One of the biggest trends in amenities in 2015-2016 is property-wide WiFi services. Multifamily properties do well to provide the technology amenities that residents—especially the growing Millennial segment—demand. High-speed, reliable internet service has proven to increase both attraction and retention, and provides a new source of revenue.
But unfortunately, providing effective property-wide Internet (i.e., MDU, community or campus-style Internet) isn’t as simple as just setting up a router for a “hotspot” like the type found at your corner coffee shop, library, business center or poolside. These dynamic networks need a high level of expertise and synergy to function. It takes the right design, equipment, support and management of the network to handle hundreds of residential devices simultaneously. You want to make sure you have the right Internet provider, the proper equipment, dedicated bandwidth and excellent end-user support.
In the past, investing in these types of expensive managed internet networks were limited to enterprises, universities, banks and high-end facilities that had the resources to hire an MSP (Managed Service Provider) and pay for the up-front installation costs. Setting up reliable property-wide “anywhere” access requires a very precise skill set. Even with the help of an IT department, many organizations have failed to implement the right design, equipment and management of these sophisticated systems. The end result is often wasted money and decreased resident loyalty.
However things have changed; niche focused multifamily MSP's are now offering new service models. They are taking advantage of dropping prices on highly sophisticated and feature-rich equipment, developing in house proprietary management and policy software, and implementing expert engineering and design. As a result, enterprise-quality, affordable property-wide WiFi solutions catered to multifamily properties are now available to all property owners.
Four Keys to Success
To ensure reliable property-wide high-speed access for your residents, focus on the following key factors. Missing even one will almost inevitably lead to a failed deployment; successful solutions encompass all four:
1. Look for an end-to-end solution provider, not a patchwork of vendors
There are many different types of Internet providers, most just offer bandwidth. “Big Box” Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will give you connectivity alone, leaving your residents and staff to handle individual user set-up and troubleshooting. You don’t want your property managers having to provide front-line technical support. Working with a skilled MSP, on the other hand, will ensure a problem-free installation and service experience for both you and your residents.
Look for a provider who will engineer and manage the entire solution for you. They can design an installation with equipment that is the right fit for your property, set up all the hardware and configure the network. They’ll handle customer activation and connection services, maintenance, repairs and upgrades, Internet security protection and monitoring.
2. Don’t cut corners on equipment.
Some properties have been seduced by apparently “easy” and cheaper equipment solutions that are available from firms like Ubiquiti and Netgear. However, these solutions, while somewhat effective for small deployments, are not suited for the complexity of an entire apartment building, condominium complex or residence community. These “off-the-shelf” solutions won’t cut it; you need specialized equipment designed for a property-wide deployment. While this equipment may be a bit more expensive, the expense pales in comparison to the costs of a failed installation in wasted money, time and resident dissatisfaction. An excellent choice for equipment that surpasses most expectations and is considered the most feature-rich for the price is Ruckus Wireless (NYSE: RKUS). Of course you could always install CISCO, Aruba or Xirrus products for double the price; yet even still Ruckus seems to outperform.
Must-have equipment features include:
Centrally managed dual band 802.11ac wireless access points throughout the property.
Remote monitoring solutions and remote network management capabilities.
An intelligent network controller to manage the user authentication, device grouping/networking (per-unit/account basis).
Dedicated, blended or redundant bandwidth control.
Smart VLAN switches and AP's; each account must have a private and separate partition of the network.
An effective, customized solution will typically pay back in just 12-17 months; that’s certainly worth the investment to ensure happy users. “You don’t want someone who’s just going to sell you what they want to sell you,” says the Director of Asset Management at a large national developer of multi-family properties. “You want to work with a provider who is looking at your property’s needs now and into the future, and is really tailoring the system to you and the end user.”
3. It’s not just about bandwidth; it’s how it is delivered!
Don’t be fooled by offers of high bandwidth (speed) alone; reliability matters. A superhighway with a fast speed limit isn’t actually fast if there are potholes all along the way that force you to drive slowly. You want a service provider who will give you high bandwidth and a guarantee that you can drive fast, uninterrupted. Additionally, look for symmetrical speeds (e.g., 50x50 Mbps) to cater to your tech-savvy and business residents.
Many bandwidth providers (e.g., cable and DSL providers) will give you “best effort” accessibility, but that’s not the same. Ask for guaranteed up-time (service availability) of 99%. The type of bandwidth matters too. Fiber is optimal, but other delivery methods will work too, as long as it comes with a 99% guarantee. Cable Internet, modem Internet, or DSL solutions will not be effective for a property-wide service in almost all cases. Blending multiple streams of Internet like fiber and modem internet is also a cost effective way to get the best of both worlds; affordability and reliability. This blended solution is only possible, however, if the right equipment selections are made.
4. End-user technical support is essential.
This point can’t be stated enough. You’re not in the business of providing end-user technical support and Internet troubleshooting; your MSP should be. Responsive, 24/7 customer service availability will make the difference between happy, satisfied residents and a flood of complaints.
The recent history of property WiFi includes many property owners and management companies that have tried and failed; property-wide WiFi it is not plug-and-play solution but requires technical know-how to design and customize the deployment. If you keep the four key considerations in mind, however, you and your residents will have an extraordinary online experience. Fast, reliable service throughout the property that gives residents the flexibility and ease they are looking for. This all will very likely increase your property value far beyond the cost of installation and services.
“If you don’t invest the resources to set it up right from the outset, you’re wasting your time,” says the prominent Asset Manager. “You’ll just end up ripping it out, or leaving it dormant. A skilled end-to-end WiFi solution provider can not only ensure the success of a new installation and ongoing services, they can fix or retrofit any messed up system you already have. We got the experts in here to do it right and now my residents couldn’t be happier with both the system reliability and the customer support. It’s become a big differentiator for our properties.”
How to Set Up Multifamily WiFi Internet Service—That Works