Private wireless networks have garnered a lot of attention in the commercial real estate ecosystem, and understandably so. After all, private networks offer CRE owners connectivity opportunities they may not otherwise have had, whether it’s an IoT (Internet of Things) security camera system, sensors for automatic lights or advanced cellular services. It’s important to understand, however, the work does not stop for CRE owners at installation—in fact it’s just beginning.
Once the private network is installed and enabled via CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service), a barrage of data can be expected. In a public network scenario, wireless operators would typically manage this data. In the case of a private network, the responsibility for handling the data would rest squarely on the CRE network owner, who must work independently of a wireless operator. Many CRE owners are certain that more data will flow through their property and that they’ll have more connected devices in their buildings than they do today. However, they are not as certain that they’re prepared to handle the data influx or if their building is set up to support it. Handling data is a by-product of investment in private networks. While it can appear overwhelming, the responsibility is worth it when you consider the operational and financial benefits that a private network brings.
“If you think (a private network) is critical to your business, break it down and determine what type of data is flowing through your building,” ExteNet Systems Chief Technology Officer Tormod Larsen said. “Are there people simply using their cell phones and expecting to be able to do the same thing they do outside of the building, or are there other critical applications and content unique to the building and that could benefit from a more secure and better wireless connectivity? Success is ultimately measured by your ability to increase your building’s attractiveness. Private networks can support localized data and applications while directly increasing the productivity and efficiencies due to improved communications.”
Are there people simply using their cell phones and expecting to be able to do the same thing they do outside of the building, or are there other critical applications and content unique to the building and that could benefit from a more secure and better wireless connectivity?
Jim Hyde, ExteNet President and Chief Executive Officer pointed out that while people talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), the Real IoT is the “Infrastructure of Things” and a precursor to the Internet of Things.
“Enabling the underlying communications infrastructure is critical for your smart building and, as a building owner, your ability to lease space and increase occupancy rates can be helped immensely with advanced connectivity,” Hyde said. “Tenants are beginning to value the benefits of smart buildings and CBRS helps us enable connectivity quicker and cheaper. Plus, CBRS-enabled private networks – both LTE and 5G – will usher in a new era of innovation to deliver applications that enterprises will greatly benefit from. Our infrastructure solutions support both private and public network use cases, maximizing the value of – and for – your real estate!”
BENEFITS OF A PRIVATE NETWORK
Secured connectivity is super important. When you take your wireless network private as a CRE owner, you’re providing your tenants – and your own team – data with an extra layer of security. You could have voice applications and two-way push to talk capabilities on your network and all-of that communication data remains private and localized in the building. Wireless carriers that you’d normally have to deal with would not see any of that traffic in a private network scenario.
“That’s a huge benefit,” Larsen said. “Applications that you want to keep on your network because of security concerns and performance requirements can be contained within your private CBRS network.”
Tremendous performance and cost benefits are also realized. Content can be localized and distributed faster and cheaper via a private network. In a private environment, any data pulled from your video and surveillance system can be accessed quickly. Other information that you could use to help manage your building that comes from sensors or energy conservation applications would stay in-house, too. Keeping information private will be even more critical if you decide to collect more sensitive data through a facial recognition application, for instance.
“Relying on the public network for such mission critical tasks can also be expensive and lengthy,” Larsen said. “But if everything’s kept local, you have increased security, lower latency, improved response and better performance. That content and data is really yours; it’s not traversing through a public network where you’ll increase the cost and affect network performance. Our network infrastructure within the building is architected to support both the private and public networks, improving the performance in both scenarios.”
CRE owners can increase their occupancy rate – or dollars per square foot – by offering tenant services through their network. Even non-commercial tenants can help increase a CRE owner’s revenue if they’re happy with their wireless service. Meanwhile sports and entertainment venue owners can have the best of both worlds when it comes to data collection and analytics—they can gather valuable information with the peace of mind that it’s safe because it’s localized to a private network. Plus, the analytic capabilities are enhanced with the data collected and both team and venue owners can highly customize service offerings for their fans and patrons.
“Adopting advanced technology is becoming extremely critical for building owners,” Larsen said. “Call it a smart building, call it technology-enabled, but it seems like tenants are willing to pay for it and data seemingly validates that trend. As tenants’ value smarter buildings, the CRE owners can capture higher rent and, just as important, ensure they are able to attract and retain customers to maintain an occupancy rate that’s higher due to a more attractive building with advanced connectivity.” Larsen referenced recent Chicago market data that showed tenants willingness to pay more per square foot in Class A buildings because of the technological capabilities in these buildings.
CBRS VS. WI-FI 6
Wi-Fi has been a longstanding and seemingly less expensive wireless connectivity source indoors than traditional mobile connectivity. However, cost savings in Wi-Fi are often offset by important features like security, mobility, reliability and predictable performance supported in more robust 4G and 5G networks. Private CBRS (4G LTE or 5G-based) networks can now bridge the benefits of Wi-Fi and traditional public 4G, and even, 5G networks.
“With CBRS, you’re going to subscribe to a grant of spectrum that’s dedicated to you, unlike with unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum that you can’t control and that’s typically open for everyone’s use. Wi-Fi user experience is affected by increased user traffic and the effects are much worse in public places. You might be in a situation where you really need to communicate and the network performance is sub-par. Its important for a property owner to have a wireless network that does not interfere with – or get affected by – the tenants’ networks. Wi-Fi has an embedded risk for interference due to its unlicensed nature. The 4G LTE and 5G standards provide encrypted device authentication as well as native support for mobility and voice. Plus, LTE-based networks provide better coverage range, eliminating the need for as many access points. Overall, private CBRS networks should be a better fit for CRE deployments.”
MAKING CBRS SUCCESSFUL IN CRE
There are many reasons why CRE owners should want a private wireless network in their building. However, for building owners to fully embrace the concept, it may be up to their communications infrastructure partners to push the message forward. Communicating the benefits to CRE owners is one thing, but validation of the use cases become even more important, according to Larsen.
“There’s a lot of hype and noise around CBRS when it comes to commercial real estate,” Larsen said. “A lot of people are trying to figure out what it is and where CBRS and private LTE fit into the overall ecosystem. Are the use cases compelling enough for a building owner or an enterprise to be their own network operator?” Larsen said. “That’s what you’re doing when you get into a private LTE or 5G network. While you’re not going to be at the scale of a carrier, you need to deal with similar deployment and operational issues. A trusted expert network infrastructure partner can be a huge asset to deploy and operate your CBRS network.”
Education will go a long way to getting CRE owners to leverage CBRS or private LTE networks. According to Larsen, a lot of CRE owners see private LTE and CBRS as avenues to enhance cell phone coverage in their building, but that’s where they believe the potential stops.
“Honestly, that’s often their biggest concern,” Larsen said. “There are many use cases for private LTE or a CBRS network in CRE but in many situations the needs have not been specified, making it difficult to justify investment in a network. Sometimes, critical information gets lost in translation and needs aren’t effectively communicated.”
So, instead of offering a high-level approach of what a private network can do for a building owner’s bottom line, experts would be better served to address their building’s wireless needs. That’s the approach Larsen took when he spoke with an industry professional who was confused about the prospect of CBRS and its CRE benefits.
It is a matter of creating the business case as well as the appropriate business model rather than delving into technicalities and scoping all potential use cases. Addressing the business reasons head on are more important in the decision-making process.
“It’s often better to compartmentalize the needs that exist in a building and show evidence of how private LTE or CBRS works,” Larsen said. “It is a matter of creating the business case as well as the appropriate business model rather than delving into technicalities and scoping all potential use cases. Addressing the business reasons head on are more important in the decision-making process.”
NOW’S THE TIME TO GO PRIVATE
It will be more beneficial for CRE owners to deploy CBRS sooner rather than later, according to Larsen. There’s a lot of money being invested in CBRS and 5G deployment and the opportunities that are on the rise now might not be available in the next few years.
“Taking advantage of the 5G and CBRS infrastructure convergence at the onset is important for CRE owners, rather than picking one or another,” Larsen said. “Delaying may put you behind in the technology curve. There is an immediate opportunity to take advantage of the convergence between 5G and CBRS. I think that CRE early movers will benefit immensely as the CBRS mobility solution is ready for use today.”