What Does “Good Connectivity” Mean in Commercial Real Estate?

Understand what features you should be looking for when assessing a building to ensure reliable, high-speed connectivity for your tenants.

Negotiating favorable lease terms, identifying the right location for your tenants’ market, budgeting for renovations — to be a tenant representation broker requires you to keep a lot of plates spinning. Today’s modern tenants have added another crucial task to the mix: ensuring a tenant’s prospective space has reliable high-speed connectivity.

But what does that connectivity look like on the ground, and how do you know whether a given building’s service is a good option?

This post will walk you through some key features to help you answer those questions. It’ll also introduce you to the most common modern solutions to look for at — or recommend to — any building you assess.

Start Simple: What’s the Connectivity Like?

This is the big, obvious question, and it’s one you can largely answer yourself or with the help of the building manager.

How’s the coverage?

First, try testing the building’s coverage (WiFi, cellular, etc) on your phone and laptop, including in potential dead zones; make sure to try things like phone calls, video calls and downloads.

What’s the building’s connectivity mix?

With a baseline established, dig deeper.

What sorts of equipment does the building already feature, and what network technologies does it currently support? Some buildings might just have minimal WiFi infrastructure setup for public areas, like lobbies and conference rooms, which will certainly fail to meet your tenants’ needs. Even if the building has more comprehensive WiFi coverage, that likely won’t be enough for the high connectivity demands of modern businesses. Ideally, the building will offer a mix of connectivity solutions, like WiFi, distributed antenna systems (DAS), and other systems.

If you’re not familiar with all of these different technologies, don’t worry; we’ll talk about some of them in greater detail towards the end of this article. For now, just knowing that the building isn’t wholly reliant on a single connectivity solution should serve as a good sign.

Does the building’s infrastructure support 5G?

As a nascent technology, 5G connectivity isn’t available to all mobile users — but a few years down the line, it will be. In order to identify a long-term fit for your clients, you’ll want to confirm that the building can support 5G, or that the owner is willing to update the building to outfit it with 5G-ready connectivity solutions. 

Get Specific: What’s the Infrastructure Like?

From there, it’s time to get more technical. These questions will definitely need an insider’s knowledge, but they’ll give you deep insight.

Reviewing building infrastructure

How much space and capacity is available?

More to the point: Does your prospective building have enough pre-installed connectivity equipment, the right kind of equipment and redundant connectivity solutions? Buildings that rely on WiFi and outdoor mobile cellular networks alone, for instance, are likely to have an overcrowded network as more tenants move in. In a small enough space, solutions like WiFi may suffice, but these scenarios are becoming increasingly rare as individual organizations become more dependent upon connectivity for their operations.

Furthermore, buildings that are over 500,000 square feet may have floors that extend above or below the mobile grid and may have stronger structural elements that block radio frequencies (RF). Buildings of this size will need additional telecommunications equipment to help propagate signals indoors.

Is there a dedicated telecommunications room?

Ideally, the building will have a dedicated telecommunications room — that is, one not shared with unrelated utilities, storage or common spaces. Telecommunications equipment is sensitive in two respects: It can be easily disrupted by environmental hazards from water, fire and the like; and businesses rely on its security. It’s much more difficult to make a telecommunications room secure if it’s regularly accessed by maintenance personnel or curious tenants. Additional building systems in the area like plumbing, ventilation and the like can fail, potentially damaging telecommunications equipment in the process.

Is there space for additional connectivity infrastructure?

If your tenant is moving into an already crowded building or if the building can be expected to take on more tenants in the future, a single telecommunications room may not be enough. Ideally, the building will contain additional, dedicated spaces for each floor that can accommodate equipment and infrastructure.

What does the building’s point of entry (POE) look like?

Cabling for a building’s networks needs some kind of entry point. Points of entry (POEs) may seem like a minor detail to assess, but they can be a significant bottleneck if there are too many tenants with different service providers, and they’re a common point of equipment failure. Every new service agreement and many maintenance requests require access to the building’s POEs.

The larger the building and tenant capacity, the more important it is that the building contains more than one POE. Additionally, underground POEs are more desirable than above-ground POEs. Since the cabling that enters these POEs are suspended by telephone poles, they’re subject to damage from weather and car impacts and require more maintenance, such as trimming nearby tree branches.

What’s the riser configuration?

Risers are the vertical and horizontal pathways through which cabling is distributed throughout a building. Similarly to the building’s POEs, a building’s risers are a common chokepoint that can limit how many tenants it can support and the quality of connectivity each tenant receives.

Not only does a building need to have adequate space in its risers and to have risers that provide cabling to all parts of the building, but they must also be maintained over time. Equipment from previous tenants or service providers have to be removed, cabling needs to be documented and enough space has to be provided for in the riser for new tenants’ connectivity needs. Unfortunately, it’s an easy detail for building managers to overlook.

Risers will connect to a building’s POEs and telecommunications rooms. Investigating these spaces will show whether the owner has been diligent about managing their previous tenant’s cabling and whether the riser space is crowded.

Close the Gaps: What Else Will Impact Your Tenants?

The questions above will carry you pretty far and establish you as a tech-savvy broker. Round out your knowledge with the last few below to ensure you don’t miss any details that will impact how well the building will serve your tenant’s needs.

How many sensors are used in the building’s design? Is it a smart building?

Modern buildings are full of IoT sensors and controllers that make life easier for tenants through presence detection and the intelligent, automated management of ventilation, heating, lighting, security and more.

But these systems need connectivity too, and they often connect to WiFi networks. If your prospective venue’s connectivity depends on WiFi first and foremost, then the odds are good that all these smart systems will interfere with your tenants’ own WiFi networks. Even though the building’s IoT and your tenants will be on separate networks, too many WiFi networks in close proximity to one another tend to experience interference.

connected building

Does the building adhere to any sustainability standards?

Unfortunately, the same practices set forth by sustainability standards like LEED and BREAAM to improve a building’s efficiency also block RF coverage. Any connectivity that depends on network carrier bands won’t be very strong unless the building has additional mobile equipment that helps propagate RF signals inside the structure, such as DAS solutions.

What sort of backup systems does the building have?

Backup power is, of course, a must-have for commercial real estate. For buildings and tenants with high connectivity needs, backup connectivity equipment is a good idea as well.

What does the owner’s agreement with network carriers look like?

If your prospective building already contains existing connectivity infrastructure, it will be worthwhile to ask about key features of the owner’s agreements with the relevant telecommunications companies. This could include whether any upgrades are included, such as upgrading to 5G-ready equipment; whether there is regularly scheduled service and maintenance; what to expect should equipment break or fail; and so on.

Offer Solutions: What Connectivity Will Solve for Everyone?

Maybe you’ve found a building that your tenants love and is a perfect fit in nearly every way — except that it flunks this questionnaire.

That’s not the end of the world; if the building owner is motivated to sign tenants and ready to invest in future-proofing their building, you may be able to negotiate the addition of connectivity infrastructure with them. Your tenants may also be willing to invest in a connectivity solution themselves.

In either scenario, you’ll want to ensure maximum coverage for all the different connectivity needs your tenants will have. Here’s an overview of some common solutions to help you provide recommendations.

WiFi

The building is almost guaranteed to have some kind of WiFi network in place. WiFi is great for certain use cases, like personal streaming, but it’s been historically over-used. Most WiFi networks today tend to be crowded by different devices, highly insecure and prone to outages. The answer to spotty connectivity isn’t going to be more WiFi.

BDA Systems

BDAs (Bi-Directional Amplifiers), also known as repeaters or “boosters,” provide wireless service by picking up RF signals from a nearby cell tower and propagating that signal in a small radius, usually in about a 10-meter range. BDAs are often positioned as a legitimate solution for very small buildings, especially to cover dead zones cheaply.

However, the full extent of their downside is rarely discussed with buildings. They’re limited in the size of building they can address: because they’re not fiber-based, you need prohibitively high power to propagate the signal.

What’s more, as a result of the noise they generate, the carriers are now legally permitted to force them off-air, and it’s very easy for a carrier to identify the presence of an offending BDA. You heard that right: a building could invest in an elaborate BDA system only to have it forcibly removed shortly thereafter.

They’re also not a sustainable long-term solution — they can’t be readily upgraded to 5G. Fundamentally, because BDAs don’t generate their own signal or capacity, all you are doing is recycling a potentially low-quality signal outside. As a result, this solution isn’t recommended for buildings larger than 50,000 sq ft.

DAS

DAS, or a distributed antenna system, provides the greatest flexibility and scalability out of the network solutions described above. DAS consists of a network of antennas placed around a building that propagate a dedicated cellular signal evenly throughout the entire property.

Not only does DAS provide excellent coverage, but it can also be adapted for any venue size, carrier, technology and band. For businesses that want reliable 4G/LTE connections, a future-proofed system for 5G or access to private bands, it’s easily the best option. DAS offers the most coverage out of any single connectivity solution.

Historically, DAS projects have been challenging to implement — either limited in scope or availability, or extremely expensive. QMC’s model is different. Rather than require all payment upfront, we provide financing that ensures we’re invested in the continued performance of the system. Plus, the building owner and tenants get to dictate what technologies and bands the DAS will use.

If there’s a building that’s a perfect fit for your tenants but is lacking in connectivity, get in touch with us — QMC can help your clients implement a DAS that’s scalable, future-proof and able to provide the uninterrupted connectivity modern tenants are looking for.

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