Beyond the Home Hub: The future of Wi-Fi in Build-to-RentSeptember 2019
High-quality internet access is by far and away the number one amenity for occupiers of BTR and student schemes. Only a few months’ ago, WiredScore, the connectivity rating service, chose to launch its WiredScore Home certificate aimed at build-to-rent landlords, with 4,000 units already under review.
It comes as no surprise really. I bet I am not the only one returning from this year’s family holiday with the sounds of phrases like these still ringing in my eyes:
- “Oh no! I’m out of data!”
- “Can I tether to you?”
- “Are you hot-spotting?”; and even
- “We’re not going there unless it has Wi-Fi!”
It’s not just the teenagers either! Good internet connection has become a basic requirement of life for those of us who are used to it. This latest article, prepared for us by Darren Henwood of Glide, takes a close look at how the provision of best-in-class connectivity is changing for multi-occupier schemes and introduces the idea of Pervasive Wi-Fi.
The humble router has been the backbone of home broadband and Wi-Fi delivery for a generation. As advances in technology and residential living converge, it’s time for a new approach to Wi-Fi and a new philosophy with futuristic experiences for residents and practical benefits for landlords.
Over the last 20 years, we have come to depend on a small black or white box. In 2019, this device still acts as a modem to connect us to an internet provider. It still performs routing which allows all of our devices to join a network and it still beams Wi-Fi around our homes. The outdated technology was designed to work in the two-up two-down majority of UK homes and nothing much has changed.
Routers are still poorly positioned by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or naive residents, they still need to be switched off and on again and firmware needs to be upgraded. Wireless performance is limited by interference and building materials and coverage is patchy. The fixed port is disappearing, plugging devices directly into the router will become defunct and all at a time when people rely on mobile devices and mobile connectivity.
Build-to-Rent is an emerging brand of residential development specifically designed for renting, managed by specialist operators who will look to evolve the provision of resident services like Wi-Fi. In this competitive market, developers and operators need to differentiate their properties to maintain 100% occupancy and profitability. If people are to abandon the aspiration of owning their own home and commit to a lifestyle of renting, significant improvements to resident services and well-being will be needed to make Build-to-Rent a popular choice.
96% of tenants find going without the internet to be the most frustrating part of moving home so we know fast, reliable Wi-Fi is a key technology.
The future of Wi-Fi is Managed Pervasive Wi-Fi and represents an alternative approach; one that guarantees coverage over every inch of an apartment and spells the end of the familiar home router. Pervasive Wi-Fi is invisible, on all of the time and it works, offering significant benefits to both resident and landlord without sacrificing privacy and security.
Smart Home solutions like smart thermostats, smart lighting, smart metering and environmental controls can all be installed before residents move in. Services managed by the landlord but used by the resident with no cumbersome router and now, not just for tech-savvy homeowners but rather installed as standard. This means zero hassle for residents which is the main reason many are considering moving to a Build-to-Rent property.
Landlords face similar challenges with outdated building systems and devices for the provision of utilities. What does Pervasive Wi-Fi mean for building services?
Pervasive Wi-Fi will extend the reach and range of managed services available to landlords with new tools to efficiently manage properties. Solutions, like utility sub-meters that automatically and accurately measure consumption and automatically bill residents, introduce a new level of efficiency and fairness. Centrally managed thermostats mean the heating can be switched off for unoccupied apartments and ambient temperature settings for communal spaces used to maintain the green credentials of the property. Introducing new control systems over Pervasive Wi-Fi will be more cost effective and easier to introduce than traditional infrastructure.
Living in Build-to-Rent is a lifestyle choice. Build-to-Rent should not just deliver spaces to sleep in but environments that enhance the lifestyle of the renter. Pervasive Wi-Fi means connected environments extend beyond the front door to the gym, the cinema room, yoga studio, cafes, parking lot and communal outdoor spaces so there is no limitation on the ambition of landlords to impress prospective residents.
Extending the management of Wi-Fi into apartments and communal spaces means the level of service, coverage and speed is now the responsibility of the managed Wi-Fi provider. Introducing a standard and benchmarking Wi-Fi coverage ensures service quality comparable with the best performing apartments across a portfolio. This is analysis that leading operators can draw upon that their competition cannot and with a wider range of landlord services to help find additional cost savings and optimise coverage, the Build-to-Rent proposition continues to significantly differentiate properties from the rest of the residential property market. This added freedom also empowers operators to extract every discernible operational efficiency from their network.
What does 5G mean for the future of the Home Hub?
5G is the next generation of mobile networks to roll out across the UK, initially in major cities and deployed from a variety of familiar UK providers. 5G will be faster and more reliable, with greater capacity and lower response times. With more speed and capacity comes exciting new consumer and business applications that could replace 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi infrastructure with 5G. 5G driverless cars, remote healthcare, holographic technology, 5G phones and drones may well depend on the 5G technology but is the ambition of replacing Wi-Fi in the home with 5G a reality?
Advocates will say 5G will replace expensive fibre broadband infrastructure. This means no need for cables under our streets and into our homes. 5G will be beamed wirelessly into our 5G Home-Hub or wirelessly into our Smart Devices. Residents will deal directly with their 5G provider, likely the same provider as their mobile phone. Landlords of apartment blocks will have a separate 5G commercial agreement to provide for back office services and communal spaces. Regrettably, 5G providers will face the same challenges as with 3G and 4G. The technology can’t penetrate every building material which means coverage will always be unpredictable. 5G can’t defy physics and the costs to guarantee the same coverage as Wi-Fi massively outweigh the benefits.
Mobile data is by some margin the most expensive. Residents will depend on 5G data services being available and deliver capacity to a range of increasingly bandwidth hungry devices like Ultra High Definition (UHD) streaming and online gaming. In the current market, the best residential 5G deals are approximately £75 for 100GB per month. It’s possible that this would suffice for a typical online gamer but the comparable fibre services are uncapped, significantly more affordable and reliable and future-proof for the next generation of technology.
5G is fantastic technology but the rollout will be staggered. 5G will not provide as much resilience and no redundancy and will neither be as reliable or future-proof to meet the raising popularity of gigabit fibre broadband. This makes running critical building systems on 5G a risk and limits the appeal of a rental property to the next generation of renters.
Every 5 years the headline speed offered by leading residential broadband ISPs goes up by a factor of 10. Significantly, 100GBs of capped data usage will last 13 minutes on a capped gigabit product. Replacing the fixed asset Wi-Fi infrastructure with 5G mobile data for a portfolio of properties would significantly increase the operating cost of the buildings. If you are investing or operating in a 25-year property asset why would you put in anything else other than fibre?
What does Wi-Fi 6 mean for the future of the Home Hub?
Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax Wi-Fi is the sixth generation and standard of Wi-Fi technology designed to support four times more devices on a crowded network and a wider Wi-Fi channel that will make Wi-Fi faster. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are built on the same technology so all the benefits that 5G promises are already available at a fraction of the cost.
Home broadband providers are already promising gigabit services to every home in just a few years. Fibre broadband has unlimited capacity and is future-proof for at least the next 25 years so will support this evolution. Comparatively, the cost profile of 5G data services will be too much for a typical user afford. For the majority, all roads lead to fibre broadband and Pervasive Wi-Fi as a common-sense solution. Don’t believe the 5G hype.
Geraghty Taylor has appreciated that internet connectivity is the number one amenity service for BTR since we first started designing schemes. The WiredScore rating is a welcome independent review for occupiers and investors alike. It is crucial to keep on top of rapid technology changes and design buildings than can accommodate future advances.
#BTR #BuildtoRent #Brand #Brandbeforebuilding
Our thanks to the Glide Group team for preparing this review. If you have any questions relating to the article please get in touch with Darren Henwood