Preparing Properties for Greater Connectivity in the Future

Spring 2020 Issue
By: Arie Barendrecht

Developers who focus now on 5G, smart buildings and cybersecurity will gain an advantage over their competitors.

Commercial real estate developers prefer predictability and stability. They insure their assets against risk. They back tenant-landlord commitments with legally binding contracts. These guarantees keep their worlds in orbit and minds at ease.

But one of the variables nobody in commercial real estate can control is the progression of technology.

Landlords who devote resources now to prepare for demand shifts, otherwise known as future-readiness or future-preparedness, will be able to easily adapt their assets to support 5G, smart building components and cybersecurity, putting them at a distinct advantage in the years ahead.

Future-preparing an asset involves three main steps: understanding the technology trends shaping the world of commercial real estate; evaluating properties against these advancements; and making the necessary improvements.

5G Will Bring New Opportunities And Challenges

Expectations around technology are constantly changing. Currently, high-speed WiFi is the must-have item for tenants. In five to 10 years, 5G will be the new standard.

digital driver box

Think of all the devices that rely on 4G. In a connected world with each person claiming multiple devices, networks are taxed. 5G will enable providers to keep up with demand. It outpaces its predecessor in speed, capacity and latency, which is the delay in time it takes to send information from one location to the next.

While the capacity and power of 4G has hit a plateau, the global appetite for information consumption continues to skyrocket. Between 2016 and 2017, the volume of data transported worldwide via mobile networks rose by 70%, according to a report from Cisco. 5G will keep up with those high consumption demands with speeds that are 20 times faster, enabling users to download a feature-length HD film in less than 10 seconds.

With such a powerful tool literally at their fingertips, office tenants will expect the same lightning-fast speeds they will become accustomed to at home. If a property is not 5G-compatible, employee engagement and productivity could suffer. It will also hurt building owners in the marketplace as competitors upgrade to the latest technology.

Equally challenging is the fact that 5G’s high frequency will not reliably work in buildings as they currently stand. Materials like concrete and the low-E glass commonly used in sustainable designs will make reception spotty, at best. Building owners will have to work proactively to future-prepare their spaces for a 5G world. This means assessing key considerations and taking action.

What mobile coverage challenges does the building already face with regard to infrastructure, location or other factors? Owners can conduct radio frequency surveys, which test cellular signals for each provider to determine where the dead spots and deficiencies are across the building. These surveys cost $5,000-$10,000 and will ensure that the building avoids having mobile performance blind spots.

Is the infrastructure designed in such a way to easily support future digital equipment installations?

Can additional investments be made to the building with respect to 5G-ready infrastructure?

For example, a 5G upgradable distributed antenna system (DAS) will provide reliable, multioperator mobile coverage indoors. Alternately, a fiber backbone system can be installed, which can run the length of a building to ensure that a 5G in-building mobile solution like DAS can be installed in the near future.

Boston Properties is proactively preparing its newest asset, Hub on Causeway. The complex has a SpiderCloud small cell system, which is similar to a DAS. It will carry wireless signals to all areas of the building and can easily be upgraded to 5G. In addition, Boston Properties is working with anchor tenant Verizon to install an ODAS (outdoor distributed antenna system) in the public spaces around the property to increase 5G connectivity for anyone in or around the building. The alternative would be outdoor public WiFi, which is typically much less secure and won’t offer the same seamless connectivity.

Because of 5G’s challenges with in-building service, wireless carriers are rolling it out in open, high-density spaces like NFL stadiums first. It will take time-intensive network upgrades over the next several years to make 5G ubiquitous in the U.S.

In the meantime, building owners and developers need to prepare for the switch by conducting an assessment of the current state of mobile coverage in their portfolios via a radio frequency survey, evaluating the existing in-building mobile systems to ensure they are upgradable to 5G, and laying out a clear mobile strategy and the investments or strategic partners needed to implement it.

‘Smart’ Buildings Require Smart Building Owners

Smart building technology is already prevalent throughout commercial real estate. In fact, 80% of new construction involves at least one facet of the internet of things (IoT) or related smart building technologies, according to a recent report from Research & Markets.

But what exactly is a smart building? It’s any building that uses automated processes to control its operations. Components are made “smarter” and more efficient through the property’s digital systems, which use sensors placed throughout the building to gather data. Some examples include smart soap and paper towel dispensers that alert building staff when they’re running low, automated maintenance requests that review and approve work orders, or a building automation system (BAS) that increases energy efficiency by regulating the building’s HVAC, water pressure and lighting.

The thirst for this smart technology will continue to grow, but adoption will not keep up without a strong, redundant and fortified digital infrastructure.

Better (Cyber) Secure Than Sorry

In the summer of 2017, pharmaceutical company Merck lost hundreds of millions of dollars in a cyberattack that affected 30,000 computers and paralyzed operations, according to a Bloomberg report.

In a business world that is reliant on technology and connectivity, the importance of cybersecurity will only continue to grow. In 2019 alone, there was a 300% increase in the number of IoT cyber-attacks among small businesses, according to Forbes. Combine this with nearly 1.5 billion devices projected to be connected by 2020, according to a Deloitte report, and it’s easy to see why more organizations are hiring chief cybersecurity officers than ever before.

An important first step for landlords is to understand their buildings’ infrastructures through a base system audit. It will identify how all of the base building systems, like HVAC and access control, are connected to the internet and interconnected to each other. This will help identify any potential vulnerabilities that would be easily exposed to hackers. These audits cost between $5,000-$20,000, a small price to pay compared to the cost of a ransomware attack.

The professionals who install equipment in buildings are not always trained in cybersecurity or consider it a specialty. That’s why building owners should get a second opinion about IT infrastructure from hired cybersecurity experts, or consult with companies that have experience in both the tech and commercial real estate industries.

Keep a Competitive Edge

When it comes to future-readiness, there is no pause button that will let developers catch up with the competition. For building owners and developers, the stakes are simple and high: evaluate and evolve a portfolio’s digital infrastructure before new technology emerges — or risk falling behind.

The time to prepare for the future of digital innovation is now. If landlords and developers plan today for what’s coming tomorrow, they will be more than ready for what will be a new normal in tenant requirements.

Arie Barendrecht is the CEO and founder of WiredScore.