Point in case is that the average renter has five Internet-enabled devices-think some combination of smartphone, tablet, laptop, Blu-ray player or Roku device, gaming console and web-enabled TV. Each device uses up a portion of the available wireless spectrum to operate. Most often that’s happening during rather limited evening hours, as 50 percent of mobile usage is done at home. Then, multiply that by all the other residents and their five Internet-enabled devices and it’s easy to see how quickly signals and connectivity can be disrupted. And bad wireless connectivity erodes resident satisfaction.
But other factors-many well out of apartment owners’, developers’ or managers’ hands-also play into the connectivity equation. Wireless connectivity can be affected by wet trees, nearby buildings, so-called “pollution” from competing wireless towers in the vicinity and by a number of construction-related elements such as the mix of concrete, rebar, chicken wire, framing materials and low-e glass windows in the building.
Wireless providers’ introduction and rollout of 4G LTE technology, while delivering faster connection speeds and saving bandwidth, won’t be a simple fix to this problem, unfortunately, according to experts. Fundamentally, there is still a finite amount of wireless spectrum, but more importantly, consumers’ consumption of wireless technology is outpacing the rollout of 4G LTE and ultimately will offset today’s 4G benefits.
Finding solutions to connectivity issues in apartment buildings can be challenging because of the uniqueness of multifamily development. Commercial buildings may encounter many of the same connectivity issues, but because offices generally are still hardwired for phone and Internet, the problem isn’t as big of a deal. Single-family residential communities struggle with growing resident consumption of wireless bandwidth but often don’t have the structural limitations associated with the multi-level development of apartments.
So if residents expect good connectivity, what are apartment firms doing to work around wireless dead spots on their properties? Clearly, ripping out low-e glass windows or opening up walls to enhance structural wiring are not practical options. Many apartment firms are finding that simply installing wireless routers in every unit can alleviate the problem in a cost-effective manner; others are opting to strategically place wireless boosters to amplify wireless signals and get rid of dead spots.
However, more serious connectivity issues require more advanced technological solutions. In some cases, apartment firms will invest in femtocells (small, low-power cellular base stations), but the cost can be prohibitive. Others prefer a distributed-antenna system (DAS), which splits the signal to a building’s central antenna, transmitting it to a network of essentially mini antennas strategically placed around the property, thereby improving the coverage area.
But apartment firms are also being more proactive about wireless connectivity when developing new apartment communities. Cheryl Barraco, director of telecommunications and strategic business services for AvalonBay Communities, said her company’s strategy was to start heading off potential connectivity issues early on in the design and construction process, particularly when the property has below-grade parking, by building what she called an “expandable system.” For approximately $10,000, the company is hiring a wireless consultant to test a site and predict where potential problem areas might crop up. Once the walls are up, the consultant will return to re-test, allowing the company to make adjustments or invest in additional technology before the project is complete. “That allows you to pay about a third of the cost of retrofitting the problem,” Barraco said.
Barraco also pointed out that connectivity isn’t just a resident issue; it’s also about first responders and safety radio. Increasingly, jurisdictions are adopting fire codes with requirements for public safety radio signal availability. No signal means no certificate of occupancy.
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