Internet connectivity is often described as the fourth utility, recently joining water, gas and electricity as a fundamental service that is expected to be available in every residential dwelling. In fact, the argument can be made that Internet connectivity should be regarded as the “First Utility” as more and more people – especially those in the Gen Z population — report they would rather be without a working bathroom than without connectivity.
As such, wireless connectivity is frequently being designed into buildings at the design phase to address not only the demand from residents for always-available wireless service, but also for the building owner’s desire to automate operational processes. The multifamily dwelling – ranging from student housing to apartment complexes to assisted living and retirement homes – represents a significant opportunity for wireless integrators and service providers.
Boingo, building on its experience in deploying wireless networks for military housing units, recently joined the civilian multifamily dwelling space, offering connectivity solutions that benefit both residents and building staff. In August, Boingo acquired Elauwit Networks, a company with more than a decade of experience managing connectivity technology in apartment buildings and other housing structures, to gain a strong foothold in the multifamily space.
Today Boingo powers the internet at more than 2,000 multifamily properties.
Robert Grosz, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Boingo, sat down with WIA to talk about why connectivity in the multifamily dwelling space is so important and what building owners need to know about deploying wireless networks in their properties.
Why is Boingo excited about the multifamily market?
Now is the perfect time to focus on connectivity in the multifamily environment for two major reasons. The first is apartment demand. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, the apartment industry needs to build an additional 4.6 million units from now until 2030 just to keep up with demand for apartment living in the U.S., so we think there is a good growth opportunity to serve newly built homes and today’s connected resident. The second reason is that we’re early on in what I would call the digital transformation of apartment operations — the staples of apartment living, which for years have been analog, are now digitizing. Connected door locks, which traditionally have been just a metal key in a metal lock, now are using smartphone applications to unlock doors. Package delivery lockers are becoming more and more important and are becoming fully connected. And on the back end of the property management suite, you have connected thermostats and smart-home technologies rolling out in apartment living. All these things rely on very reliable connectivity. And we’ve got a solution with a unique financial model that drives net operating income (NOI) for property owners.
Why is connectivity in multifamily housing so important to residents?
Connectivity really has become a must-have, in-home lifestyle product for most consumers, especially in the multifamily environment, where residents expect to seamlessly connect throughout the entire property – not only in their living space but also at the pool, the garage, the clubhouse and the laundry room. Through our own internal surveys, we have found that almost 95% of consumers say high-speed Internet is their No. 1 home amenity. Ninety-two percent of renters say they want reliable cellular reception and 78% said they won’t rent an apartment without it. We’re also seeing with the proliferation of mobile devices and applications that smartphone dependency and cord cutting has been a significant trend in the past few years. There are more and more smart appliances, smart-lighting systems, and door locks that have started to interface with mobile phones, which requires connectivity. We think the resident demand for high-speed connectivity has reached an all-time high and that will continue for the foreseeable future.
What is the return on investment for the building owner?
There are a lot of positive returns for owners—and it goes beyond just supplying a great service to residents. Our networks are custom built with the property’s bottom line in mind. We offer greater, long-term participation in the revenue stream so owners can increase NOI and have their network tied to revenue goals. Progressive owners are moving toward this model—and Boingo is there every step of the way.
There’s also the efficiency piece. Providing great connectivity to your onsite staff can be a return on investment because there are a number of efficiencies gained. And don’t forget about IoT. Some owners have tried to deploy smart-home solutions, but they find that the connectivity layer is not easily available. If you deploy a smart thermostat without the right network or any owner control, that thermostat goes underutilized and it’s a missed opportunity.
Is the demand for wireless connectivity being driven by residents or building owners?
It’s on both sides. Property owners are recognizing wireless as a necessary utility that is fundamental to digital transformation strategies. Without it, they’ll be left behind. Looking at residents, they simply won’t live at a property that doesn’t offer amazing connectivity.
Does the type of end user drive the type of network you deploy?
Every network we deploy must be awesome. We know that millennials and Gen Z are a huge renter audience, so we’ve really been focused on what they need especially on the student and conventional side. Millennials and Gen Z want a property, a community, a home where they are always connected at fast speeds throughout the entire property and through all devices. But that same criteria for providing a high level of reliable connectivity is very important in other applications for different reasons. For example, reliable connectivity might be needed in a senior-housing facility for resident monitoring and senior-care functions.
How is IoT going to play in to the multifamily space?
Connecting things is equally important to connecting residents. Our networks are designed to be IoT ready so they can handle applications like energy management, camera systems, monitoring ingress and egress points like garages, connected thermostats and HVAC systems.
How will 5G affect multifamily properties?
Building owners need to make sure their technology strategy aligns with 5G platforms so their apartments are competitive and leaseability remains strong. Neutral-host partners like Boingo are key to realizing 5G, as we’ll deploy the right technology for the right use case, benefiting owners and residents alike.
How do deployments in multifamily environments differ from single-family homes?
The network and the customer base in an apartment community is much more dense than in a single-family neighborhood, and the level of importance they place on the having Internet connectivity is higher. If you go to a hotel and the Internet doesn’t work, it’s an inconvenience but you can go to the local coffee shop and work from there. But If you come home and your Internet doesn’t work, it’s a big deal. Connectivity is like oxygen so our products have to be always-on and always awesome. The other thing unique about apartment communities is you have multiple stakeholders involved—the end-user resident, the onsite management team and the owner of the property. Making sure you understand all the stakeholders and what’s required to best serve them is very different than in single-family houses.
Robert Grosz is Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Boingo. He has been a leader in the real estate and telecommunications industries for over 20 years and is committed to helping property owners create value from investments in technology by enhancing the resident or guest experience. At Boingo, Grosz supports business development by helping define and execute growth strategies.
Also published on Medium.