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People used to stand by office windows for the view; now, they’re probably just trying to get a cellphone signal. We’ve all experienced it: cellular service “dead zones” in multi-tenant buildings, unreliable wi-fi, dropped calls and more. While major cellular carriers have and continue to invest billions in their networks, they have not kept up with demand.
Nowhere is this shortfall more apparent than in the buildings where we work, live, play, shop and conduct business. The problem is that the networks were designed to serve the outdoors, while most of the action has moved indoors.
Mobile communications networks were built out in the 1990s to serve people on the go. Networks were started along highways and expanded into urban centers and suburbs. The subsequent explosion in smartphones has overwhelmed those networks, particularly since an overwhelming majority of activity is coming from sources the networks were not designed to serve.
An estimated 80 percent of mobile traffic originates or terminates within a building. For example, 70 percent of 911 calls take place over the cellular network and 64 percent of calls made to 911 are indoors.
Cellular carriers have responded to the demand by adding towers and otherwise upgrading networks, primarily in urban and suburban areas where the majority of calls are concentrated, but they have struggled to keep up with the growth in traffic and the proliferation of connected devices. As a result, wireless connectivity in buildings is wildly uneven, depending on such factors as proximity to carrier towers, geographic location and features, and even architectural design and building materials.
When it comes to improving connectivity at specific properties, carriers have, not surprisingly, focused their efforts on high-usage Tier 1 structures (arenas, stadiums, casinos, airports, shopping malls, entertainment venues), installing a variety of solutions, including towers, rooftop antennae and small cell networks.
Attention is now shifting to mid-tier venues, defined by the Wireless Infrastructure Association as ranging in size from 100,000 square feet to 500,000 square feet. And that first shift is being accompanied by another shift: While seamless coverage and connectivity was once largely the concern of companies that deal with huge amounts of data, such as banks, insurers and tech firms, more mid-sized and small companies are now increasingly reliant on cellular networks to conduct their business. Indeed, many are forgoing landlines in favor of cellular-only service.
Carriers, however, have been less willing to fund upgrades and buildouts in the less-profitable mid-tier market, leaving it, in many cases, to owners, managers and tenants to devise their own wireless solutions. And there is no consensus on who should provide that fix.
Coleman Parkes Research in 2015 surveyed building managers, facilities managers, real estate managers and architects on wireless issues. When respondents were asked who is responsible for providing cellular coverage in a building:
- 22% thought it was the responsibility of building managers
- 35% said network carriers
- 26% picked IT managers
The wireless necessities
5G is the name given to the next generation of mobile networks. While the standards are still emerging, 5G is expected to feature blazing-fast network speeds and always-on capabilities. 5G is predicted to be commercially available by around 2020, but carriers already are preparing.
5G is likely to be built largely on today’s existing 4G LTE network, but the demand for greater speed and capacity will require new mobile infrastructure, including millions more small cells. Property owners and managers struggling to provide adequate 4G service will soon be facing tenants demanding 5G.
Of course, tenants are not interested in the problems property owners and managers face in resolving these issues; they simply want their data downloaded and their calls connected.
Tenants are coming to view superior wi-fi and cellular coverage as a basic requirement for office space, no different than electricity and air conditioning. While they might badmouth Verizon or AT&T for poor network coverage, they’re more likely to direct their complaints and demands for better service to their landlords, who often are unable or unsure how to help.
Properties with poor coverage are likely to see dissatisfied tenants relocate in search of better service. By comparison, properties with superior coverage are more likely to attract and retain tenants and even increase in value. A good in-building network is a competitive advantage in the market and could even increase the value of a property.
Coleman Parkes survey respondents said indoor wireless coverage could increase a property’s value by 28 percent on average, meaning a $5 million property could be worth $1.4 million more with a dedicated cellular system.
Apart from tenant satisfaction and market competitiveness, there is another compelling reason to improve building wireless networks: emergency communications.
The 9/11 attacks highlighted the dangerous shortcomings of the communication networks upon which police, fire and other emergency responders rely. Any obstruction of the ability of responders to communicate quickly and seamlessly is a threat to life and property.
Since 9/11, there has been a new emphasis on improving emergency communications. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created in 2012 to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide, wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.
In the meantime, several states and private companies are pursuing their own networks and a growing number of cities are requiring new and renovated buildings to provide seamless connectivity for responders. For example, the Los Angeles County Regional Interoperable Communications System links more than 120 law enforcement, security, crowd control and emergency response agencies.
Even where it’s not yet required by law, ensuring connectivity for emergency responders is an investment in seamless building operations, the protection of physical property and the safety of tenants and visitors.
Internet of Things
While most attention so far has been paid to the need for people to be able to communicate with each other over cellular networks, there is another, fast-growing group of users that needs to be considered: the Internet of Things (IoT).
This vaguely ominous sounding term refers to the ever-growing network of physical objects connected to the internet and able to communicate with other internet-enabled devices and systems. IoT is a great development for commercial real estate because it promises to finally make truly “smart buildings” a reality.
But delivering on that promise requires robust connections within a building and with exterior networks and systems. According to Cisco, there will be 3.1 billion machine-to-machine connections to the internet by 2020, with many of these taking place over cellular networks.
Ironically, as buildings are made stronger and more energy efficient, they are more resistant to the penetration of radio and cellular signals. Construction materials such as steel framing and roofs, concrete and low-E film on windows, as well as in-building electromagnetic fields can interfere with the signals upon which IoT relies.
Picking a partner
So, given all the good reasons for a dedicated in-building network, what’s preventing property owners and managers from adding them? The Coleman Parkes survey identified three major obstacles:
- Cost – 35%
- Complexity of the technology – 19%
- Lack of skilled workers to manage it – 11%
Not surprisingly, the response of property owners and managers to the problem of poor service has been, in many cases, patchwork and piecemeal, largely due to the problems listed above, as well as a lack of knowledge about the best solutions and how to implement them.
Although the money usually comes from their budgets, company IT departments typically do not have the capacity or expertise to design and integrate wireless systems. This difficulty is compounded by a lack of planning for wireless connectivity by those who design buildings. The Coleman Parkes survey found that only 56% of building managers, facilities managers, real estate managers and architects always consider mobile connectivity for a building’s tenants when working on projects. And only 48% of architects globally design buildings with cellular coverage in mind.
With connectivity often an afterthought, building owners and property managers must scramble for solutions, dealing with a variety of providers to address different aspects of the problem. This approach is inefficient and can cause network incompatibilities, resulting in additional expense and disruption, as well as unhappy tenants.
The most effective and efficient approach is to work with a single, full-service provider who can handle everything from real estate issues, network assessment and design to installation and maintenance.
There are many network solution providers out there, but few have the advantage of a background in commercial real estate. SureSite Consulting Group was founded in 1999 by commercial real estate professionals to provide the wireless telecommunications industry with site development services, such as real estate acquisition and zoning solutions. Its offerings have grown to include all aspects of wireless communications, including wi-fi, DAS, small cell and fiber, and the company is equally at ease with new construction, renovations and retrofits. It has offices in Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco, as well as field offices throughout the country.
Because of its commercial real estate background, SureSite understands the needs, challenges and pain points of property managers and developers in ways that cable installers and OEMs cannot. That makes it easier for SureSite to incorporate its clients’ needs into custom-designed network solutions and to communicate in language both provider and client understand.
“The in-building industry is working really hard to create cost effective solutions for building owners and enterprises,” said SureSite VP Greg Parros.
A turnkey solution
To solve the problems of clients who want a comprehensive, scalable solution to their wireless issues, SureSite has developed Triple-Play™, a methodical programmatic approach to delivering the next generation of in-building wireless communications. It incorporates cellular, wi-fi and emergency communications in a single, cost-effective solution:
- Improve cellular coverage, capacity and performance for constituents
- Improve quality of service
- Decrease dropped calls
- Increase wireless and data throughput speeds
- Add high-density wi-fi
- Support location-based services
- Support wi-fi calling
- Comply with public safety requirements/mandates
- Keep up with safety mandates
- Renew focus on fail-proof emergency communications
- Incorporating Triple Play wireless design engineering into technology upgrades, new building construction or tenant improvements is a cost-effective way to add the infrastructure needed for the smart building of the future
“The business model has changed over the last few years. Fortunately, technology continues to evolve and cost-effective solutions are available to support the necessary infrastructure buildouts. “At SureSite, we partner with industry-leading experts to ensure we provide the most flexible and cost-effective solution to fit your needs,” said Tom Neddenriep, director of technical services.
SureSite’s team of experienced professionals integrates existing and add-on wireless services in a seamless network that provides the most comprehensive coverage in a building or complex. The company also offers SureSite University, an on-site educational program for property managers and owners. It covers such topics as an overview of small cell, oDAS and iDAS technologies; wireless in the public right of way; and dealing with utilities, landlords and legal jurisdictions.
To learn more about SureSite and SureSite University, contact Angelique Chamberlain at firstname.lastname@example.org 818-309-5163
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