Cutting out dead spots

When you hear a slight humming and the room gets noticeably darker, chances are there’s a fluorescent light out. Many don’t know who to call in this situation, but Oxford Properties Group Inc. has ensured tenants have an easily-accessible resource in times of maintenance grief.

The property management group, based in Toronto, has set up a toll free number for tenants to use. Clients can also track the status of their query on the Web.

Steve Smith, vice-president of Oxford Properties, said customers can call in with a problem and it is immediately e-mailed to the appropriate Oxford employee through Research In Motion BlackBerry pagers the employees carry.

However, being in the building management industry, most employee rooms and mechanical rooms are below ground. This made receiving task lists and marching orders hard for the employees.

Enter Kaval Wireless Technologies Inc., a Richmond Hill, Ont.-based company. Smith was told it had a wireless solution that would extend the service provider’s signal throughout the building.

“We had to boost a lot of areas,” he said. “Wireless transmission is variable. In some buildings it works well without boosting and in others there are a lot of dead spots.”

Kaval installed LINKnet, a platform that delivers multiple wireless services around corners, through walls and floors and underground.

David Quinn, president and CEO of Kaval, said LINKnet helps to extend wireless signals throughout a building.

“People will be able to use wireless devices anywhere in the building as long as the carrier is built into the technology,” he said.

The device sits at the top of a building and attaches to antennae on the structure. According to Quinn, LINKnet converts the wireless signal to light, which is carried throughout the building via fibre optic cables. When the light hits a remote port built into corners and walls, it reverts back to the signal.

“This is being used by Oxford to enable RIM and Rogers (signals) to carry throughout the building to the maintenance people,” Quinn said.

Smith noted another bonus of LINKnet is that other service providers can be added at any time. “We’d very much like to pursue this,” Smith said. “In this case we’re only boosting for our specific applications. We hope to add more comprehensive wiring, then we could sign up as many carriers as possible. Then tenants will know they can walk around anywhere in the buildings without worrying about their PDAs cutting out.”

Susan Hughes, operations manager for Oxford’s Atria complex in Toronto, said the wireless signal extension works very well.

“We had very low reception in our lower-level mechanics rooms and our control centre downstairs,” Hughes explained. “Now that the problem areas have been wired everything is working 100 per cent.”

She added that in the past maintenance workers would sometimes get a call 12 hours after it had been first received. Tenants were complaining there were long waits for problem resolution.

“We just were not getting the calls,” she said. But now, the Atria complex responds to 85 per cent of calls within 30 minutes.

According to Hughes, Oxford first introduced the BlackBerry devices in January 2000 and brought in Kaval in July 2000. She also noted it was nice to see an installation that was not disruptive to the tenants or Oxford employees.

“It only took a month. From the walk-through to the wiring to getting on-line to doing testing was a good month,” Hughes stated.

Switching providers is made easy too, because of the modular design of LINKnet, according to Smith. “You can plug in these modules, or take them out. So, if we wanted to switch carriers, it would be fairly painless as far as switching the new network goes.”

So far, Oxford Properties has integrated the system in 11 buildings but Smith said there are plans to expand that.