The landscape of multifamily Internet access is changing rapidly, driven by evolving resident expectations. No longer merely a utility, reliable Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections are essential for attracting and retaining residents, along with cutting operating costs. Expanding connectivity needs, work-from-home (WFH) culture and growing interest in smart-home applications are all driving residents’ Internet requirements.
The centrality of Internet access for multifamily residents was inevitable in the long run, according to Bryan Rader, president of Multi-Dwelling Units (MDU) at Pavlov Media. COVID lockdowns accelerated an already burgeoning trend. bulk-managed Internet designed to improve connections and simplify growing demand.
Bulk-managed connectivity offers a variety of solutions for on-site managers, residents and owners, as well as cost savings in unexpected areas. This approach provides building-wide Internet connections through a single provider, rather than asking residents to sign up individually with one of several Internet providers. The bulk Internet management company may also install and manage the building’s connection infrastructure.
The simplicity of bulk-managed Internet (which started as bulk-managed Wi-Fi in student housing) is becoming increasingly practical for multifamily buildings. In the last four or five years, the traditional multifamily industry is starting to follow the same model that became standard in student housing about 15 years ago. “The multifamily industry in aggregate is craving bulk-managed Internet, especially Wi-Fi, today,” explains Rader.
Residents Demand Strong, Adaptable Internet
Quality Internet is so essential to residents that it hardly qualifies as an amenity in some ways; it has become non-negotiable. The option to have Wi-Fi and Ethernet pre-installed and ready to turn on in an apartment as soon as a resident moves in can set an operator apart from their competitors.
Network setup is key. “You can’t expect to deliver the same solutions for multifamily that work in single family. Multifamily requires a very different network, one that can support a larger number of users in a single, dense geographic space. You can’t have, for example, 400 discrete Wi-Fi networks. These networks are all competing for airspace, and constantly competing against each other will drive everyone’s quality of service down dramatically.”
Slow Internet speed, other devices in the same area, building layout and overlapping channels between networks can all contribute to less-than-ideal Wi-Fi. Rader lays out the advantages of managed Wi-Fi in the battle to secure property-wide customer access. “This approach takes the customers’ equipment (their Wi-Fi and routing devices) out of the equation. They no longer need an additional device; it’s already built into the unit. When a resident moves in, their personal technology can be authenticated and connect to the network immediately.” No additional routers results in easier management and less interference across the property.
Having a single entity install Ethernet and routers throughout the building means a streamlined approach to Wi-Fi and cabling. More efficient router and cable placement can mean stronger, more aesthetically pleasing coverage, even in buildings built long before the advent of current Internet needs.
One additional benefit of this mass approach to Wi-Fi is the ubiquity of these managed networks. Residents who expect to be online while using property amenities can roam beyond their units and into shared spaces. “Common area amenities have exploded over the last several years, and bulk-managed Wi-Fi covers all the amenity areas,” says Rader.
Not only can residents use their devices on networks while at the building’s pool or dog park, but they can also control connected devices in their units remotely — printing documents on wireless printers, checking security devices and more. Further, Rader explains that with bulk-managed Wi-Fi, residents can wander the grounds of their amenity-rich homes without ever losing their network connection.
Managed Wi-Fi is even capable of supporting Wi-Fi calling to improve cell phone call quality, reducing the risk of poor cell phone service for residents (many of whom may check a property’s cell phone service before agreeing to a lease).
Appeal to Operators — Cost Savings, Monitoring
While fast and reliable Internet is non-negotiable for attracting residents, it also provides operators with ways to run their businesses more efficiently in “back of house” terms. Smart-home technology and property management applications take advantage of the “always on” aspects of a building’s Wi-Fi.
Rader adds that “one of the great things about managed Wi-Fi is that it gives you the right path to offer all of the smart-home applications residents expect (including digital door locks, thermostats, temperature controls and remote-control blinds).” plus all the ones useful to: both: residents and management (moisture sensors in apartments and security features). These are all ideally operated on a managed, stable Wi-Fi network.”
Managers can monitor vacant units via Wi-Fi-connected sensors. HVAC or leak detection sensors can continue to function, even if the unit is unoccupied, since Wi-Fi is not tied to the resident’s Internet provider, but rather, a constant service provided throughout the building. These alerts can save operators time and money, should an unoccupied unit need maintenance.
“Fiber is the preferred infrastructure for the long term,” states Rader. “It allows for symmetrical speeds and for the greatest experience for streaming, gaming, studying and working. Leveraging managed Wi-Fi with fiber is the ideal application. What’s great about managed Wi-Fi is that it spreads the signal throughout the unit and throughout the community. Fiber allows for a direct connection at the wall plate, letting residents who need extremely high-speed Internet speeds have extra capacity.” Streamers, gamers, those using intensive online programs and more appreciate this flexibility.
Support for Networks:
Rader emphasizes that committing to property support and the end user defines success for companies in this space. “You can’t expect the best results by only relying on the network itself. The network is critical, but no one can reasonably expect the network to be the only way to support a customer today. These are not ‘set it and forget it’ systems. They require on-site care and 24/7 tech support. Maintenance and provider contact are critical elements of performance.”
Both sides of the equation are important. “Building a great network is key, but so is supporting that network with the right people,” concludes Rader. It is essential to monitor traffic closely, communicate with staff and act proactively to allow today’s always-online residents to enjoy connection without interruption.
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