The cellular destiny of commercial building owners has long been held in the hands of carriers, integrators and third-party providers. Now, with the onset of new spectrum offerings and LTE-based solutions such as CBRS, Private LTE and 5G, commercial building owners and landlords have the opportunity to make profound and empowered choices about their wireless infrastructure.
While these options are enabling forward-thinking land-lords to better plan their connected future, the increasing complexity of wireless solutions requires robust RF Engineering Services such as benchmark testing, design, commissioning and optimization expertise.
Notora LLC has consulted on thousands of projects in stadiums, arenas, office buildings, hospitals, high-rises, convention centers and campus environments. The firm’s expansive scope of RF Engineering Services work includes projects in high-profile locations such as Guantanamo Bay, Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the University of Alabama football stadium, which is one of the top-performing distributed antenna systems in the US for the top mobile network operators.
According to David Hartin, CEO and President of Notora which specializes in the assessment, design, testing, turn-up and optimization of Distributed Antenna and Small Cell systems, the key to creating a robust infrastructure lies in the RF design and planning phases. Hartin likes to say, “No matter how beautiful the installation is or how well the equipment works; if the engineering services aren’t done properly, the end solution is going to disappoint the customer.”
Notora, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, has grown its revenue at an astounding pace of 60% year-over-year. According to Hartin, Notora was founded to fill an underserved need for RF engineering services in the wireless connectivity space.
“The most expensive items in an in-building wireless system are materials and installation labor. Notora’s unique model gives customers peace of mind in knowing their system is designed by a professional wireless engineering firm and allows them to competitively bid, and therefore realize impactful savings, on the most expensive pieces of a system. Our model has allowed enterprise customers to significantly reduce their total project cost when compared to the traditional ‘turn-key’ business model,” Hartin said.
“The most expensive items in an in-building wireless system are materials and installation labor. Notora’s unique model gives customers peace of mind in knowing their system is designed by a professional wireless engineering firm and allows them to competitively bid, and therefore realize impactful savings, on the most expensive pieces of a system. Our model has allowed enterprise customers to significantly reduce their total project cost when compared to the traditional “turn-key” business model, David Hartin, CEO a nd President of Notora.”
The model traditionally offered to commercial real estate owners is to choose a partner who will select the equipment and perform all of the services in a “turn-key” fashion. The problem this presents is that the project is awarded before most of the major cost factors are solidified. Notora brings a consultative approach that allows for multiple equipment solutions to be evaluated and chosen based upon performance and cost-effectiveness.
“When selecting the right connectivity solution, it’s critical to understand the customer’s use case. Our engineers consider all of the technologies available in the marketplace today and the unique environment in which it will be deployed,” says Hartin.
PREPARING FOR UBIQUITOUS CONNECTIVITY, PUBLIC SAFETY & INTERNET OF THINGS
As commercial real estate owners prepare for long market cycles and increasing competition from coworking operators and flex space providers, the key to unlocking value for corporate occupiers and tenants will be found in three key technological advancements: ubiquitous LTE 4G/ 5G connectivity, driving tenant experience through data analytics and meeting public safety requirements.
By 2022, the number of smartphones in the global marketplace will reach 12.3 billion, exceeding the world’s projected population of 8 billion, according to data collected by the GSMA. The average American consumer will increase mobile wireless data usage by 500% to 56 gigabytes per month by 2024.
More than 80% of cellular data will originate and terminate indoors. And according to Cisco, by the time 5G, the next cellular connectivity, is deployed only 4% of mobile data consumption will take place “on the go.”
Indoor environments such as retail properties, transportation hubs, healthcare facilities and stadiums, where the vast majority of data is being consumed, must provide for robust and ubiquitous wireless connectivity to remain relevant to digitally-driven consumers.
MEETING PUBLIC SAFETY & LOCAL AUTHORITIES REQUIREMENTS
The lack of ubiquitous Emergency Responder Radio Coverage is also a significant public safety risk. An increasing number of local and state authorities are mandating the sufficient provision of communications infrastructure for first responders. Some states and municipalities have passed ordinances requiring newly constructed buildings and existing commercial buildings of a certain size to demonstrate adequate signal coverage and system survivability before the approval of occupancy permits. It is anticipated that many municipalities will require updates to the wireless coverage in existing buildings to meet new code and technology requirements in the next few years. Public safety regulations imposed by state and local authorities are being mandated through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Code 72 and International Fire Code (IFC) standards.
IOT, INDUSTRY 4.0 AND THE PROPTECH REVOLUTION
At the same time, the commercial real estate sector is undergoing a technological revolution of its own as the adoption of Proptech solutions designed to drive energy efficiency, workplace productivity and other operational efficiencies in smart buildings increase at an exponential pace. Gartner forecasts that the commercial real estate sector will deploy more than 25 billion connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices by 2022.
The convergence of these factors will require building owners to invest in network infrastructure, which can remain relevant and adaptive throughout future years.
“For commercial real estate owners it’s essential to get the right guidance up-front so that they can invest in connectivity solutions that not only meet the needs of today’s workforce but perform well into the future,” said Marc Knapp, Co-founder and Vice President of Sales at Notora.
And while future-proofing for 5G remains top of mind for most landlords, according to Notora’s experts, there are only a few strategies that should be actively pursued at this early stage.
“The ways 5G will be used are still being determined. For this reason, there is no such thing as a guaranteed future-proof 5G system. If a consultant or solutions provider tells you otherwise, that should be a red flag to get up and walk away from the table. Our recommendation: Let’s make sure the infrastructure is ready. We know fiber will play a big role going forward, so Notora is advising clients to install much more fiber than is required for day one operation of any system. When 5G gets here, you’ll be glad you did,” Hartin said.
A key differentiator of working with an independent engineering firm versus a typical integrator is the agnostic approach taken. Notora leverages its deep experience, understanding of mobile network operator requirements and extensive knowledge of a wide range of technology choices to design and consult on the best possible solutions for their clients’ unique needs.
“Installation companies want to sell a full turnkey solution. Because we are agnostic, we take a deep dive into technologies and don’t pigeonhole our customers. Since we don’t perform installation, customers can use their preferred low-voltage installers who are often most familiar with your building. We can also take on a full consulting role by creating installation RFPs to help drive the cost out of what is often the most expensive part of the system implementation,” Knapp said.
The consultative design phase is of foremost importance and must take into consideration budgeting, installation considerations and best practices, mobile network operator requirements and standards, and a deep knowledge of wireless technologies and how they should best perform.
Notora’s engineering services include collection and analysis of existing coverage levels, creating system design using state-of-the-art technologies, developing RFPs, testing, turn-up and system optimization, and throughput testing.
Engineers collaborate with customers to work through specifications and price sheets to select antennas, cables, connectors, passive components and active DAS equipment carefully with both quality and cost in mind.
“A lot of owners who have 3G/4G systems are looking to see how they get to 5G without a complete rip and replace. We can make sure that happens at a lower cost,“ said Hartin. “Our customers often recoup the costs of our engineering and consulting from the recommendations we make.”
Notora strives to be on the leading edge of technology evolution. As an example, they are one of a very small number of firms in the US that has conducted coverage studies at millimeter wave frequency bands.
“Our customers come to us expecting answers on how new technologies should be implemented. So, we have to do a lot of homework and be prepared to provide real solutions. For us it’s about being a trusted resource to our clients,” said Knapp.
“Whether it’s commercial cellular, Wi-Fi, CBRS, private LTE, FirstNet, WiFi 6 or evolution to LTE 4G/5G it is likely that Notora can add substantial value by reducing the total cost of ownership while meeting the needs of today and tomorrow’s workforce,” said Knapp.