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July 06

The Changing Definition of Reliable Indoor Cellular Coverage

Millennials have for more than a decade carried the reputation as workers who are unafraid to demand what they want from their employers. They want work that makes them feel they are contributing to the greater good. They want meaningful jobs that allow them to indulge their more mobile lifestyles by not tying them to their desks. They’re tech literate, armed with multiple devices that make them more productive and—most importantly—they expect to be able to connect wirelessly anytime and from anywhere.

They grew up with the internet and quickly embraced all things wireless and social. Millennials represent about 40 percent of the workforce now, and that number will climb to 75 percent within the next 10 to 15 years. And if you think Millennials have demands around mobility and connectivity, wait until Gen Z hits the workplace in force. The demand for cellular coverage in the office will only grow and the definition of reliable coverage is going to change.

Unreliable indoor cellular coverage is a widespread frustration

Much of this was evident in a recent survey commissioned by Zinwave that was designed to gauge the state of cellular connectivity in the workplace and the issues facing workers. What we found was that in-building cellular coverage is a frustrating problem for most employees, that expectations around connectivity are starkly different between Millennials and their Baby Boomer and Gen X counterparts, and that increasingly employers and building owners – and not the wireless carriers – are being forced to shoulder the blame when coverage is poor.

Overall, 74 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed said that they either sometimes or frequently have bad experiences with cellular coverage in their workplaces, which include everything from urban office buildings and retail spaces to warehouses and distribution centers. Healthcare (83 percent) and hospitality workers (77 percent) were among those at least sometimes frustrated with poor indoor cellular coverage.

We have differing definitions of what reliable coverage means

But here is something employers need to take particular note of: while most workers said they dealt with unreliable coverage at times, the definition of what unreliable coverage is was different depending on the age of the worker. Only 10 percent of those 55 and older said they frequently experienced bad coverage, and that number grew to 28 percent among employees 34 to 54. But 40 percent of Millennials – who range in age from 18 to 34 – said they frequently experienced poor coverage, and another 40 percent said they sometimes dealt with it. In all, 80 percent of Millennials – many of whom live lives that are much more online than their older counterparts and can’t remember a time when cellular coverage wasn’t everywhere – said they were frustrated with the cellular coverage at their workplace.

It’s unlikely that those older workers just happened to work in buildings with significantly better coverage than the Millennial employees. These employees were dealing with equivalent coverage but how they were classifying it —as either reliable or unreliable— was different. Proof that the coverage that may have been sufficient for older employees wasn’t for younger employees.

Employers also need to understand that when coverage becomes spotty, increasingly the blame is being shifted away from the carriers and toward them, particularly by younger workers. For a long time, when cellular coverage was poor, employers and building owners could point to the carriers as the cause. It was the carriers that were putting the money and effort into distributed antenna systems in places like sports stadiums and large office complexes to give the growing numbers of mobile device users strong wireless connectivity.

That was then. Now, with the numbers of mobile devices proliferating rapidly and data use increasing exponentially, carriers that are trying to keep up with technology changes and increasing throughput demands on their outdoor networks no longer have the time or money to invest in indoor signaling systems and are pushing that responsibility onto companies and building owners. So are employees, particularly Millennials, who are 58 percent more likely than older workers to blame their employers when there are problems with connectivity. That is happening in every industry. For example, 51 percent of those surveyed from the hospitality sector point to someone other than carriers when there are coverage issues, while 48 percent from the healthcare field do.

Reliable indoor cellular coverage will only become more critical

The pressure on employers to ensure reliable connectivity is only going to grow as members of future generations who no doubt will be even more connected start making their way into the workforce.  In addition, the trend toward displacing wireline communications with wireless in the workplace will accelerate. Constant indoor coverage will be even more important, and these people are not going to work at a place where coverage is poor. Employers are going to have to start addressing issues of reliable connectivity or risk losing good workers and seeing productivity drop. At the same time, commercial real estate firms also need to get out in front of the problem if they want to keep good tenants from fleeing to other buildings with better coverage.

The employees that will soon dominate the workplace are more mobile, connected and tech-savvy than their predecessors. They grew up with technology and the internet, and they want to use the devices and systems that allow them to do their best work and be most productive. They expect reliable indoor cellular connectivity and that their employers will make sure they get it. For companies, providing strong indoor signals that are both spectrum- and technology-agnostic not only will be crucial in attracting and retaining talented employees and boosting productivity but also positioning themselves for the emerging technologies like positioning services and machine-to-machine communications. Connectivity is critical, and the responsibility for ensuring that connectivity is increasingly being placed on employers.

Learn more from our Cellular in the Workplace survey report.

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