In-Building Market Expects to See Changes from New UL Standard
Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | Comments

Several jurisdictions around the country are beginning to adopt a new UL standard for in-building communications that could change the in-building market.

UL-2524 covers a variety of components and products used in in-building two-way radio communications systems, including repeaters, transmitters, signal boosters, bidirectional amplifiers (BDAs), power supplies and charging system components.

The focus of the standard is on certifying the products as an overall in-building system and not just as individual components, said Dennis Burns, public-safety service manager for Advanced RF Technologies (ADRF).

Because the standard looks at the system as a whole and not its individual components, it should help provide a higher level of reliability throughout the system, Burns said.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Jim Lilienfeld, southeast regional manager for ADRF. “It will force people to buy products that have gone through this testing, and it will make sure that municipalities have radios that work in building, and if they’re in a situation where they have to kill the power, the BDAs and battery backups will do their job and provide service to first responders.”

UL officially published the UL-2524 standard in October 2018, and it is up to local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) to adopt the standard. Several AHJs are beginning to do so.

“There are a couple of jurisdictions that have embraced and adopted it, and a couple have deadlines coming up,” said Don Henry, North America vice president of sales for Comba Telecom.

In January, the Broward County, Florida, Board of Rules and Appeals announced that as of April 19, all BDA systems submitted for approval in the county must comply with the UL-2524 standard. Jurisdictions in Wisconsin, Northern California and Washington state have also either begun adopting the standard or announced intentions to do so.

The burden of complying with the standard falls on manufacturers and not the building owners, as the manufacturers must certify their products to the standard, Burns said. “It really puts the onus on us as an OEM.”

Henry said that he is concerned that initially the new standard could leave building owners with an in-building product that is not best suited to their needs because of the deadlines some jurisdictions have set for requiring UL-2524-compliant products.

Because so few vendors have completed the certification process for UL-2524, only a few products comply with the final version of UL-2524, Henry said. If a building owner in a jurisdiction such as Broward County is seeking a product, that building owner could be shoehorned into purchasing the few products that comply with the standard, he said.

Many of the requirements in the new standard are related to electromechanical performance or water ingress, and the standard has little impact on the system’s RF performance, Henry said. “Just because the product is UL-2524 compliant, doesn’t mean it’s the best product for the job.”

Henry said that he feels that standard was pushed out quickly by UL and several jurisdictions rapidly adopted it after the final version was published. He pointed to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and International Fire Code (IFC) standards and how those codes generally do not go into effect until two years after they’re published.

“We think the UL-2524 thing, honestly, happened too quickly,” Henry said.

The biggest challenge in the certification process isn’t making the changes to the product, but in getting the product approved by UL because of how many companies are going through the process, said Henry.

“That’s going to be the bottleneck because now you’re going to have everyone standing in line with their grandmother, saying ‘Pick me, pick me, pick me,’ ” he said.

Lilienfeld and Burns said they don’t think the new standard going into effect was rushed. For example, Broward County put out a notice in October, around when the standard was published, about its intentions to require compliance.

“The counties are giving everyone an opportunity to get certified to this,” said Lilienfeld. “I think the counties are being very fair when it comes down to this.”

In mid-May, Broward County's Board of Rules and Appeals released a supplement to its UL-2524 decision that allows the use of equipment approved to either UL-2524 or UL-60950, which was published in March 2017. The supplement notes that a section UL-2524 says that if a product meets UL-60950, the product meets most of the construction requirements of UL-2524.

ADRF began the certification process in November. In April, Burns said that ADRF expected to have a UL-2524 solution available soon, and that solution would likely be the first available UL-2524-compliant Class A channelized solution, he said.

In late April, Henry said that Comba expected to have a UL-2524-compliant solution available in the next three to four months.

Find more information about the UL-2524 standard here.

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Comments
On 5/26/19, Mike Brownson said:
The UL2524 conversation is a complex one. I also agree that some AHJs have pushed too fast to adopt. Currently there is only one manufacturer offering UL-listed gear, and there is a five- to six-month backlog for testing. As Don mentioned, it would be unwise for a city to adopt too quickly as they would seriously limit the choices of a solution. For example if it is a really large building or a campus, a fiber distributed solution should be used. However there are no fiber systems currently available under UL2524. So that might mean the integrator would use multiple BDAs in a single building, which could be detrimental to the system's performance. I encourage AHJs to allow some time for a full solution set to become available. Disclosure: I am a member of the UL2524 technical program.

Dennis mentions the UL standard applies to an overall in-building system. It doesn't. It applies only to the active components such as BDAs and BBUs. It does not apply to any passive components such as antennas, cables and splitters, nor does it test performance as a system. So there is no assurance that a UL-listed system will perform any better than a non-listed system. What UL2524 does do is to assure the AHJs that the active components are electrically safe, will repel water and will provide the features as defined by NFPA. As a member of the technical program, I'm looking forward to guiding this listing to become more relevant to the industry. But a UL listing will never replace good design and installation practices, which are the true measure of performance and survivability of a public-safety BDA system.

On 5/23/19, Douglas Jarrett said:
Assuming AT&T's FirstNet and Verizon's answer to FirstNet succeed in the marketplace, shouldn't these wireless providers be required to install in-building systems to meet these requirements? If not how many radios must public-safety responders carry and maintain?


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