Radio Frequency Shielding

Eric Kuczynski – Signals Defense


  • You have a unique niche in the construction and envelope market.  How did this begin, and where do you see the future of building shielding going?
  • Can you describe architectural shielding as it relates to RF energy?
  • RF energy is commonly understood by the general public, as it relates to our everyday lives, via cell phones and wifi.  We also see growing security concerns over these and other devices in the news and elsewhere.  What are some of the security concerns that most people aren’t aware of?
  • Your products and services seem to center around the glass and glazing, but that’s just one piece of the envelope.  Can you discuss the other features of construction that might impact RF shielding?
  • It seems our government and others have taken this type of technology and security very seriously for many years.  What other applications or customers do you see benefiting from this?

 

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Paul: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. We’ve got a really interesting topic today, kind of nothing that we’ve talked about before on this podcast, Radio Frequency Shielding. And we’re gonna learn all about that related to security. Our guest is Eric Kuczynski. Eric, thank you for coming on.

Eric: Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul: Yes. So this is pretty interesting, but before we dive into the topic, maybe you could tell the listeners a little bit about yourself.

Eric: Sure. So I’ve been with Signals Defense here for nearly 15 years. Took over the president role here at the company just earlier this year in 2017. And before that I worked for several years for a large general contractor here in the Baltimore, DC area where I had some experience with very unique projects around this space, and for some very unique customers of all types. So I come from this side of the US and look forward to talking to folks here around the world that we’ve been working in here at Signals Defense for the last 15 years or so.

Paul: Great. So tell us a little bit about Signals Defense also, please.

Eric: Sure. So Signals Defense has been around since the late ’90s, and we were founded on several requests to provide higher levels or better levels of radio frequency and infrared shielding for Windows. And that request really came out of several secure government clients who were looking for better technology as the world of technology was proving in the communication space. There was the realization that many existing facilities have some security vulnerabilities that need to be resolved. And so Signals Defense was a pioneer in developing and putting together some products that could be implemented in the field very quickly through window films and glass to secure many of these facilities quickly based on a lot of that new technology development. And so 15 years later, actually closer to 20 years later, we’re still here doing the majority of the same thing with some new technology and moving these clients through, and really developing outside of a traditional government space and into a true commercial space as well. So Signals Defense has a coast-to-coast reach of clients and customers including international partnerships and clients as well.

Paul: This is like an upgrade over the cone of silence in “Get Smart.”

Eric: That’s a pretty good way to put it into pictures. It’s the idea of this technology or uses of radio frequencies to get into a network or get into a client or hack, if you will. The methods and means are just exponentially growing day to day, and you can hop on the internet or the television and see what corporations are having problems or which governments are listening in on other governments even up through these last couple weeks. And the ability and the tools are getting more prolific and accessible to everybody. And so Signals Defense is a piece of the solution for buildings and for customers who have these concerns and might be exposed to threats that they might know about and many that they don’t know about.

Paul: Yeah. You know what you’re saying is so true. Just, you know, reading the paper, watching the news, which isn’t always my favorite thing to do, but you know, there’s so many things going on now. It seems like everything’s coming at you from all sides with the technology advances that we’ve had. And you know, obviously, it gives the people, I guess for lack of better term, the bad guys, you know, more opportunities and things can be a lot more invasive than they used to. So it looks like you really have a unique niche in the construction envelope market. So, and you told us how the company got started. So I don’t know if you want to talk about that anymore, but where is this headed as well?

Eric: So really, originally, as I mentioned in the beginning, the initial driver behind trying to find a product for glass that would secure facilities as many buildings as possible quickly came in the form of a window film. And so in order to deliver that radio frequency and infrared protection – and we can kind of get into what some of that means a little bit later – but the quickest way to do that was through a window film. And I know in the glazing industry, sometimes, the window film gets put into kind of a category where folks don’t really wanna talk about it, they might have issues with it in the past or a bad experience. But the technology in surface-supplied films and coding has come tremendously far, not only in the last 20 years, but even in the last 10 years.

And so our initial products and now six generations later are all based around a sputter-coated metallic films that are high in light transmission and low reflectivity. But it’s all in one single layer or single component, vs. multiple layers or multiple components put together. And so by doing that, these products are purposefully built specifically to reject radio frequency and infrared energy. So it’s not a byproduct or an accident that these films or are coated glass or our laminates provide that type of protection. They’re specifically built to resolve kind of that range across the radio frequency and infrared spectrum that are of concern. So it’s a nice solution in a space that really never had a solution or was just kind of a byproduct, because folks understand especially in this building envelope space, they understand energy rejection, they understand taking care of certain things, whether it be water, air, energy, but that RF, that radio frequency space is something that’s really still new to a lot of people. So that’s kind of a hole that we plugged here over the last almost 20 years.

Paul: So, you mentioned this already, but I was looking at your website before we, you know, did the show, and I know this that there are a lot of different applications for when you’re able to use your technology within the glazing window industry. And you mentioned film and I think you mentioned coatings and laminates. And that was actually my question was, you know, what are all the different components that you can apply your technology to with windows and glazing?

Eric: Yes. Sure, sure. So the film is a great solution to plug the glass, basically the hole in the bucket if you will. And just like all other components of construction, those openings, the windows and doors are always the biggest vulnerability for an architect or a security designer to evaluate. That’s where you have energy concerns, that’s where you have spout concerns. And then same thing in the radio frequency space as well, that your windows and doors are always your weakest link. But again, the Signals Defense technology was based around highlight transmission, yet giving you all this performance. One little parallel I like to give folks is if you ever got an EV Pass for your vehicle in the mail, when it came, it came with a little pouch, a little foil pouch. And they give you the instructions that you need to put this EV pass into the pouch if you don’t wanna use it.

Now, that’s kind of a silvery-looking pouch and you can kind of see through it, or at least it used to be that way. And so that kind of illustrates the intent, okay, that’s an RFID device, a radio frequency device that communicates with a toll booth. So that’s a really simple real-world application of shielding and something that we use every day. However, when it comes to windows and a building envelope or any portion of the envelope, you need that original intent or the original function of those components like the precast or the panels or the glass to do what they were supposed to do from the outset, meaning you want a certain architectural appearance, you need a certain thermal performance, you need, maybe you need hurricane protection or different win-loads or, you know, all those things have to work together to give you what they were originally put there for.

But now, whether you’re government or commercial, you have this new technology to deal with which is a lot of radio frequency energy happening, and you have to make all those work together. So Signal Defense technology is centered around the window opening, but we also have different components and we consult on other products that deal with the opaque surfaces, the areas behind the panels, the areas behind the precast. And depending what you’re trying to do, and the intent or the level of shielding that you need, that will determine what you do with all those other things.

But really, our proprietary data and our patents are based around high radio frequency, and high infrared rejection, and high VLT, high visible light… You can achieve all of this with opaque dark surfaces that you don’t need to see through. But we all want windows, we all want the view, and we need that for leads, we need that for a lot of other purposes. So how do you achieve all those security functions yet maintain the original intent of the window?

Paul: So basically, you’re trying to get the performance and make it invisible, is that right?

Eric: That would be the ultimate goal would be to make this completely unnoticeable to the untrained eye. And for the most part, it is. And that’s what our technology, that’s what makes it still unique, is in most cases our films or our laminated glass is when it’s incorporated in from the start of the project or at the inception of the design, it can be built into the system so that nobody knows it’s there. Now, if we remember from our junior high physics days, that electromagnetic spectrum that contains visible light also contains the UV, and the microwave, and the RF, and the IR, and the X-Ray, and the gamma ray. If we remember that, we have to remember that all these signals and this whole spectrum is all related.

So when it comes to radio frequencies and infrared, both of those occur, especially infrared, very close to visible light. So when you impact one thing on the spectrum, you start to impact something else. And so infrared, for example, is another wavelength, it might be invisible light or it might be visible. So if you have a pointer in a classroom, that is a visible light laser, if you will, or IR energy. But it might also be invisible like your television remote, which you can’t see that signal or the beam, but it’s there. And so back to windows, when you impact or you’re trying to reduce or stop radio frequencies and infrared energy, you generally start to impact some of the visible performances. And what we’ve been able to do is reduce or minimize that impact, yet still give you the other performance. And that’s what really makes it unique.

Paul: What we’re talking about here with the whole platform is architectural shielding. So basically, taking the building and making it resistant or stop whatever it is that you want to go through it, is that right?

Eric: Yeah. So really all of this, as I mentioned, started as a security requirement for intelligence organizations and governments. Because of that, we see a developing need outside of the government today. And again, you can look in the news and see what people are doing to other people. But just in the last 20 years, the proliferation and the growth of radio frequency devices, and by that I’m talking about Wi-Fi. That’s easy for everyone to understand because most of us have it in our house, in our offices, it’s everywhere. Bluetooth technology, right? Everything we have it might be talking to something else so that we can play music on a remote speaker or we can print wirelessly.

And that translates to RFID for all of your inventory control. How do these major retailers control inventory? Everything has an RFID tag on it, just like your EV pass. So translate that into just the last couple of years with smart appliances, smart buildings, all building control systems, data, security systems, many of them going wireless. I mean, you can buy wireless cameras, right, for your house today, and all of that is RF energy, it’s all talking to your Wi-Fi and making something work. Well, it’s still accelerating and there’s no sign of that getting any less. Even here we are in the second decade of the of the 21st century and it’s still growing.

So as we continue to make these buildings and our offices smarter and smarter, and more and more everyday devices start talking to each other, we’re starting to see RF levels and the security concerns of interference or hacking grow, okay? With the more energy we generate inside of our space, in your office today, the more electronics you have, the more energy you are pushing out through your office. So what we’re seeing in commercial world is almost a workplace efficiency problem where there’s too much stuff that’s getting too smart and starting to interfere with each other, not to mention the security piece of that, right? The more stuff you put in the air, the more vulnerable you are to somebody getting in there and taking it.

So this topic of building shielding which, really, for 50 plus years has kind of been really a government-type mindset around security has gotten a little more public, and real corporations are taking this very seriously. So the whole intent of what we call architectural shielding is to enhance your building envelope, or maybe it’s just a room. But in our space, we’re generally looking at whole buildings or portions of whole buildings where you’re trying to provide that shield. And as you mentioned, Paul, the cone of silence, if you will, maybe that quiet in there, maybe it’s a commercial company who occupies three quarters of a building, but they’d maybe do some very sensitive stuff or they have some corporate proprietary information that they don’t wanna have moving across their Wi-Fi down to their neighbors. And so they kind of wanna create that cone of silence or that RF tight space, if you will, that contains that energy.

And it works both ways. You might not want the impact of the interference coming from the outside, from somebody else, maybe you don’t want your neighbor’s Wi-Fi flooding into your space, and you don’t wanna be pushing your energy out of the space. So if you think of it that way, and I like to use it when relating it to building envelope, you think about the water tests that you do when you’re done putting together a system and you do a test. Well, this is similar, not quite the same but you can kind of put it on that parallel and say, “Look, I don’t want to lose my energy, I don’t want people coming and going.” And I’ve kind of coined a term around this called RF predictable or radio frequency predictability. If you can control your environment, then you can be a lot more efficient and secure on top of it.

Paul: Yeah, it’s funny because when you’re talking about that, I was just thinking, I was in a building in downtown Miami a few weeks ago. Right around this new Brickell City Centre development which has, you know, a lot of big high rises all around. I remember looking for the Wi-Fi of the guest Wi-Fi office I was in, and I could not believe how many other signals were showing up. And you know, I could see where that would be a big concern because you don’t know…you know, everybody’s got a way in, you don’t know who they are, you know, you always try to keep people out, but you try to, you know, protect stuff with passwords or anything. But having that much stuff coming in, I would think, would give security concerns also.

Eric: You hit the nail on the head there, Paul. And it goes that way with any technology, right? Everything was developed with a good intent in mind, and all of this technology, the convenience is fantastic. The way we move information is quick, it’s efficient, it’s tremendously positive for the majority of our society and all those ethical uses for it every day, whether it’s health care, education, you name it. Our technology helps us do things so much better than we used to. Unfortunately, all that technology find their way into many unethical hands and unethical users.

And one of the biggest threats we see, and whether it’s the amount of Wi-Fi access points in this space, which is scary enough because whether it’s encrypted or password protected or not, there’s plenty of tools to get into people devices through every day Wi-Fi. But one of the biggest emerging threats we see is the use of drones. And it’s not just the use of the drone itself, and there’s plenty of recreational and corporate uses and benefits out of drone technology. But what the drone does is it brings all those traditional threats into a new up close proximity, right? We’ve seen them crash on the White House lawn, we’ve seen them flying on corporate events or speeches, and we’ve seen them potentially deliver a destructive or maybe explosive device.

Well, in the RF space, now, you now have a tool that can pull right up to the 15th floor of a building and hack the Wi-Fi. Now, it used to be when you were on the 15th floor or the 20th floor or even the 10th floor, or if you had a 30 meter step back with a fence because you had a nice corporate campus, that what you were doing was pretty safe. Well, the drone has eliminated that boundary. And in this country, we can’t just shoot down a drone because that’s invasion of privacy. So think about the new scary, unethical uses of these devices. And now we can use Wi-Fi to heat map what’s on the other side of a wall.

So the drone just makes another tool to get that technology closer to you. And so we’re seeing kind of the dawn of a new evolution of shielding requirements because now you can just drive an RF device or a hacking tool right up to somebody and there’s enough smart people out there who know those kinds of tools to get in to your system. It’s just certainly not the world it was even 20 years ago.

Paul: Yeah. Some of the smartest people are probably some of the most unethical too, it seems. So if you have a building that is fully protected with RF shielding, what do they do, like with the cell phone call if they’re inside the building? Is there…is that just doesn’t work or is there a workaround for that?

Eric: That’s a great question and it’s a very, very common question. So cell phone technology is very, very powerful. It operates in the gigahertz space. So gigahertz is another higher set of frequencies. So if you think of your your FM radio, right, you’re operating in the megahertz, okay? When you dial your radio in, and for those of us that still do that, and you dial in your radio, you are capturing a megahertz signal of that station. And then in AM, it’s kilohertz. Well, our phones operate in the gigahertz. So, and here we are coming up on 5G technology for phones and more and more towers, more and more bandwidth and data because everyone wants to be able to do everything fast and do everything immediate.

So these devices are truly smart and they’re ultra, ultra powerful. The whole intent of architectural shielding in the first place was not intended to turn off or shut down somebody’s cell phone. And we’ve gotten plenty of phone calls from schools or other places that are having a hard time getting their kids to maybe stop pulling out their phones during class. Well, that’s really hard to do. In order to stop a cell phone, you need a tremendous amount of RF attenuation. And the whole purpose of architectural shielding in the sense that we’re talking about here today was not to provide impenetrable, 100% blockage of everything. That’s really difficult to do, that’s a lab type environment only. To incorporate it into everyday building technology, we’re not gonna achieve that kind of shielding levels that you need to shut off a cell phone.

Now, that said, today’s construction market and the growing use of in-building wireless. So with that being said, today’s construction market and especially in new buildings, but in retrofit as well, the in-building wireless or IBW is one acronym or distributed antenna systems, DAS, D-A-S, those systems have been growing again at a pretty fast rate over the last 10 years, and what those are is the pre-wiring or post-wiring of a building to provide all those services from the inside. So traditionally, you would park a car in a parking lot and your phone might be connected to the tower across the street or down the highway, and you would come in to your building and your phone is maybe still connected to that tower that’s half a mile away. Well, especially in denser urban environments, and due to changing life safety codes across the country, but mainly large metropolitan areas, we must provide coverage in these building for these life safety codes for cell phones across the board.

So that means first responders, anybody coming for emergency response must be able to access all of those emergency channels. And everybody working in the building could be a first responder as well. So they expect cell phones and data to continue to work in a building in every corner of the building all the time. So what that means is you’re gonna start to see, from the inside out, it’s becoming another utility in these facilities or any building, any commercial building in downtown Manhattan today has a distributed antenna system being built in from the ground up, which means when you’re in that building your phone connects to the building, not the tower on the top of the building across the street, but you’re actually connected to the building. And you don’t know it, but your phone makes a hand-off from one tower to, basically, the antennas inside the building.

And then the other technology that’s been around for a while is what most people might think of as repeater systems, which means they capture that cell phone signal from the outside and pull it to the inside. So in some cases, it’s possible that architectural shielding might inhibit or reduce some cell phone coverage, but it’s really hard to stop that service to begin with. And secondly, many buildings today are incorporating that service from the inside anyway. So we don’t see it being an issue going forward, and it’s really gonna make those systems work better.

We’ve done a few studies with iBwave, which is a company who does software modeling for in-building wireless systems. And architectural shielding can actually benefit and improve. Remember that RF predictability term I used earlier, architectural shielding can actually improve the efficiency of your space inside, including your cell phones if you have a DAS or a distributed antenna system already incorporated.

Paul: So there’s a workaround, and even better, if you’re starting with a clean sheet of paper, you can really design a really great system that gives you what you want but doesn’t let in what you don’t want.

Eric: That’s where we see the future going with this, is as awareness grows around not only the security piece, but the efficiency piece, is these buildings are getting smarter and interfering with each other. You’re gonna want to start to isolate yourself. Depending in the environment that you live in or and work in, you’re pretty soon gonna wanna have your space to yourself for many different reasons. And that includes the RF. You’re gonna wanna have your own RF space and not have somebody else interfering with it.

Paul: You know it’s funny because I just had some issues with my wireless, my home wireless. And one of the problems was, if I’m saying this right, my frequency was like too close to some other people’s frequencies that was picking up in my house. So that makes a lot of sense in that context.

Eric: We’ve all seen the garage door opener that opens up the neighbor’s accidentally and/or the car keys that maybe one in a million times it opens up somebody else’s car on the other side of the country. But it’s pretty amazing, there are lots of little everyday examples, but what I’m really trying to address is that it’s only getting worse. And the more stuff we make more convenient, the more RF, radio frequency energy we’re putting into our space.

Paul: So as far as using RF shielding technology, what do you do outside of the windows and doors or the glass?

Eric: One of the big services that we provide that not many folks do is the consulting piece around this. So there are RF, radio frequency testing labs across the country, but there’s not a lot of folks doing assessments specifically for this kind of concern. And so we can actually bring some folks on site to assess your current building skin or a wall here or some glass there. Some of this can be done in a lab, but we can actually do that in the field and provide data, real-world data on what you’re building is doing, and this happens every day. We get phone calls from folks who have concerns with a new satellite dish that was put up and what that might mean, or there’s a new wireless signal here that wasn’t here before and it shouldn’t be here or… Those types of concerns come in and we have the ability to provide in field assessments and recommendations on how to improve.

And it’s never…as we kind of alluded to earlier, it’s never eliminate, it’s very difficult to completely eliminate radio frequency transmissions, but we can reduce it to the point where it doesn’t impact you or it’s safe of it’s secure. So that’s a huge, growing piece for us. That also goes for new construction as well. There are so many little things that you can incorporate, and if you’re thinking ahead at the time of inception, you can incorporate small little things along the way that make your building a little bit better. And of course, it’s always harder to go back and fix something later or add something or increase a budget. But when you address some of these issues…because you’re already addressing physical security, regardless of who you are. You’ve already decided that you’re gonna have a certain kind of door or a certain kind of lock or certain kinds of cameras. But again, this RF space, this radio frequency space gets lost and it’s not really being addressed soon enough in the job, and we can help with that.

Paul: So this all began with the government, you know, obviously makes sense. And now others have taken this type of technology and secured it very seriously. So what other kinds of applications are customers are benefiting from this?

Eric: We have examples of a host of different things. And some of them I alluded to where we have a client, for example, in a very dense urban environment who is in a historic structure and they were about to occupy several new floors, and they told us, “We have 1500, count it 1500 wireless network access points passing through our space.” To your point earlier, Paul, about being down in Miami, this company was…they couldn’t even operate because they had so much interference from other people and residential locations and cell phone hotspots, etc. And they just needed a simple shielding solution to cut down and isolate themselves a little bit from their neighbors, the DAs and in-building wireless example. It doesn’t fit every distributed antenna system project or building because some of those, they’re great, they work really well, they provide efficient coverage for the occupants inside. However, you never know.

There have been scenarios where we’ve been asked to come in and help make their system better, make it more efficient because those systems are competing with an outside signal. So if you think about the inside of a building that is generating its own cell service, there’s still a cell tower somewhere outside that building. And your phone might be confused as to who it’s supposed to talk to. My smartphone here might be trying to connect to the outside tower, but trying to connect to the building at the same time. We’ve had clients call us and say, “We’re having a cell phone problem, but it’s only this one carrier and it’s because of this system is confusing the phones.” Shielding helps put a little bit of a barrier up there and make it really easy for those systems to work.

And every day other examples just occur around, “I’m concerned about my Wi-Fi. How far is my signal? How many of my neighbors can see my Wi-Fi?” And I always use that example for folks, how far can you walk away from your office or your home still connected to your Wi-Fi on your phone? Can you get 5 meters, 10 meters, 30 meters? How far can you go? However far you can go as is the limit of your vulnerability, that’s where folks if they get into your air space… So really, the security pieces build the primary driver around all of this.

I will throw in one other benefit and kind of go back to that electromagnetic spectrum discussion, is all of us in the glazing space, in the glazing world, we understand that solar energy, the majority of the solar energy in the sun heat comes from infrared. So hopefully nobody was out there staring at the eclipse the other day without all the proper protection, because it’s not just about making it dark. It’s about those infrared wavelengths that you can’t see that have nothing to do with visible light, that’s what does the majority of the damage. And so that aside, Signals Defense technology is the best product for taking care of radio frequency and infrared energy for security purposes. But because of that, it does a tremendous job at solar energy rejection.

So you actually get a pretty high energy savings benefit out of a product that you were probably gonna put in because of a security concern. So that’s a great side benefit, and we can actually perform energy modeling that says, “If you’re gonna do this on your facility, you’re gonna realize some savings over time and actually help provide some of that ROI.”

Paul: So I think when people think of radio frequency shielding, you know, obviously the first thing I thought was security. But it’s really interesting that there’s so much clutter, I guess, I’d say for lack of another thing. You talk about the 1500 signals going to the building that the the efficiency aspect, and then on top of that even possibly some energy efficiency. It’s really nice to have all those, you know, multi-benefits basically out of the same technology.

Eric: A host of benefits there that…and some of those you can actually apply real-world dollars to, especially on that energy side.

Paul: So Eric, this is really fascinating. So people wanna find out more about radio frequency shielding and Signals Defense and what it is you guys, how do they…

Eric: Yeah, Paul, our website is fairly informative and has quite a bit of content in there. You can go to www.signalsdefense.com for more information. We do get around the country quite a bit with a few trade organizations and security events as well. We have some international partners. We’d be happy to help out any way we can with any concerns or questions. We have examples of work all across the country in the US here. And that includes all 50 states. Now, sometimes it’s hard to get good references depending on who we were working for in those areas. So sometimes that’s difficult, but we’d be happy to answer any questions and schedule a meeting or call with anyone who wants to talk about this.

Paul: So when you say it’s hard to get good references, it’s not because you guys do a crappy job but because of the confidentiality, right?

Eric: Perfect, correct. Thanks for the clarification there. Some of our clients…we’re in the security business and so the security functions of what we do, our clients expect us to maintain that confidentiality. And so we do get that often where somebody says, “Hey what did you do here and why? And I need five references.” Well, that might be hard because quid pro quo with some of that stuff and we got to be careful as a security company here.

Paul: All those confidentiality agreements I’m sure you sign every day.

Eric: Plenty of those in this business, that is for sure.

Paul: Well, Eric, really really interesting, and I thank you very much for coming on. I know the listeners are really gonna get some good stuff out of this. So thank you very much.

Eric: So, Paul, thank you, too, to you and the Everything Building Envelope team. I really appreciate the discussion today.

Paul: Yeah, really happy to have you. And I’d also like to thank all of our listeners at Everything Building Envelope. If you wanna get more information about the show with the show notes, please visit everythingbuildingenvelope.com. And until next time, this is Paul Beers saying, “So long.”