Hearst's Green Wireless

By Adam Stone

October 25, 2006

One of NYC's newest skyline additions features technology that was tough to design into modern architecture.

What's the only thing harder than building an environmentally friendly skyscraper? Rigging it up for wireless service.

Opened in June 2006, the 46-story Hearst Tower in New York City boasts a range of "green" features. Activity sensors manage the lights. A rooftop collector reduces the amount of rainwater dumped into New York City sewers. A "diagrid" construction system reduces the need for vertical steel beams, and allows for more natural light.

Thanks to MobileAccess Networks of Vienna, Virginia, the building also has about 856,000 square feet of wireless connectivity to provide coverage throughout the building. The network employs roughly eight access points on each floor. These in turn are managed and secured by four Cisco 4404 WLAN controllers, each of which can handle up to 100 APs.

That part is easy. It's all those acres of glass that make the job tricky.

As part of his environmental stance, architect Norman Foster made extensive use of natural light, and that created an aesthetic challenge for wireless designers looking for discreet locations to house access points.

"You have an interior architecture that has a lot of glass -- it has a lot of very decorative areas," says MobileAccess CEO Cathy Zatloukal. "These are areas where you would not want to put a lot of active electronics in the ceiling, not because you would see them but because if you ever needed to do a maintenance action, it could be unsightly."

This aesthetic concern directly informed the technological choices behind the project. First, MobileAccess technology fits snugly in a telecommunications closet for discreet access. Moreover, the solution need not be tweaked very often, if all goes as planned.

Zatloukal didn't want to create a solution that would require frequent re-working of infrastructure, with building owners having to alter the network each time wireless services went through changes and upgrades.

Without a sufficiently robust solution, it would be easy to get locked in, to become a prisoner of every new change in the world of wireless offerings. "Say Sprint launches their WiMax network next year," Zatloukal says. "Now what happens? You have to deploy a whole new network."

Zatloukal prefers what she calls a combined solution, one that integrates cellular and wireless infrastructure into a seamless whole. "If you do it right, these future services become just another blade plugged into the network," she says. As new protocols become available, it should be relatively easy to simply swap out access points, which are tucked away in wiring closets.

By combining and "conditioning" cellular and WLAN signals, Zatloukal says, it becomes possible to extend a wireless network over substantial distances while maintaining signal integrity and leaving open the possibility of future uses. In the Hearst building, the present architecture should be able to easily incorporate a range of new mobility services, including location and asset tracking, voice over wireless LAN, advanced security and guest access, as such features evolve.

MobileAccess has had success with other large-building installations in the past. Earlier this year, real estate services company Akridge engaged the firm to provide wireless services within the Homer Building in Washington, D.C.’s commercial center.

The deployment throughout the half-million square foot property delivers wireless for a range of devices, including cell phones, pagers, PDAs, two-way radios, Wi-Fi, building automation systems and emergency communications frequencies.

The MobileAccess wireless pitch emphasizes scalability and flexibility, the ability to handle whatever new services may emerge. The premise is that you can do all of this with a combination of cellular and WLAN technologies. So why doesn't everybody do it?

Because, Zatloukal says, it isn't enough just to run the two technologies side by side. Their capabilities must be integrated, their twin signals massaged for maximum performance. "The key attribute in these systems is in how these systems are combined and conditioned," she says.

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