Technology Solutions

Why Go Wireless?

In-building access is becoming the newest tenant necessity.

New York's 2.8-million-square-foot Time Warner Center and Rockefeller Center concourse have implemented in-building wireless systems that can help achieve increased tenant occupancy and retention and higher lease rates. On the operations side, building owners and managers also rely on in-building wireless systems to enable seamless, uninterrupted wireless communications among building personnel, security, maintenance, and first responders in emergency situations.

But not just high-profile commercial properties are enlisting in-building systems to support wireless communications for tenants and building operations. Corporate campuses, hospitals, entertainment venues, and commercial properties as small as 200,000 square feet also are taking advantage of in-building wireless systems' benefits.

Fueling the Demand

No tenant would sign a lease in a building that didn't have a built-in fire suppression system, plumbing, air conditioning, or electrical outlets. Similarly, enabling wireless capabilities throughout a property, whether in underground parking areas, public concourses, or office spaces, is fast becoming a necessity. The trend also is noticeable in new construction where in-building wireless systems provide a competitive advantage over non-wireless-enabled properties.

Businesses today are relying on a growing number of wireless services and applications, and they expect to have access to them inside commercial buildings. It's not uncommon for all types of properties, ranging from class A office space to shopping malls to convention centers to hotels, to accommodate Wi-Fi, cellular, and personal communication needs. Tenants and their business clients want and expect to use mobile phones and other wireless devices for voice and data inside these spaces. This demand has prompted savvy building owners, developers, and managers to address in-building wireless as its own utility category, similar to electricity and plumbing.

However, all buildings experience some difficulty enabling radio-based and wireless communications due to the building materials used to construct them. Concrete, thick glass, steel infrastructure, and multiple elevator shafts block, degrade, and dilute wireless signals.

In addition, property owners and building managers have dealt with multiple in-building wireless distribution systems for paging, two-way radio, and emergency services for several years. As new applications and services are introduced, building owners must install, manage, operate, and maintain multiple systems from different vendors serving different users. Eventually, maintaining and monitoring multiple systems becomes complicated and the systems actually may interfere with one another. Implementing a wireless utility system solves this problem.

Commercial property owners and managers also can offer new and existing tenants access to all of the wireless applications they need via one centralized system. Installing a unified broadband wireless distribution system provides building tenants and operations staff uninterrupted access to a full range of wireless applications, including local area networks, personal communications services, cell phones, personal digital assistants, and two-way radios.

The Challenges and Benefits

Improving in-building coverage and offering dedicated wireless capabilities helps building owners keep tenants satisfied as companies increasingly look to wireless services and technologies to drive productivity. Additionally, the building's maintenance and security personnel benefit from improved in-building wireless communication.

Despite these benefits, there are challenges. Return on investment clearly is a hurdle for building owners, wireless service providers, and in-building system vendors, all of whom must generate returns for their respective investors. For all parties involved, required capital is a consideration: Who among the building owners, tenants, wireless service providers, and in-building system vendors foots the bill?

The reality is that developing, installing, and maintaining a shared in-building wireless distribution system requires a team effort. The cost of an in-building wireless system consists of system design, components, installation, project management, and testing. Total cost varies based on numerous factors, including type of building construction and labor costs. For example, a system in an office environment with five-foot-high cubicles costs less than a system in a hospital that has numerous walls that impact radio frequency signals. Also, installation labor rates are much higher in New York City than in Phoenix.

Service providers may be willing to contribute to the system price if the building is a very busy public venue with significant traffic and phone usage or if the building's primary tenant is a large customer of the service provider. If the service provider has an opportunity for a reasonable ROI, it may be willing to locate equipment in the building, provide services to the building's tenants and visitors via the in-building wireless system, and pay a monthly fee to utilize the system.

The building owner and major tenants also would be able to utilize the in-building wireless system for interpersonal communications services (paging, messaging/personal data, wide-area voice, and enterprise voice), information technology services (enterprise data, asset location), and building operations services (push to talk, first responder, building security, and building automation). Rather than purchasing separate distribution systems for each of these services, the building owner or tenant can spread the cost of one shared broadband in-building wireless system across the numerous services.

Wireless Considerations

When choosing an in-building coverage system, building owners should weigh a few key considerations. The first is whether the system can support both current and future wireless applications and a broad range of frequencies so it is not bound to a single service, provider, or technology. The second consideration is finding a reliable system that minimizes ongoing operational expenses.

The third consideration is the financial options the wireless utility provider offers. Can an owner get a turnkey solution with performance guarantees and allocate the system's price among the various stakeholders? For example, an InnerWireless customer planned to install separate distribution systems for multiple paging, two-way radio, personal communication, and cellular services. By purchasing one shared broadband in-building wireless system for use by the numerous services, the customer saved money.

Finally, in-building systems are most valuable when they carry fire and rescue frequencies, typically in the 400 to 800 megahertz range, and support the building's maintenance and security personnel's communication needs. A broadband service with the ability to extend radio frequencies is a necessary factor in designing a system that supports current technologies and services, as well as those that will be developed in the future. And, the optimal in-building system will return more long-term value by being versatile enough to support new applications without delays, disruptive upgrades, or expensive retrofits.

Building owners must address this new utility as they do other building upgrades: It offers a competitive edge to attract and keep tenants who, in a rent-soft market, might otherwise gravitate to other buildings that incorporate wireless systems.

Edward E. Jungerman

Edward E. Jungerman is senior vice president of marketing and product management at InnerWireless in Richardson, Texas. Contact him at (972) 479-9898 or ejungerman@ innerwireless.com.

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