A strong internet connection is among the top three most important factors for tenants searching for office space, along with cost and location, according to Wired Score. Not a surprise, as most tenants rely on broadband connectivity to power their business.
Traditionally, it was buy-and-hold real estate owners with marquee venues and bigger portfolios who invested in adding robust networks to their real estate holdings, and that was often simply because wireless carriers offered to put in networks. But now in mid-market real estate, more building owners understand that wireless is a utility; they must provide enhanced wireless services to fill tenant occupancy.
However, in-building connectivity is also essential for responding to emergencies and municipalities around the country have identified commercial real estate as a weak area for public safety.
Communications Infrastructure to Enable Safety
While every building is required to meet certain ADA and safety codes to ensure the safety of tenants, we also advocate that it’s just as critical that buildings provide the right wireless and broadband infrastructure to enable communication in the event of an emergency. (In fact, earlier this year, ExteNet joined the Safer Buildings Coalition to help champion this initiative.)
A survey of International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), conducted by the Safer Buildings Coalition, found that over 98 percent reported that buildings in their jurisdictions lack adequate in-building emergency radio coverage. In addition, according to the FCC, more than 70 percent of calls to 911 centers come from wireless phones.
This is important when you look at the trends affecting today’s commercial real estate markets. The rise of coworking spaces, which don’t provide desk lines to tenants, and increased importance of mid-market real estate are somewhat daunting from a public safety perspective. While these spaces provide the flexibility in leases and workspaces that modern workers crave, they may not provide enough wireless coverage to meet public safety demands. First responders operate on a different spectrum band, and that band must be available in up to 99 percent of the critical spaces in the building (stairways, elevators, etc.), versus the wireless service non-first responders use in common areas such as a lobby or cafeteria. However, there is no “coverage standard” for these common areas, so coverage is often influenced by the constituents paying the bill. This means there will likely be coverage gaps, which can cause major issues during an emergency.
All of this is increasing the pressure on building owners to provide a communications infrastructure that supports emergency communications, as well as internal communications systems to enhance public safety. In fact, Florida and Las Vegas recently passed bills requiring FirstNet compliance, and the FCC just named WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein as the Vice-Chair of the newly created Disaster Response and Recovery working Group; both showcase just how big of a priority public safety is at every level of wireless communications.
Planning for Safer Buildings
When preparing to provide a safer building or a more technologically advanced building, there are three considerations.
First, think about communications infrastructure to support public safety as part of a broader ecosystem that relates to everything in the building – not its own siloed solution.
Second, consider what expertise and staffing is needed to manage and address the network needs. Is that 24/7 IT experts or engineers? Each building, depending on usage and occupancy, will have differing needs.
And finally, costs. If building a new building, baking in this infrastructure – in particular, investing in fiber optic cable – from the start is a best practice, or when considering any major renovation or retrofit. Even if not demanded by your tenants today, you can never plan for a major incident or disaster. For most building owners and managers of mid-market buildings, the cost will fall on their shoulders to install. However, this is increasingly becoming part of the cost of doing business in the real estate market, as well as a clear safety need.
In the end, the biggest thing building owners should take away from conversations about wireless networks is simple: robust, comprehensive wireless connectivity is not just a nice-to-have amenity, but a must-have necessity across all kinds of commercial real estate. Like electricity, water or gas, wireless is a utility for building tenants- the 4th utility. And not only do potential tenants need broadband connectivity for their businesses, but for their own safety as well.