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Better Cell Signals Indoors Come At A Price

The image of the tech-savvy mover and shaker is one of a businessperson closing a deal on a cell phone while dashing between meetings. More realistic, though, is Mr. Close-the-Deal swearing at his phone when the call drops because of a weak signal in a hallway or an elevator.

Now there's a viable, affordable answer for the dropped-call problem. A range of indoor wireless communications products delivers cell-phone coverage inside buildings, giving employees, contractors, and guests connectivity. Venture-capital investors are convinced, pouring money into vendors, but there's still a sizeable technology risk for IT managers.

Companies are addressing indoor wireless coverage with distributed antenna systems, repeaters, and even in-building base stations, which are similar to the stations carriers mount outdoors. Cost depends on building size, the number of carriers supported, and the number of users. A system from Spotwave Wireless, for example, is priced at 12 cents a square foot per carrier, so a 25,000-square-foot office can be equipped for about $3,000, plus installation. Additional carriers, which are needed for guests, jack up the price, as does installation in older buildings. "A lot of the costs that go into indoor wireless are deployment, not equipment, costs," warns Peter Jarich, analyst at Current Analysis.

Hot Market

Spotwave last month landed $10 million from Motorola Ventures, the VC arm of Motorola. The startup plans to develop software-based products for home offices and small offices; Spotwave CEO Bill Carlin anticipates more residential use of indoor wireless as businesses push telecommuting. The company's SpotCell Indoor Coverage products include a system to capture an outdoor cellular network and repeat the signal indoors. It's something that's been technically possible for years. "The marketplace is finally starting to catch up with the technology," says Warren Holtsberg, Motorola's corporate VP of equity investments.

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