Raleigh, N.C. - Building air ducts can help boost cellphone and Wi-Fi signals in stores, helping retailers expand their mobile marketing efforts..
Research at North Carolina State University shows that the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning ducts (HVAC) that snake through commercial real estate act as natural signal boosters that can help eliminate dead spots in stores.
This would be a boon to retailers like Best Buy and Target, which are rolling out mobile-marketing programs that send coupons, sales alerts and product information to shopper's cell phones.
According to a report in Storefront Backtalk, an industry newsletter, the researchers found that HVAC ductwork is an excellent conduit for cell tower transmissions because the ducts typically consist of hollow metal pipes. The group was originally searching for ways to boost RFID signals in stores.
Retailers would still require a microcell repeater to grab and strengthen the cell signals, although the ducts themselves would act as distributed antennae, said Dr. Dan Stancil, chairman of the university's electrical and computer engineering department.
"The ducts will increase the range in a very different way, meaning that you can cover Wi-Fi with far fewer access points," he said.