Sweet mobile signal solution in a Hotel Chocolat distribution centre

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The Challenge

Amplify mobile signal on all mobile networks
20,000 m² in-door area to cover
Metal cladding creates Faraday cage setting

The Product

Business Benefits

  • Under 2-week installation
  • Full signal across the whole expanse
  • Connect to team conference calls on their mobile devices

Business Profile

Hotel Chocolat promises to fulfil every delivery on time every time. However, dropped calls and poor data connection caused by a lack of mobile connectivity was putting a strain on employee efficiency. After expanding into the adjacent building, the problem was exasperated, and something had to be done.

Business Needs

Hotel Chocolat is one of the UK’s greatest success stories and was voted the ‘Most Advocated British Brand’ in 2012. Founded on principles of originality, authenticity and ethics, they started selling chocolates online in 1993. Today, their global footprint extends to sustainable cocoa farms, over 125 retail shops, cafes, tasting rooms, a hotel and restaurants. Key to their success is their constant innovative growth initiatives and their innate ability to fulfill orders and deliveries to the right person at the right time.

In August 2020, the chocolatier created 200 new jobs by increasing the production and distribution capacity of its operations at their ‘Alpha’ distribution centre in St Neots, Cambridgeshire. The floor size nearly doubled when they took over and expanded into a neighbouring warehouse.

The Challenge

The warehouse at St Neots is a hive of activity. It houses distribution operations, a small production area for chocolate-making, offices for administrative employees and a factory retail outlet store. After expanding into the neighbouring warehouse, the extended ‘Alpha’ distribution centre is over 20,000 m² in size.

Many of the employees are not desk-bound and move around the warehouse to ensure every order and delivery is fulfilled timeously. The noise generated by trucks and forklifts moving around results in employees wearing protective ear coverings, rendering tannoy communication ineffective. The business has moved to use text messages to deliver all internal and operation messages to employees. The need for stable and reliable mobile signal is therefore imperative.

Mobile coverage had been a problem prior to the expansion. The distribution centre is covered in metal cladding which presents a classic Faraday cage setting. Coupled with the sheer vastness of the distribution centre, mobile signal inside the building was patchy at best and employees were unable to use their mobile devices for voice or data unless they stepped outside. Employees were frustrated as it was an inefficient use of their time to wander around the premises trying to find a spot where they had enough mobile signal to make a phone call, receive a text or download a communication.

Hotel Chocolat had previously attempted to resolve the mobile signal issues by installing network-provided boosters. Although it initially provided some marginal improvements in certain areas of the building, much of the warehouse still suffered from no coverage. After the expansion, the size of the building presented an additional challenge that the network-provided boosters could not resolve.

The Solution

Hotel Chocolat found Frequency Telecom on an online search. From the outset, their requirements were clear; the solution had to be legal, it had to cover all networks and it had to cover the entire warehouse.

The process Frequency follows to find a solution is straight-forward. It starts with consultations with the client to determine their business requirements and timelines. After an in-depth analysis of the site, building and layout plans, an initial solution would be presented, but it would be subject to a site inspection.

Colin Giles, Sales Manager at Frequency Telecom explains, “For a building of this magnitude, a site inspection is vital. In our experience, unless it is a new build and the mobile signal solution is part of the construction project plan, every building has hidden challenges which can cause installation and deployment problems. It is only when you set foot inside a building when you can see what the site and building plans can’t tell you.”

The site survey at St Neots concluded that there was very little or no mobile signal within the distribution centre but sufficiently good signal outside. The Cel-Fi Quatra solution was presented as the solution to deliver the level of mobile coverage required across all networks. This solution comprised of:

  • 12 x Network Units (NUs)
  • 44 x Coverage Units (CUs)
  • 8 x external MIMO antennas

Frequency contracted ZoneWave to perform the installation. The installation was overseen by the main contractor WSP who also controlled the strict HSE requirements for the site.

The CU’s were all mounted on boards, and the boards hung from various RSJs using a Gripple wire and Clutch system. Due to the size of the facility, the donor location was split to facilitate minimal cable CAT6 lengths from the NUs to each of the CU locations.

Installation was completed in under 2 weeks and the warehouse was now enjoying full signal across the whole expanse.

Feedback following the installation has been very positive. Aside from enjoying faster data speeds on their mobile devices and voice calls no longer dropping, Hotel Chocolat employees have particularly mentioned the joy of not being forced to go outside just to make a call. Employees can now connect to team conference calls on their mobile devices which they have never been able to do before.

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