The benefits of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) have been well documented. This patch of spectrum will allow commercial real estate owners to have their own private LTE networks that are stronger and more secure than Wi-Fi. A private network through CBRS will also be less expensive for CRE owners than operating one through a third party.
As good as that deal sounds, many buildings are already equipped with an in-building wireless network through a DAS (distributed antenna system). In-building wireless networks have become more prominent as reliable connectivity shifted from a “nice to have” to a “must have” in CRE buildings. So with CBRS becoming more readily available for commercial use and DAS being the default connectivity source in CRE properties, the question is, can CBRE and DAS coexist?
This question, and more, was answered during the “Can DAS and CBRS Coexist, and How Can Tenants benefit from this New Paradigm” panel at last week’s Connected Virtual Tech Event. Connected Real Estate Magazine CEO and Publisher moderated the panel that comprised Ballast Networks Co-Founder and CEO Jon Morris, Vornado Senior Vice President Nick Stello and Rudin Management Company COO, Executive VP and CTO John Gilbert.
“To me, (DAS and CBRS) should be able to exist side-by-side,” Gilbert said. “They can do different things. One can be a data extractor. The other one can ultimately bring cellular telephone connectivity into the building.”
“The short answer is yes, there has to be (coexistence),” Stello said. “I think on a go forward basis, we could potentially look at what the CBRS spectrum can do for us and our buildings moving forward. But in terms of coexisting, they need to.
“You need both; I’m not an either or kind of guy,” Morris said. “Let people surf on Wi-Fi. Let them do what they need to on downloading Netflix on their lunch hour and watch that. Then the other piece is you do something that is on a quality network, that fits the protocols of what the Vornado or Rudin properties’ brand is.”
The importance of CBRS
There is a world where CRE owners could have relied on Wi-Fi and in-building cellular networks to provide connectivity to their tenants. As technology evolves and tenants’ demands increase, a time comes when default options aren’t enough. That’s what has happened when it comes to CRE and connectivity. Morris noted during the discussion that data is growing at 40% annually in terms of how much capacity is needed in buildings to support those type of connectivity needs. What’s in place now likely can’t shoulder the burden on its own.
“We think that there’s going to be a lot of need for alterative networks,” Morris said. “Those alternative networks that are owned and managed by the enterprise have a bunch of benefits that are tied to tenant amenities, security, ingress, egress and things like COVID-19 management. There are a lot of other kinds of applications for this, including data offload and roaming that allow for building owners to leverage these technologies to create a better environment in those buildings at a lower price point. The could also solve prior connectivity issues because of what carriers may or may not pay for depending the size and quality and nature of their building.”
Additionally, CBRS and private networks will be needed as CRE owners implement more IoT (Internet of Things) devices and building populations become denser, according to Morris.
“CBRS, which is the spectrum allocated by the government for use in these networks, really opened up a whole lot of possibility and created the opportunity we have here,” he said.
Property owners’ goal of achieving carbon neutrality has also accelerated the need for secure private networks, according to Gilbert. To accomplish carbon net zero, CRE owners will need to develop a strategy and platform that allows data to be extracted, segmented and sent back to the tenant in an authenticated way so the customer can use the data to show that they’re following the rules to approach carbon neutrality.
“We started to see that the data was connected to sustainability was connected to the relationship we had with our customers, which ultimately required infrastructure to be able to extract that data, and to me, CBRS hit it out of the park,” Gilbert said.
Getting tenants on board with CBRS
There’s a notion that the CRE industry isn’t the quickest to embrace new technologies. That hesitancy can make CBRS network installation a tough sell to tenants. That’s why it’s important to educate people on the benefits of CBRS before proposing an installation.
Gilbert noted Rudin Management has had success selling CBRS networks to its customer base in part because it had a good understanding of private LTE networks. From there, they can share all of the benefits that CBRS has to offer.
“The minute you start talking about private LTE, you immediately go into the cyber security and segmentation aspects of this and every one of these companies is concerned over private espionage, state sponsored espionage and the loss of intellectual property,” Gilbert said. “What we’ve led with is, ‘You want bandwidth? This is bandwidth. You want private? This is private. You ultimately want something that’s more secure? This is more secure. Do your research; we’re here to talk.’”
“For me, it’s about preparing for the future as you’re going about changing your buildings,” Morris said. “The future of work with shared spaces and things like sanitization can’t happen without the right kind of connectivity. Driving down on use cases, spending time with owners looking at the tenant mix, square footage, timing and how you can sequence these things with other work that’s already going on in these buildings is a really bid deal.”
Check out the “Can DAS and CBRS Coexist, and How Can Tenants benefit from this New Paradigm” panel replay to see the full discussion.
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.