ExteNet Systems, a national converged communications infrastructure and services provider for the CRE industry, recently spoke with Connected Real Estate Magazine on a variety of industry-related topics. ExteNet President and CEO Jim Hyde and VP and CTO Tormod Larsen shared their insights on recent industry shifts, the latest on indoor 5G wireless networks as well as its own indoor solutions and what’s in store for the industry going forward.
“We’re seeing an incredible transformation that is driving accelerated demand for digital communications’ infrastructure across the board, and particularly as it relates to our indoor business.”
CONNECTED REAL ESTATE MAGAZINE: THERE HAS BEEN A TREMENDOUS TRANSFORMATION IN OUR INDUSTRY EVEN IN THE PAST FEW MONTHS. WHAT TRENDS ARE YOU SEEING AT EXTENET?
Jim Hyde: We’re seeing an incredible transformation that is driving accelerated demand for digital communications’ infrastructure across the board, and particularly as it relates to our indoor business. Today’s demand is extending well beyond the traditional carrier – or Mobile Network Operator (MNO) – driven demand where they need better indoor coverage and connectivity only in some of the large and prominent commercial real estate buildings and in sports and entertainment venues. Instead, what we’re seeing now is this continued transformation where better connectivity is needed everywhere with a focus on high bandwidth capacity and secure, low-latency, high-speed connectivity. The impact on our business obviously is that we can now have very meaningful conversations, not only with the MNOs, but also with the real estate owners who understand that indoor connectivity via in-building coverage and capacity solutions are effectively their building’s all-important 4th utility.
Then the large tenants themselves are also quite interested in providing solutions for their employees and workers. It’s no longer okay to not be able to make a phone call via your cellphone at work. We’ve got large enterprises cutting the cord at work and opting for the smart device to be the primary – and sometimes only – device indoors. We’ve got a workforce now that will not accept not being able to be connected all the time to the people and the things that matter to them most when they’re in their office space. This transformation is real. It’s driving tremendous demand across each of our core segments including MNO customers, real estate ownership, property managers and our enterprise customers.
CONNECTED: KNOWING THAT DIGITAL BRIDGE, LED BY MARC GANZI IS A PART OWNER OF EXTENET, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED SINCE DIGITAL BRIDGE BECAME A PART OF COLONY CAPITAL?
JH: There hasn’t been any ownership or Board member changes in our business since the merger of Digital Bridge and Colony Capital. What we do have now is even greater access to the largest real estate owners and investors in the country, if not the world. This close partnership with Colony Capital puts ExteNet in the driver’s seat as it relates to be the preferred solution provider for some of the largest and most important real estate investors and owners in the world—especially in the core verticals where we focus. It’s all about the Digital Real Estate as far as we are concerned as digital transformation is leading the change today in the real estate world and we are at the forefront with mobile and fiber connectivity for outdoors and indoors.
CONNECTED: HOW IMPORTANT IS THE INDOOR VERTICAL FOR EXTENET?
JH: Indoor is extremely important for our business model. We own, operate and manage digital infrastructure at some of the largest and high-profile properties in the United States including sports and entertainment venues, Class A and Class B commercial real estate buildings, hotels and convention centers and healthcare facilities. We provide advanced proptech solutions for the indoor, including wireless coverage and capacity. What we’re also finding is that as our outdoor small cell and DAS business continues to grow exponentially with MNOs deploying 4G and 5G and densifying their networks, there is a seamless linkage to the indoors as convergence and connected experience for the user is super important.
As such, indoor is an increasingly important aspect of our digital infrastructure business. On the one hand, we’re an end-to-end solution provider for our MNO customers both outdoors and indoors. One the other hand, we are able to extend out much more significantly into the real estate owner and investor segment as well as the largest of the large employers, enterprises, colleges, universities, government, and healthcare verticals where they have either very large buildings in which they need to provide solutions or campus type environment that also need interconnectivity. For users, it’s extremely important to enjoy a ubiquitous outdoor and indoor advanced connected experience and we are helping enable that via our 30,000 plus small cells.
Also, the carriers are now deploying 5G at the high bandwidth millimeter wave spectrum. It’s not simply a matter of the phone not working very well indoors – as it relates to 5G and the applications that are going to be running on 5G – as the phone likely won’t support millimeter wave connectivity today. It’s important for us to deliver end-to-end digital infrastructure solutions for our carrier customers, real estate ownership and our large enterprise customers to enable 5G in the best possible manner. We are future proofing the buildings for the 21st century via our mobile and fiber infrastructure and solutions deployed.
CONNECTED: WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS EXTENET IS SELLING INDOORS?
Tormod Larsen: We begin with the common infrastructure platform that we use to activate 4G and 5G service for different carriers. Our shared infrastructure and neutral host model enable advanced, reliable and cost-effective 4G and 5G deployment within the building. This same common infrastructure is often leveraged by the real estate ownership and enterprise tenants in the building. We can include different levels of functionality via our shared infrastructure, depending on customer needs.
Today, there is increasing focus on enabling applications and services indoors via private networks. ExteNet can layer in private LTE or private 5G capabilities on our common infrastructure to benefit both real estate ownership and enterprise tenants that are interested in enabling private networks. We can provide edge compute functionality within the building as part of a public and private network offering. Additionally, we manage the infrastructure and enable connectivity in-and-to the telco room space inside buildings, a part of digital infrastructure offering. Typically called the meet-me-room (MMR), we ensure connectivity to deliver increased operational efficiencies and cost savings for the enterprise tenants in the building and an important revenue stream for the real estate ownership.
Our core indoor offering remains: 4G and 5G connectivity via a shared digital infrastructure with the other services serving as value-adds.
CONNECTED: WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING WITH 5G RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU CAPABLE OF HELPING A LANDLORD PUT A 5G MILLIMETER WAVE SYSTEM IN THEIR BUILDING AND WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED SO FAR ABOUT 5G?
TL: As expected, the initial wave for 5G indoors is mainly upgrades of existing networks in primarily large sports venues and high-profile buildings. We are witnessing a pretty traditional model with the carriers driving the 5G deployment today on their various frequency bands. We are seeing a mix today with millimeter wave, mid band and even some low band deployment, which is interesting!
Given the properties we are deploying in today in the first wave, millimeter high band spectrum is done pretty well because of the available open space in the properties and the need for deploying high-capacity networks. Going forward, millimeter wave deployed in the middleprise office building will likely be a hotspot type of a solution – rather than full-scale in-building coverage. And this is validated per the early trials in this segment.
With early stage 5G, we are witnessing outdoor and indoor commonality when designing 5G networks—large indoor facilities require hyper-densification via multitude of small cells to deliver the true promise of 5G. The density of active components is higher, partly because of the signal propagation limitations of the millimeter wave frequency band. We’re really in the early stages here on 5G. Every building will need 5G dedicated infrastructure eventually – irrespective of the private vs. public nature of the network. We are in the early innings for 5G indoors and much will unfold in the upcoming years. However, fiber inside the building is critical as 5G depends on high-capacity fiber availability alongside the design and deployment of the network. We maximize returns via our shared infrastructure approach while delivering the promise of digital real estate.
CONNECTED: IS 5G INDOORS HAPPENING TODAY? WHICH VERTICAL WILL BE THE EARLY ADOPTERS FOR INDOOR 5G? WHAT IS THE EXPECTED TIMELINE FOR OTHER VERTICALS?
JH: Early adopters have been sports and entertainment venues. For instance, we are working on prepping Firserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks, for the upcoming DNC in August. We believe the Forum will be the first venue in the United States to host a mega-event with a working 5G network. Convention centers are another segment that have been early adopters. The next wave will be the large office buildings and hotels, as we have discussed earlier. Manufacturing, healthcare and transit systems will all be part of next wave as each have distinct reasons for 5G enablement. IoT via 5G will be important for the manufacturing vertical. Telemedicine, mobile health and robotic surgeries all require 5G connectivity. Transit systems are prime for 5G as part of the ubiquitous connectivity experience for the transit users. Lastly, anyone using augmented and virtual reality will reap the benefits of 5G wireless broadband connectivity, irrespective of the segment this is being enjoyed in.
CONNECTED: WHAT ABOUT PRIVATE 5G? IS THAT GOING TO HAPPEN AFTER PRIVATE LTE NETWORKS ARE DEPLOYED OR IS THAT A CONCURRENT DEPLOYMENT PATH?
TL: LTE stands for Long-term Evolution and both 4G and 5G are part of that same standardization, utilizing the same underlying technology. Transition from 3GPP release 15 to 16 meant a transition from 4G to 5G standards. Net-net, if we’re deploying a private LTE network in a facility, we don’t have to really think about the macro environment and ensuring compatibility. We have greater autonomy in these deployments. Carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, are also evaluating private LTE and CBRS spectrum. With private LTE being deployed on the 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum today, the same spectrum will next be leveraged for private 5G. Increasing 5G device adoption, supporting the CBRS spectrum, will trigger in the next wave for private 5G connectivity. Until then, we have LTE over CBRS as the mainstream private network enabler.
CONNECTED: FINALLY, WHERE ARE YOU SEEING OUR INDUSTRY HEADED? IS THE MARC GANZI (SOON TO BE CEO OF COLONY CAPITAL) VISION OF CONVERGED INFRASTRUCTURE COMING TO FRUITION?
JH: We are headed to what I often refer to as the 4Cs – convergence of Connectivity, Coverage, Capacity and Compute, all requiring the digital communications’ infrastructure that ExteNet plays a big part in delivering. As we deliver coverage and capacity solutions via our indoor and outdoor wireless networks, we provide the advanced connectivity solutions to connect buildings alongside the edge compute component in the edge data centers within these connected buildings. We’re right in the middle of where digital convergence intersection is, making us extremely bullish on our future. We are delivering on Marc’s vision with our complete focus on delivering 4Cs and best serve our customers.