Technically Speaking: The Distributed Antenna System

Have you ever wondered how you can get a great LTE signal in the Radiology core… or Pharmacy… or in the 5th Floor pediatric resident work room when the outside world is hundreds of feet, a few walls, and a lot of steel and concrete away? What? You’ve NEVER thought about that? Ok, well, I guess I really am a geek. The answer, if I’ve piqued your curiosity, lies in our Distributed Antenna System (DAS). I recently asked Tony Adams, manager of IT Technical Services, for an explanation of how a DAS works and what we’re doing to make ours better. 

Here’s how that conversation went:

Stephen:    Hi, Tony.

Tony:         Hi, Stephen.

Stephen:    Thanks for being here!  I’d like to ask you a few questions about our DAS if you don’t mind.

Tony:         Sure. Fire away!

Stephen:    Can you start by telling me what a DAS is and what it does?

Tony:         Sure! A DAS (or distributed antenna system) is an in-building system that boosts the cellular signal for popular wireless carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and US Cellular. Each carrier must provide a signal source either by fiber, ethernet backhaul or antenna and then connect their hardware to the DAS. 

Stephen:    Uh…I have no idea what that even means…but do we receive these signals from all those carriers?

Tony:         <laughs> No—not all carriers have brought in a signal source or installed equipment onsite at Children’s. We currently only receive signals from AT&T and Verizon.

Stephen:    So, is that why my Verizon phone works fine and someone else’s T-Mobile doesn’t, even though we’re standing right next to each other?

Tony:         Precisely. Phones on carriers’ networks whose signals we don’t receive must get their cell signal from external towers, which results in average to low/no signal quality depending on the device’s location.

Stephen:    Are we doing anything to fix that?

Tony:         Absolutely! We’ve contracted with Pierson Wireless to improve the existing DAS by upgrading infrastructure, coordinating the installation of carrier hardware and tuning the signal source configuration to ensure the best possible signal throughout each building. 

Stephen:    And I assume T-Mobile and US Cellular are a part of that plan.

Tony:         Yep.

Stephen:    Nice!  What’s the timeline look like?

Tony:         <slides a piece of paper across the table> It looks just like this!

(Click here to see the DAS install/upgrade status per building.)

Stephen:    Awesome! I’m sure everyone will appreciate your team’s hard work as their cellular signals continue to improve. Thanks so much for being here – is there anything else you’d like everyone to know?

Tony:         We really do care a lot about how our networks’ performance impacts staff at Children’s, and we are always pushing to make things better. Once the DAS has been upgraded in the Specialty Pediatric Center and Pavilion in May, the cellular signal for AT&T and Verizon should drastically improve, and as we receive new hardware and signal sources, everyone with a T-Mobile or US Cellular device should see much better performance. As always, if you’re having network issues of any kind, please alert the Helpdesk. We can’t fix what we don’t know is wrong!

Stephen Dolter, M.D. | CMIO