Tower Proximity Doesn’t Guarantee Cell Phone Coverage

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The First Problem

The client pointed to the cell tower out her window, just a few hundred yards away, and asked the perfectly reasonable question that had been plaguing her and all the tenants in the AMLI Decatur apartment building: “Why can’t I make a cell phone call when the tower is right there?!”

Well-asked. Most people would expect to easily connect and sustain crystal clear calls when the nearest cell tower is in plain view. But this particular tower was built on the slightest of inclines, putting the blades of the tower just a tiny bit higher than the roof of the building, and that tiny bit was all it took to mean the difference between strong service and no service — at least not without some help.

The Helpful Solution

“Help” is a cellular repeater system, also known as in-building cellular enhancement. It starts with an antenna on the roof of the building that is positioned to grab the waves passing overhead. Once the signal is grabbed, the system brings it inside and repeats it throughout the building. This enhancement is what the AMLI Decatur folks had asked Illuminati Labs to install. Easy peasy. We were laying out the design for the system when we ran across our second problem.

The Second Problem

Like many other apartment complexes in the region, the AMLI Decatur was built with a wood frame not steel, and blown-in insulation, not rolls of fiberglass batt. Blown-in means just that — using what looks like a giant Shop-Vac in reverse, the insulation is blown into the space between each level of the building; in this case the space was about two feet thick. The insulation is like tiny clumps of cotton candy if cotton candy were the itchiest substance on the planet and every one of its tiny little fibers was constantly trying to impale itself in your skin. Suffice to say, you do NOT want two feet of this stuff snowing down on you from a hole in the ceiling.

Which is exactly what would happen if we used our normal process of cutting into the ceiling to run our repeater system’s wires. Even worse than our installers being buried in fiberglass, the building would no longer have enough insulation between floors and that would be a significant fire hazard. Obviously, we had to create new way to get the wire run throughout the building.

Another Brilliant Solution

Our team instantly went into problem solving mode. They played the ‘What if we had a tool that did yada-yada-yada?’ game, sketched out their new invention, ran to the closest Home Depot to get the ingredients and whipped up exactly that tool. Voila! We won’t give away the secret sauce but we can say we’re very proud to have created another brilliant Illuminati Labs exclusive solution. We will be able to use this tool on every blown-in insulation job we encounter from now on.

And that should be a lot of jobs because AMLI Decatur was so pleased with our results, they’ve asked us to install cell enhancement systems in more of their other properties. They currently own and manage over 20,000 apartment homes in nine U.S. markets. It’s very unusual for a single company to act as developer, builder, manager and owner but doing so allows AMLI to build a lasting commitment to their residents and the neighborhoods they call home.

The AMLI Decatur complex is made up of four beautiful residential buildings and a fifth retail/office building currently occupied by WeWork. Interestingly, before COVID-19, the majority of Illuminati Labs’ projects were offices, but now, as the work-from-home population has forced apartment complexes to become the new office buildings, we have been working in multi-family properties almost exclusively. (The exception has been co-working spaces like WeWork and Hana — more about that in another field report).

Whether you are working, living or shopping at AMLI Decatur, you will be doing it in the heart of a walkable downtown neighborhood, surrounded by refined design and an abundance of community amenities including a custom-designed pool, a bocce court, and even a dog park. Best of all, no matter where you are inside the property, Illuminati Labs has made sure you’ll have solid cell phone coverage!