COVID-19 pandemic having mixed impacts on in-building projects for public-safety communications
Most aspects of the economy have slowed or halted completely in the wake of measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but the pandemic is resulting in certain in-building communications projects being accelerated, according to an official at in-building solutions provider ADRF.
Dennis Burns, ADRF’s director of public safety, said the company is very busy installing in-building systems designed to support first-responder communications when working inside a facility. Some facility owners are opting to take advantage of this moment when there is little traffic inside buildings to get in-building project done, he said.
“In New York, New Jersey and in Boston, there’s definitely been some impact on the cellular side, just because projects are shut down and everyone is off the site,” Burns said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “But on the public-safety side, we’ve had no slowdown. In fact, it’s probably gotten a lot busier, especially with projects for schools and things, because there’s nobody in the buildings.
“So, where we had to worry about an install window after hours—when teachers and kids weren’t in the building—now those projects are wide open to go all day, every day. Those projects are contributing to accelerating what we can do with a lot of things we can do with the school districts.”
Not surprisingly, these in-building systems being installed now are projects in which funding previously was approved, according to Burns.
“All of the systems that are going in now have already been pre-funded,” he said. “There are a quite a few of them that are on the drawing board through the remainder of the year, and all of those funds have already been earmarked.
“Now, what’s happened is that some projects that were slated for later in the year have moved up, as a result of having the ability to get in the building.”
Although the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) has gained some adoption momentum, the focus of in-building systems for first responders remains focused on LMR technologies, not the FirstNet LTE system operating on 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum, Burns said.
“It’s a lot of traditional [LMR] frequencies,” Burns said. “They want to know that you can support it, so when the time comes that Band 14 is going to be available outside their building, they can pull it inside. But we’re still seeing that the vast majority [of in-building projects] being 700/800 MHz LMR, SMR, some 900 MHz public-safety paging on occasion, and the traditional UHF/VHF stuff.
“We still see the vast majority of people asking for 700/800 and the traditional stuff. They just want to know that they do have an upgrade path, if at some point they do want to turn on that Band 14 piece of it.”
ADRF has been in a position to take advantage of such opportunities, because the company has plenty of inventory available for deployment and its staff has been “fortunate” in generally remaining healthy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Burns said.
COVID-19 has impacted ADRF’s ability to install in-building systems in some commercial buildings, particularly hospitals that are “so overtaxed” with matters associated with the pandemic that issues like communications have been delayed, Burns said.
John Foley, executive director for the Safer Buildings Coalition, said other vendors of in-building communications systems are seeing similar business impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Projects are moving full speed ahead in some sectors, and in other sectors, they are stopped, because they can’t get access to buildings,” Foley said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Or, they can get access to buildings, but there’s nobody to open the door for them or supervise their presence.”
In addition, some in-building vendors have encountered logistical issues as they try to maintain appropriate inventory levels, according to Foley.
“The OEMs, in particular, are still busy,” Foley said. “With a lot of this, the orders were placed a quarter ago, so they are still busy.
“They are definitely having supply-chain and shipping problems, particularly the companies that are shipping out of Asia. Things that they used to air shipped … that’s just not on the table right now, because the capacity is so low that the price has gone so high. Now, they’re doing sea shipping, and the interval has gone from three weeks to six weeks [for delivery], and the price has gone up, too. Eventually, that’s got to have an impact.”
Foley said he believes most companies will try to build their inventory within the U.S., so they can avoid being impacted as much by such logistical problems.