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Critical Urban Connectivity, Transforming Cellular Deep Underground 

Urban areas continue to be challenged with congestion of people, structures, and assets. Parking garages need to either be ‘constructed up’ by adding additional floors or built deep underground and under urban structures. The deeper underground facilities are, the harder it is for cellular signals to reach people and places. Critical infrastructure is connected to the cellular network to improve driver and parking experiences. The rise of 5G with towers that broadcast over shorter distances also contributes to increasing cellular coverage gaps and accentuates the interference caused by walls and other barriers. 

City residents, visitors, and workers deserve and expect seamless connectivity experiences from the drive to the walk and upon entering buildings or venues. This requirement is critical for urban structures including high-rise multifamily structures, office buildings, hotels, hospitals, and campuses. 

Millennium Garages and Dense Air Networks joined forces to test modern technology solutions to improve connectivity in one of the four underground parking garages in the heart of Chicago. These parking garages sit underneath the world’s largest green roof that offers 9,176 parking spaces across 4 million square feet. This collaboration includes a focus on targeting hard to reach locations, identifying connectivity gaps, and implementing solutions to enhance smart parking. The target location is a challenging area within the garage: a 200K sq ft area, 2 levels underground in Millennium Garages’ Lakeside facility, under Maggie Daley Park. This test bed uses one set of wireless infrastructure accommodating multiple carriers to provide a secure, flexible, and scalable network to ensure public safety and continuous connectivity underground. 

The overall underground parking environment can present cellular access challenges for many reasons. First, the deeper underground the garage, the more barriers, walls, and structures there are, which degrade cellular signal and can cause a complete signal loss. In addition, garages are constructed of heavy concrete and ready-mix materials that often block signals and present further disruption in connectivity. Highly trafficked urban areas can also present increased data usage that overwhelms the network and causes connectivity issues.  

In the case of Millenium Garages, the location is one of the busiest areas of Chicago. Large seasonal events bring volumes of visitors. The garages are strategically situated along vehicle, pedestrian, and public transportation thoroughfares. They serve as a gateway to Chicago’s world-class cultural institutions, tourist attractions, and central business district.  

Highly populated cities like Chicago focus heavily on innovation and are earlier adopters of digital and connected solutions. Urban structures including standalone parking garages are becoming digital, connected, and intelligent, and Millenium Garages is capturing this trend as it works with Dense Air. Cities like Chicago are also focused on green initiatives and sustainability practices that can bring added complexity as structures require modernization to meet sustainable development goals (SDGs). To progress SDGs, cities need to secure resources including utilities, as energy efficiency and the environment takes priority. Cellular connectivity becomes the fourth utility — alongside water, gas, and electricity — as cities innovate and digitize to create better experiences for locals and tourists alike, enhance city services, and modernize transportation in and out of the city.  

Highly populated and densely structured urban areas often suffer from dead zones, connectivity gaps, and interrupted cell signals. In addition to connectivity, safety and security of people and places is a high priority for owners, leaders, and managers. Connectivity is pivotal for critical communications and for response times as these entities lean on wireless for citizen and worker safety.  

Operations across city services and departments, from parking to transportation to trash pickup, are coordinated, planned, and dispatched using the cellular network. Providing optimal city and workplace services is foundational to the urban city experience. Other examples of buildings and structures that rely on wireless communications include everyday structures frequented for work, play, and living, including condominium and apartment buildings, hospitals, and sporting venues. For example, often just after we park, we are immediately grabbing our smartphone to review emails, to fill out paperwork, locate instructions, find the office number, or exploring where to walk. Having an obstacle for wireless access can frustrate the entire experience. Aging infrastructure and lack of connectivity make these challenges even more difficult to address. 

Dense Air addresses these challenges as a specialist in modernizing urban connectivity. The team works closely with customers to connect underground parking garages, multi-floor buildings, and dense areas throughout cities. Dense Air provides a unique solution for cities, building or structure owners, and facilities managers. We provide turnkey services to identify connectivity gaps, install hardware, implement software, and offer full-service management. This small cell Connectivity-as-a-Service (CaaS) solution removes the burden to city agencies, departments, and businesses.  

Dense Air’s CaaS solution strengthens cities by: 

  • Enabling multiple carriers at the same time, in the same location 
  • Facilitating easy, rapid, and cost-efficient integration into existing buildings 
  • Ensuring security and reliability of the cellular connection 
  • Providing a turnkey service 

Dense Air’s collaboration with Millenium Garages is a notable example of the commitment to supporting urban modernization. The project team will explore a variety of use cases as part of this project to connect customers, workers, and equipment. In addition to bringing two of the big three cellular carriers onto the network, Dense Air will support Millenium Garages in three areas:  

  1. Deploy multi-carrier small cell solutions to provide continuous cellular coverage in challenging underground environments.  
  2. Build the business and civic case for seamless, integrated connectivity. 
  3. Create replicable, scalable models to bring reliable cellular coverage to difficult-to-reach facilities, including CaaS offerings that unlock public and private value.  

Businesses and cities want their infrastructure to do more. Cities require seamless connectivity for emergency response, dispatching prompt maintenance and repairs, routing for a delivery driver, and real-time situational awareness. Dense Air makes this easy by bringing connectivity experts while providing “white glove” turnkey services to lessen the burden. Services include operating, managing, and maintaining connectivity to meet business service level expectations and provide performance reporting with insights into the customer and environment experience. Dense Air is proud to support the modernization of urban areas, changing the paradigm through trusted and secure cellular services. 

Link to Press Release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/dense-air–millennium-garages-collaborate-to-transform-cellular-connectivity-underground-302141201.html?tc=eml_cleartime

Related Links and Recommendations for More Reading: 

Small Cell Forum Use Case: Dense Air’s pioneering use of Split 6 enabling scaled small cell deployment. 

Pioneering the use of Split 6 fronthaul for scaled deployment of small cell clusters in network blackspots 

RAN (Radio Access Network) interfaces that support interoperability between different vendors’ equipment encouraging innovation and offering greater network flexibility at a lower cost than the traditional closed and expensive single-vendor alternative.
Shared physical infrastructure—radios, antennas, switches—and either shared or licensed spectrum available securely to multiple carriers and service providers.
A network of tall towers that transmit low bandwidth radio signals across a multi-mile geographic radius.
A network of low-powered radios discreetly mounted on street poles, buildings, or indoors near end-user consumption that transmit high bandwidth, targeted radio signals across a radius of hundreds or thousands of feet.
Hard-to-reach network boundaries with the weakest signal strength and highest interference where demand is highest and the macro signals are poorest.
Base stations that connect with users’ LTE and 5G handsets.