Indoor mobile service supports public service


By Graham Payne, CEO of Opencell, ensuring everyone indoors has network.

Your mobile phone rings at work, it’s an important call and you need to answer but when you pick up, the call drops. After a few failed call-back attempts, you realise you need to go outside to get a good connection. So off you go to return the call you can’t miss, in a way that wastes more of your time than necessary, out in the open (oh no!) it’s raining, and quite frankly you need to be getting on with that work left over from yesterday, and now the wind is making it hard to hear…

We’ve all been there.

In 2016 Ofcom TechTracker statistics showed that 93% of UK adults own a mobile phone, while a study conducted in May 2017 found that a quarter of British office workers would consider moving jobs, or already have moved, due to a lack of mobile coverage in their building. Whatever the industry, it would be a big mistake to underestimate the value, and shifting expectations people place on indoor mobile connectivity while at work.

In 2015, we set up Opencell to solve this problem and became the first legal multi-operator mobile signal provider in the UK. An ambitious start-up, we’ve become an established and well-known co-working and hospitality brand service provider. If you’ve ever had a meeting in a city of London WeWork building or been to a conference in the Hilton London Bankside hotel, the five bars of signal on your mobile phone were enabled by Opencell.

Having recently opened discussions with government services, we are proud that Opencell have been awarded G-Cloud 9 status. We are now the only supplier of in-building mobile phone coverage on the HM Government and Crown Commercial Services Digital Marketplace. Before us, the options available were a corporate solution provided by one of the four mobile operators here in the UK, an expensive DAS (distributed antenna system), or an illegal mobile signal booster which Ofcom could rightly fine you for using. Through our relationship with all four UK mobile operators, and use of lightweight, space-saving femtocell technology, we’re able to provide bespoke multi-operator mobile signal solutions in any building, including in those tricky underground basement, and multi-use spaces.

Contrary to many people’s first assumption, it is often the newer buildings and facilities that have the biggest signal issues. This is caused by the new, more environmentally friendly materials construction companies must use to meet greenhouse emission regulation requirements. As we often tell people, whatever stops energy waste, also stop radio frequency waves. This isn’t only a problem for today too. As buildings themselves are becoming smarter, the best public facilities and government hubs will soon be enabled by amazing technology. However, not even the most intelligent technology will impress if people can’t pick up a call on their personal device. When we’re part of the earliest possible build conversations we can help make sure a building is an antenna first, the true foundation of any future-proof smart building.

We’re also increasingly seeing recognition of the need for consistent indoor mobile signal for workers based in more rural areas or in those sprawling, isolated industrial parks where even access to outdoor signal can be a challenge.

Through our current public-sector clients, like Northampton County Council and Southampton University’s Science Park, we have also discovered that our solutions help them meet new connectivity health and safety requirements by ensuring all visitors and contractors on their site have access to mobile signal at all times; wherever they are in the building and whichever mobile provider they are with.

As our public-sector reputation continues to grow, we’re already speaking with service and facility managers at universities, hospitals, emergency service providers and many others. We’re finding that because our solutions are bespoke for each customer, we’re able to adapt around their different needs very easily. For example, in some instances multi-operator signal is only needed in the public spaces of a building, which can often help resolve any budgetary challenges a department is facing. Our 24-hour monitoring system also means that we’ll know about any service issues before our customers even notice, and we’re often able to solve faults remotely. If not, we have specialist engineers able to come to site within 24 hours.

At its core, our ambition to become part of the G-Cloud network came from seeing how shifting expectations in corporate workspaces is making access to indoor mobile signal non-negotiable for employers who want to keep their staff happy. With the ubiquity of smart devices and mobile communication on the rise, we want to help government and public-sector organisations get ahead of employee expectations and make mobile-led interactions more seamless than before. The other regulatory, reputational and service user benefits are also undeniable.

It’s time to be able to take that call and get on.