Advanced Wireless

By on Oct 16, 2020 in Technology

Wireless technology is an intrinsic part of everyday life. Whether it’s for mobile work, communication, entertainment or staying informed, the ability to have wireless connectivity anywhere we go is critical. The landscape of wireless is changing. It is faster and more widely available now than it ever has been in the past. Let’s explore how the new normal in wireless is shaping the commercial real estate industry for landlords and tenants.

One of the ways in which connectivity has affected consumers is the time they spend in an establishment. A shopping mall for example, will see their crowds linger if they have better service inside the building or stores. Sporting venues throughout the world are spending millions of dollars on infrastructure enhancements to be able to give fans the ability to keep up with other games in real-time, a reason many fans cite as a motive to stay home and watch multiple games simultaneously.

Brian Schwartz, vice president of IT at Macerich, said on a recent Realcomm webinar that there are several ways to enhance connectivity. Improving Wi-Fi, distributed antenna systems (DAS), CBRS and newer tech like LPWAN and expanding use of sensors, will all play a role for the connected customer. LPWAN is key for transmitting significant amounts of data over long distances and was created for machine learning and IoT interconnectivity. They are able to support a large number of devices at ultra-low power.

It has become an expectation that venues provide Wi-Fi connectivity. It should be readily accessible and free to use, which means it doesn’t generate revenue, but it could be a source of gathering analytics. Property managers should require users or guests to sign in using an email or phone number, opt into a newsletter or some sort of distribution list.

The one aspect of connectivity that remains a bit of an unknown is 5G. Yardi solutions consultant David Franklin discussed 5G at length at the 2020 Virtual BOMA Conference. There are misconceptions surrounding 5G, beginning with the fact that it’s being advertised as fully available. That can be misleading because it is nowhere near the capacity it will have in the coming years, as Franklin explained. Schwartz referred to the current 5G capability as “pseudo-5G” because carriers want to promote it so badly even though it has a ways to go before real estate captures its full benefits.

CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) may be “the best of all worlds” according to Schwartz. CBRS is essentially a private LTE network which creates a mini cell tower inside a building for use by the consumer, a shopper at a mall for example. It would provide a great cellular connection, a major difference from Wi-Fi, and also an opportunity for income generation and data collection for the property manager. Overshadowed by the pandemic, the FCC granted 150MHz of wireless spectrum to property owners to accelerate the deployment of 5G, as John Gilbert, COO of Rudin Management Company, explained on the webinar. Every property owner has been given a license to deploy 5G with any carrier or third-party entity and use the 3.5-3.7 Ghz band of the 150MHz spectrum.

One of the benefits of advanced connectivity is cost savings. As Gilbert said, CBRS is able to grab very granular data allowing you to use occupancy metrics to correlate against fan speed and water temperature, which makes for electrical consumption savings. Using technology to anticipate discomfort before it is felt enhances customer experience beyond just the financial. Some incredible data shared by Gilbert from one of their buildings in Manhattan: Rudin cut 40% of their energy usage, saw a 44% carbon reduction and a 48% steam reduction “simply by correlating data sets that never talked to each other.” CBRS is the driver for the necessary machine learning that combines this data and applies it for maximum impact.

As uses for AI and IoT expand, sensors can be used for a growing number of real estate metrics such as air quality monitoring, leak detection, occupancy limits and smart HVAC systems. Some of these are extremely prevalent in today’s business due to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and getting workers back into offices safely. “The data from various sensors are the building blocks to drive operational efficiency, lower operating costs, energy use and monitor occupant health and wellbeing,” said Michael Hepp, co-founder and vice president of Behrtech.

Per data from CBRE, shared in a July 2020 Realcomm webinar, 57% of commercial real estate companies were increasing spending on digital transformation prior to the pandemic. Now, 70% of executives believe digital tech spending will accelerate. Much of this tech implementation is going to require high-speed connectivity. A fiber connection has become the standard for these advances. Fiber delivers significantly faster speed than copper connection and offers higher bandwidth. Internet-controlled submeters, occupancy sensors, tenant engagement apps, contact tracing and amenities revenue reporting are all among the advancements that will lower energy usage, utility costs and carbon emissions while improving tenant safety and, in some cases, increase revenue.

As these technologies continue to develop, the landscape of what they are capable of accomplishing will expand and mature. As we continue to have more connected devices in more compact areas, advances in connectivity will improve speed, reliability and security. In the commercial real estate industry, landlords and managers will be able to more accurately complete complex tasks, enhance tenant comfort and safety, reduce long term costs and drive revenue.