Many of us in the industry are very aware of the increasing amount of complaints from tenants and from real estate users around connectivity.
In the last ten years, landlords and real estate leaders for large companies have sought strategies to deal with this issue. It is a global phenomenon and it is worth exploring why this is getting worse year after year.
There are at least three causes for the increase in this problem: 1) more reliance, 2) capacity is fluid, 3) spectrum demand is changing.
The increase in reliance on all forms of technology to participate in the business world is a well-documented trend. Cell phones are not the only devices driving change. More and more offices and workplaces are using “flexible space” where users are not tied into hard lines for connectivity but are able to come and go using the office network via Wi-Fi. Additional devices are also more common from smart watches to multiple computers or tablets. Buildings themselves are getting “smarter” with security cameras, security systems, heating/air conditioning, elevators, management systems and other features that use bandwidth and soak up overall capacity.
Most people tend to think of bandwidth or capacity in terms of a fixed provision. If you move into your home and your connectivity is good, then you are all set for the long-term. Capacity can be fluctuating and significantly impacted by the addition of users. If you have great connectivity in your house, and then a 500-unit apartment complex is built next door you would likely experience a deterioration in your overall connectivity experience (aside from many other issues you might have with this event!).
Capacity can be thought of as a river, with users as boats. If the river is wide enough, and deep enough, the boats can operate without issue. Add enough boats (users) with a static river size/depth and eventually it impedes the ability to operate–the river has become too crowded. While network providers continue to find ways to provide more room for more users, the pace of expansion is lagging the pace of new users. This has contributed significantly to connectivity issues.
The third factor operating to inhibit good connectivity is the type of spectrum we are using today versus years ago.
Our devices operate on radio frequencies licensed by the FCC in the United States. Most countries have a similar governing body. The providers of the services we use are generally united or in partnership with business that owns the rights to broadcast or handle traffic. The total amount of licensable radio frequencies available through the FCC is generally referred to as the “spectrum.”
The spectrum of radio frequencies available vary from “broadband” (think large antenna in a field broadcasting AM and FM radio over miles and miles) to “millimeter wave” (think very short wavelength) and even higher. Just ten years ago, phones were generally used for talking and texting, while broadband supported the demand for connectivity. Today, our device usage includes videos, streaming voice/video calls, data transfer and other sophisticated demands.
Where broadband can travel great distance and penetrate structures, short-band or frequencies “up the spectrum” can only travel short distances (in some cases ¼ mile or less) and they don’t penetrate structures. We will need far more antennas or distribution points for signal, and this signal must be generated within the structure itself.
Licensed spectrum providers are having a tough time convincing real estate owners and users to add more distribution points to provide great signal. This is an on-going issue many of us are trying to resolve.
These factors combine to degrade user experience of connectivity particularly within buildings. Increased reliance on devices, not only by individuals but by the building itself, is well-documented. Recognizing that capacity is a fluid entity that can be expanded is a key element to alleviating this issue.
As real estate owners and users recognize their need to participate in expanding capacity within their buildings, and why the need is increasingly urgent due to users moving “up the spectrum,” we can begin to provide better connectivity for all.