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NASA: We Can Put a Man on the Moon, But We Can’t Get Good Cell Reception

Here’s how NASA arrived at SureCall cellular signal boosters to solve shortcomings at its Satellite Services Capabilities Offices (SSCO) and James Webb Space Telescope facility.

CI Staff
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When it comes to overcoming technological challenges, the engineers at NASA are, by definition, galaxy-class problem solvers. And when it comes to radio frequency and wireless communications, it’s a sure bet that they hold every distance record to be had.

But even NASA has to work within boundaries. One boundary, apparent to everyone with a cellphone, is that cell signals that are available outdoors often can’t follow us indoors. And it turns out that even NASA needs some help in overcoming such terrestrial troubles.

When project managers at the world-renowned Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA’s original space flight research center in Greenbelt, Md., needed to solve problems of poor indoor cell reception, they turned to professionals with worldly expertise, the experts at Washington, D.C.-based DAS Worldwide. The pros’ preferred solution for NASA’s RF-challenged interiors? Cellular signal boosters.

“You might think that with all their intelligence and access to technology, NASA engineers would develop their own solution for in-building cellular reception,” said Comizio. “But their approach is, why reinvent the wheel?”

Cellular signal boosters are not new. But it took a major federal agreement on standards in 2013 between booster makers, the four major wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) and the FCC to reassure business and industry professionals that boosters are a viable, effective, and permissible technology. As a result, businesses and organizations across industry and government, including NASA, now employ boosters to solve their indoor reception issues.

DAS Worldwide, headquartered just over a mile from the White House, delivers in-building and outdoor wireless infrastructure solutions using the latest technologies that meet their clients’ specific needs. Its clients’ sites range from airports, to concert halls and sports stadiums, to industrial sites, to corporate and educational campuses, to residential buildings and shopping centers.

“We’ve worked with NASA before,” said Joe Comizio, business development executive for DAS Worldwide. “When we were briefed on their problems and asked to bid on providing a solution, we knew immediately that boosters would be the best solution for both the sites where they needed help.”

An Integrated Solution

The two locations where NASA workers needed to have cell service were the Satellite Services Capabilities Offices (SSCO) and James Webb Space Telescope facility. The SSCO is a 15,000-square-foot facility where NASA develops solutions for on-orbit spacecraft refueling and repair, the assembly of large structures in orbit, and modular devices to upgrade spacecraft. According to NASA, these capabilities offer mission operators options for extended mission operations, upgradability, reconfiguration and recovery.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), according to NASA, is “a space-based observatory, optimized for infrared wavelengths, which will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope and enable JWST to look further back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the universe, and to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.”

“You might think that with all their intelligence and access to technology, NASA engineers would develop their own solution for in-building cellular reception,” said Comizio. “But their approach is, why reinvent the wheel?  If there is a proven OTS [off-the-shelf] solution that we can have installed by professionals, then let’s focus our resources on the projects in front of us.”

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Comizio said his team’s go-to booster is the SureCall Force5. “Quite simply, it’s a bulletproof performer. We were able to cover the Satellite Services building with a single booster and four indoor antennas, and we were able to get it done in about three days during regular business hours with no disruptions to NASA workers’ schedules. The JWST space, though a bit larger, also only required a single booster and several antennas, so here again, we were able to get the job done in just three days without any workflow disruption.”

While the NASA buildings could each be covered with a single booster system incorporating multiple antennas, larger facilities can be covered by using additional systems as needed.

Even with options for more robust solutions at hand, Comizio offered this observation about cellular signal boosters: “They are simply the most effective, cost-efficient solution for providing in-building cell signal coverage. And the market for them is huge.”