Connected Real Estate Magazine Publisher and CEO Rich Berliner recently interviewed ExteNet Systems President and CEO Jim Hyde to discuss a variety of topics pertaining to in-building wireless including the company’s mobility solutions, its fiber strategy, how it ensures its customers’ buildings’ connectivity is “future proof ” for 5G, CBRS and more. Jim also shared his thoughts on the evolution of in-building wireless as well as what he believes lies ahead for the industry.
RICH BERLINER: COULD YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON HOW THINGS ARE GOING SINCE YOU BECAME CEO SOME MONTHS BACK?
JIM HYDE: We’ve made tremendous progress over the last few months. ExteNet is a leader in what I’d call indoor and outdoor coverage and capacity solutions — distributed networks for mobile network operators, real estate owners, municipalities and enterprises. That includes commercial real estate and sports and entertainment owners, and their respective property managers and investors. The business has been growing historically at a 25 to 30 percent clip on a year-to-year basis the last number of years.
From a strategic perspective, we think we’re spot on. We’ve got a model that’s flexible enough for each of those customer sets to participate in the economics, depending on the level of need and the issue we’re solving for them. From a technical perspective, we deliver future-focused network solutions, knowing that getting the venues 5G-ready is super-important. Our teams provide a custom approach to address unique situational needs while leveraging our extensive experience in deploying and operating hundreds of indoor networks and thousands of outdoor nodes nationwide.
RB: ARE ALL OF THE OVERALL COMPANY’S FIBER ASSETS UNDER EXTENET? OR ARE SOME OF THE FIBER ASSETS UNDER EXTENET AND SOME OF THE OTHERS ARE UNDER OTHER COMPANIES IN THE FAMILY?
JH: We own majority of the fiber that is core to our network deployments. We’ve been deploying highly dense metro fiber networks in the largest NFL cities in the United States for a number of years now and that is core to our overall strategy.
There are three ways you can get at fiber: You can build it yourself — we’re doing a lot of that. You can buy it by acquiring companies that have fiber assets — we’ve done some of that as you know, particularly on the East Coast. Or you can, as I call it, borrow — you can partner with fiber companies in particular areas where you have an opportunity and you’re basically renting the fiber. While most of our fiber is owned assets, we do partner in some unique circumstances as well.
RB: ARE YOU SEEING ANY PUSHBACK FROM DECISION MAKERS ALONG THE LINES OF, “I DON’T WANT TO DO ANYTHING UNTIL I KNOW WHAT 5G IS GOING TO MEAN,” OR “I WANT TO WAIT TO SEE WHAT THIS CBRS IS ALL ABOUT,” OR “I’M NOT SURE WHAT INTERNET OF THINGS (IOT) IS GOING TO MEAN FOR ME, SO I NEED TO WAIT”?
JH: I think when the need is identified for the indoor infrastructure to be in place, there’s not a whole lot of “wait and see” going on. Where we get that pushback is when we find our customers have not come up the learning curve. The reality of it is, we know we can talk about CBRS, we can talk about 5G and what that all looks like in terms of indoor solutions. And when it comes to IoT, we like to talk about what we refer to as the real IoT; and that’s ‘The Infrastructure of things.’ You see, without the Infrastructure of things, the Internet of Things simply doesn’t work. So, our approach is we get the infrastructure in place, it becomes future-proof and that that’s the guidance that we give our existing and prospective customers. At the end of the day, we can all agree the demand for connectivity will continue to increase over time.
We are an end-to-end solutions provider, and I believe this is a key differentiation for us. When we take on a project, we typically undertake the design, deployment and operations of the network. We manage the carrier relationships, perform all the infrastructure work and provide monitoring and maintenance services. In many cases, we manage the entire communication distribution system indoors for our customers as well.
RB: HAVE YOU SEEN THE THIRD-PARTY OPERATOR MODELS THAT YOU’VE USED CHANGE DRAMATICALLY IN YOUR INDUSTRY?
JH: No, not dramatically, but I think (the change) is going to be more of an evolution than a revolution. Early on, all of the big four wireless carriers needed to have coverage and capacity solutions delivered in the large, marquee sports and entertainment venues and commercial office space. So ExteNet and a handful of other 3POs that do what we do indoors went out there and secured as many of those relationships as we could.
What we’re finding now is the mobile network operator customers are having an increased need for better indoor coverage and capacity solutions in the next tier of buildings. It’s no longer just the largest, million square foot, Class A commercial real estate buildings and stadiums. The wireless data demand and consumption continues to grow at over 30% annually, and the majority of “mobile” data is actually consumed indoors. Not surprisingly we see the need for wireless broadband solutions expanding well beyond those marquee properties and into essentially medium and large multi-tenant properties.
The second big driver is the evolution from 4G to 5G technology and the need to deliver the wireless signal source indoors. If you think about the spectrum bands, in many cases where 5G solutions are going to be delivered, it’s going to be on a millimeter wave and high band spectrum. Millimeter wave spectrum doesn’t penetrate buildings, so you’ve got to bring that signal source inside. This a physical propagation characteristic of next-generation networks that will drive increased demand for indoor solutions for years to come.
RB: ARE YOU SEEING A LOT OF BUSINESS COMING TO YOU IN THE FORM OF SHARED SPACE COMPANIES THAT WANT TO MAKE SURE THEY HAVE TOP-SHELF WIRELESS COVERAGE? HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED A BIT FOR EXTENET WITH THE SHARED SPACE COMPANIES LIKE WEWORK?
JH: WeWork, and others in the shared space industry, provide a tremendous opportunity for ExteNet because up until now it’s been, “Hey, we’ve got a decent fixed line broadband connection into the building with some Wi-Fi routers installed, and we’ll give you the Wi-Fi password when you come in and share that space.”
That’s not good enough anymore. The shared space folks are quickly figuring out that their customers expect more than a WiFi connection and therefore a partnership with ExteNet can be a big win for them and their customers.
RB: WILL EXTENET DEFINITELY BE A PLAYER IN CBRS?
JH: We’re already a player in CBRS. In fact, I’d say we’re the de facto leader in that space right now. Predominantly it’s been outdoor and fixed wireless broad-band solutions with wireless Internet service providers. But we’ve got over 2,000 outdoor CBRS sites, nodes if you will, either on-air or under contract and construction right now.
We are well out in front of the pack in CBRS. We expect CBRS to quickly pivot to become a primary indoor solution, once we get to the initial commercial deployment criteria released here in the next month or so. We will see a ramp up in the deployments of private indoor networks, both LTE and 5G, followed by mobile network operators utilizing CBRS solutions as a primary indoor capacity off-load solution.
RB: LASTLY, EXTENET HAS ALWAYS BEEN A LEADER IN TAKING THE STEPS AND DOING THINGS OTHERS WERE NOT. WITH THAT IN MIND, WHERE DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY GOING? WHERE CAN WE GET TO IN THE NEXT ONE TO FIVE YEARS FROM WHERE YOU SIT?
JH: We are quickly moving past the large sports and entertainment venues and the largest of the large real estate office buildings, as a need for indoor inter-conductivity and capacity solutions, and moving aggressively into that next tier of commercial real estate requiring this solution.
It’s been a slow pivot from the solely mobile network operator- funded model that we’re all used to up to this point. I would say over the next one, three and five years, we’re going to see tens of thousands of more commercial real estate buildings covered with what I would call carrier grade indoor wireless solutions. Carrier grade is going to be just that — bringing the carrier signal source indoors with service guarantees and mobility solutions running on CBRS spectrum and other shared spectrum alongside. Shared indoor infrastructure is a trend that will become the rule rather than the exception going forward.