Why the property industry should care about wireless connectivity

By Mark Keenan, director, Real Wireless.

Whether you’re a business in commercial property or a tenant in residential property, wireless connectivity is important. Wireless is one of those things that the UK population has come to view as a new “utility” alongside electricity, water and gas. After all, commercial property tenants would become equally frustrated if these four essential services were to stop working.

Why is wireless important?
Clearly, attracting and retaining tenants is a key reason for installing a comprehensive communications infrastructure, but that’s not all wireless can deliver. A building with wireless infrastructure delivers a wide range of benefits to its owner that go beyond keeping tenants happy, whether that’s enabling the latest smart building features or standing out compared to a competitive site, all of which can create a much stronger business case for investment.

Fig. 1: Wireless applications
Wireless is already an important provision for any business’s staff, guests, on-site security and any emergency service provision. Wireless enables these workers to perform their job effectively, enabling them to communicate both with one another and people externally.

Many commercial properties and public buildings that exist today have some form of basic PMR system (analogue or digital) installed to support radio communications among staff. However, 4G mobile connectivity now poses a very real alternative to PMR systems.

Crucially, 4G enables on-site staff to communicate via the same infrastructure that guests’ mobile phones rely on. As a result, property developers can potentially take the money they would traditionally have invested in a dedicated PMR system, and reallocate that money as a contribution towards the cost of a comprehensive in-building 4G offering.

Wireless is YOUR problem
As network operators work to improve mobile coverage and reliability around the UK, many property developers could be forgiven for thinking that improving wireless is not their problem.  But given wireless connectivity is becoming ever more important to tenants and their businesses, failure to ensure adequate provision is a serious issue. Tenants are more likely to leave a premises without mobile connectivity, resulting in a significantly higher rate of churn and the costs associated with marketing a vacant office, as well as the loss in rent whilst it is vacant, can be significant.

The problem is also being exacerbated by (otherwise positive) attempts to construct environmentally friendly buildings. Large quantities of glass and insulation help maintain a stable temperature inside a building, but have a detrimental effect on the ability of mobile signals to penetrate the building and reach the users inside.

The ways in which tenants are using their mobile devices today is also a key factor in the perception of users about what a good wireless service is. Gone are the days when all users wanted was sufficient 2G coverage to make a phone call or send a text. Now users want high-speed data connectivity with sufficient speed to stream multimedia content and quickly browse the web. 3G and 4G mobile signals’ propagation properties are much lower than 2G, therefore the changes in building materials are having a disproportional impact on newer technologies.

Clearly this is quite a technical issue, which is why we recently launched a free report entitled Wireless & Commercial Property: Why should property developers care? The report distils the knowledge of our experts into a helpful format and covers why wireless should matter to the commercial property industry, what the options are and how to construct a business case that ensures ROI.

But, at a practical level, what can those in the construction industry do to ensure that tenants get the best wireless connectivity possible?

1. Plan early
Property developers would never leave the plumbing or electrical cabling until after they’ve built the property, so why should they treat wireless any differently?

As with any other utility, by properly accounting for wireless services in the early planning stages of a construction project, the end solution will inevitably prove much more cost-effective — as well as less disruptive to the eventual occupiers of the building — than improving connectivity once you’ve completed the project.

2. Start with the fibre
Many property developers not only have concerns that the wireless infrastructure they invest in will not only become obsolete within a few years of opening, but also in the time between installation and filling a building with tenants. With the telecoms industry already talking about 5G, these concerns are understandable, underlining how important it is to have a sensible wireless strategy across your whole portfolio and to select the right connectivity options for a particular building.

But rather than risking investment by rolling out all infrastructure at once, instead divide the network into two parts — the transmitter equipment and the fibre cabling that connects them together. Focus first on efficiently planning and rolling out high-quality fibre throughout the building in a way that provides comprehensive coverage across the site, ensuring that the backbone of any possible connectivity solution is in place. Create space for the different types of equipment that will be required and ensure that the power and A/C supplies are adequate to support this equipment.

You can then add the transmitter equipment closer to the opening date of the building when you have a clear understanding what connectivity tenants actually want. You will also be able to replace equipment quickly and easily as technology evolves or other operators want to join the system.

By rolling out the fibre effectively, and ensuring it is of the highest quality, you will have little need to replace it in the near future. Any future upgrades will be quicker, cheaper and cause minimal disruption to tenants.

3. Seek advice if you’re addressing wireless retrospectively
While planning the rollout of wireless infrastructure early in the development process is the best approach, in some cases that’s just not practical, particularly when renovating an older building that wasn’t designed with wireless in mind.

Improving wireless retrospectively is still a viable and sensible option, however it is also a much more complex undertaking than many building owners at first realise. Any rollout needs to first consider a multitude of factors including:

  • What technologies potential residents are interested in using
  • The areas of the building that these technologies are required
  • How thick the walls are in a property, what materials they use, and how effectively different technologies can penetrate them
  • How a building’s layout can create difficult areas with an acute need for additional coverage
  • The type of network infrastructure most suitable for use in a particular building
  • Who invests in, owns and maintains the equipment
  • How to engage successfully with third parties, such as mobile operators
  • Selecting the right vendors and contractors for deployment
  • Ensuring the service that is delivered meets your requirements

Failure to adequately consider all relevant factors can have serious consequences, leaving a developer with an expensive network of infrastructure that is unable to service the tenants’ needs.

In fact, if you’re keen to provide good wireless coverage to tenants, I would recommend seeking advice from an independent wireless specialist. They will be able to work with you to develop your requirements, establish what the realistic options are, provide a plan of action for a solution, including full costings and business case for securing ROI.

This will help ensure any in-building wireless solution you approach is in the most sensible manner and in a way that will enhance a property’s proposition for current and potential tenants.

Crucially, however, it is important that rather than viewing wireless as a challenge, you view it as an opportunity. Addressing potential tenants’ wireless needs effectively can give you the competitive edge when tenants come to signing on the dotted line, improving the quality of their experience and opening up new opportunities for all concerned to take advantage of recent developments in technology that rely upon wireless connectivity. However, wherever possible, it is helpful and much more cost effective if this is taken in to account as early in the development life cycle as possible.