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Going Outdoors with Cellular, Wi-Fi, and Gateway Networks

Going Outdoors with Cellular, Wi-Fi, and Gateway Networks

Wireless technology has become commonplace in everyone’s life. Recently, I saw a pay phone and took a picture of it…it might be the last one I see. But especially in digital signage and digital out of home (DOOH), each wireless technology has been designed for a different purpose.


Cellular data connectivity is an excellent solution for getting content to digital billboards. Large digital billboards typically use an industrial PC for storing and displaying content. A cellular data modem or gateway provides an internet connection that will allow the media supplier or network operator to access the billboard.

Cell phones and Wi-Fi connectivity work well for mobile phone and laptop computers, but do not offer the reliability and ruggedness demanded by outdoor digital signage. Outdoor digital signage requires a robust and reliable connection in order to minimize support costs and downtime. Both industrial cellular gateways and industrial 900 MHz wireless ethernet offer solutions to meet the needs of the growing market for outdoor digital signage. In most cases, outdoor signage locations have power supplied to the sign location for lighting, but very few have data connectivity. Due to the high cost of “trenching” a wired data connection either across a parking lot or across town, wireless is the most cost-effective way to connect to outdoor digital signs. There are many different wireless technologies being used for digital signage connectivity. Using the right wireless technology to fit your particular application can depend on a number of trade-offs, including amount of content, how often the content changes, distance from the sign to the business or advertiser, and how the enterprise is managed. Based on these trade-offs, there is a wireless technology that will best meet your needs.

Cellular data connectivity is an excellent solution for getting content to digital billboards. Large digital billboards typically use an industrial PC for storing and displaying content. A cellular data modem or gateway provides an internet connection that will allow the media supplier or network operator to access the billboard. The monthly recurring cost of this connection can be as little as $10/month or as much as $70/month depending on how much and how often the content is modified or changed. This monthly recurring cost can be minimized if you have multiple digital billboards within a few miles of each other. A single cellular gateway network drop can be placed at one billboard and the other billboards can be networked to the drop location with a wireless point-to-multipoint connection. This consists of an access point unit at the cellular gateway drop that exchanges data with multiple subscriber units at the other billboards.

When choosing the wireless technology to connect your outdoor digital signs, it is important to consider the environmental, security, and reliability needs of the application. Industrial wireless technologies, both proprietary and standard, are generally being used because consumer-grade Wi-Fi equipment fails to meet these stringent requirements and can cause ongoing maintenance issues. Outdoor environments present extremes of temperature, moisture, and dust that can greatly affect the performance of electronic wireless hardware. Delivering robust and reliable wireless connectivity, industrial wireless equipment is specifically designed for rugged environments and 24/7 operation. A 900 MHz ethernet bridge will connect reliably through obstructions across a 2-mile gap. If you need a reliable ethernet connection to an outdoor digital sign, industrial 900 MHz ethernet trades a one-time cost of the hardware for a lifetime of trouble-free connectivity.

Matt Nelson (mnelson@avalanwireless.com) is CEO and President, AvaLAN Wireless Systems, Inc.