From online dates to remote office life and telehealth appointments, wireless connectivity is sustaining today’s society. Wireless infrastructure is the scaffolding that makes it all possible. But there’s one major problem: that infrastructure is outdated. Its tech is aging, and it was built for a pre-COVID society that has changed dramatically and at breakneck speed. The more it’s asked to deliver outside its intended capabilities, the worse it performs. Pressure is building within these systems, threatening to burst.
More and more venues are realizing that wireless infrastructure works just fine — until it doesn’t. We’ve seen this in high-rise apartment complexes that are suddenly unable to serve a live-in workforce, or hospitals struggling to provide reliable cell service to families who can’t visit a quarantined loved one.
This “new normal” calls into question a common complacency about connectivity: isn’t it the user’s responsibility if they want anything beyond the basics? The fact is, that’s simply no longer true: offering the bare minimum and forcing users to settle for your existing wireless connectivity options comes with enormous opportunity costs, most notably potential business lost.
Buildings might not know that their wireless infrastructure is a problem, but chances are, it’s causing significant costs behind the scenes or opening the organization up to major losses down the line.
In particular, we’ve witnessed organizations lose:
- Employee productivity
- Customer satisfaction
- Business reputation
- Data and security protection
- Potential business, including renewals and new leases
1. Productivity is Hampered by Poor Connections
Perhaps the most obvious consequence of poor wireless infrastructure is reduced employee productivity. Even traditional industries now rely primarily on digital communication, so slow download speeds and poor video uplinks have major consequences.
For companies still in-office or working hybrid, the sudden hyper-reliance on technology — particularly bandwidth suckers like Zoom — has exposed drastic gaps in infrastructure that might not have been an issue before. Taking calls outside to avoid dead zones now means talking through a mask. Company-wide meetings are now a production to ensure everyone can have access to video. Rooms with weak connections can no longer be avoided as companies look to enforce physical distancing.
Differently from the past, businesses and users are now turning to the venue rather than the carrier to fix the issue. Commercial real estate has felt the carry-on shocks as companies hold landlords and owners responsible for their buildings’ poor wireless infrastructure.
2. Customer Satisfaction Depends on Connectivity
The costs of employee productivity have also been passed on to residential real estate in the form of tenant dissatisfaction. Working from home hasn’t been the productivity killer that many businesses feared: research from Harvard Business Review has found that desk workers are significantly more productive because they have control over their own schedules and can prioritize work better.
Except, of course, when those employees can’t connect or maintain a stable video uplink because their residential WiFi wasn’t built for that load. Or when secure work must be routed through painfully slow VPNs rather than on lightning-fast company servers. Or when they’re competing with their children and neighbors for bandwidth at the same time.
Wireless infrastructure problems are now the concentrated focus of a critical mass of workers, which means the ire of tenants is descending on the heads of building managers and owners. Managers that deployed WiFi years ago to solve the simple need of basic connection and Netflix in the evenings are scrambling to adjust.
These issues go beyond residential buildings: hospitals have also had to readjust everything they know about connectivity because of the pandemic. Now, telehealth is the default rather than a backup, and the only way for patients to have visitors is via online connections. At high schools and universities, online courses are now the norm. When hybrid conventions are held, connectivity will be a make-or-break feature of hosting centers. Where these services fall short of expectations, clients are dissatisfied.
These frustrations are only enhanced when there’s no other option, no backup, which is often the case in high-rise buildings where cell signal can’t penetrate. Tenants can’t even fall back on a mobile hotspot. Now, missing connectivity means missing life. And the blame is falling on the building owners.
3. Business Reputation Sinks with Poor Infrastructure
When satisfaction dips, it gets expressed publicly. For hospitals, it’s through crucial patient satisfaction surveys. For residential and commercial real estate or even hospitality, it’s through platforms like Yelp. For universities, it’s the ability of their wireless infrastructure to handle the demands of online courses. From the early days of the pandemic, we’ve seen surges of reviews left on public platforms about the connectivity issues at particular buildings — with massive implications for potential business.
Even as workers return to their offices, the question of connectivity will hover over the heads of a building’s management, and that question needs to be addressed for a building’s reputation to be restored: customers are no longer willing to sacrifice on connectivity.
4. Bad Wireless Infrastructure Opens Security Risks
Hand in hand with reputational costs come security risks. The worse your wireless infrastructure, the higher the chances of a data loss or security breach. Working from home on WiFi networks — the most secure of which is easily breakable — is a key reason we’ve seen at least a 20% surge in security breaches since the pandemic.
Certain industries feel this more keenly. Hospitals, for instance, have always needed more secure alternatives for patient data and electronic health records, but now they’re seeing just how much that security is tied to whether the network is shared with the general public.
There are also more hidden security risks: if a building has poor wireless infrastructure and replaces cellular calling with WiFi calling, it cripples emergency services in that location. e911 relies on location data tied to cell network calls, and WiFi calling can’t provide those data. When providers can’t locate someone in an emergency, the building itself is liable because it didn’t provide adequate network coverage for emergency services — which can cycle back up as a reputational risk, too.
5. It All Comes Back to Potential Business
All these costs lead to the main bottom-line reason that wireless infrastructure is worth upgrading: potential business.
A flurry of negative reviews about poor connectivity — a common scenario during the pandemic — will drastically impact future business potential for a residential business owner. Available connectivity options, too, will shape the potential of residential real estate to attract young audiences. Young professionals use connectivity as a key lens to assess potential long-term housing situations: 63% of millennial buyers said they plan on purchasing a home because of their ability to work remotely, and nearly ⅓ of those buyers said good cell coverage was a deciding factor in buying a particular home.
Even outside of residential, attracting new young talent is only possible with connectivity that goes the distance under today’s demanding conditions, whether you’re a university or a commercial building looking to attract millennial businesses.
It’s true for recurring business too. Getting companies back into offices will require more than an offer of the same old infrastructure. We’ve even seen buildings lose an anchor tenant with no warning because the CEO’s calls kept dropping in one particular elevator, a major loss of potential business incurred directly because of poor wireless infrastructure.
For many industries, these challenges are all new since connectivity was once just a conversation between user and carrier that the venue vaguely facilitated. That must change. The conversation must be proactive, before business is lost and that CEO makes their decision to leave.
The good thing is, there are solutions out there like distributed antenna systems (DAS) that help venues navigate the connectivity gap and construct an independent network, rather than settling for one that’s shared among the entire neighborhood and controlled by the ISP. DAS provides secure, hyper-fast LTE and 5G connections throughout buildings on a dedicated network for the building’s users, from doctors to tenants.
Connectivity can no longer sit behind the scenes, taken for granted. It needs to be a priority investment for venues, because the costs of failing to do so have already started to prove far bigger than most businesses anticipated.