications.

Specifically, installed mobile signal boosters must be network-specific, not create network interference, detect and mitigate downlink and uplink signal variations and control amplification based on location relative to the base station to which it’s connected.

“We are the only repeater manufacturer that meets Ofcom’s requirements,” Abrey said.

“Any home or business owner can improve their mobile coverage simply by purchasing off-the-shelf devices, which are readily available and affordable,” said Abrey. “This is important for the end user because they are able to gain coverage in a new, cost-effective way.”