The smart connected building

by Melanie Basta
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In today’s ever smarter and more connected world, it’s essential for buildings within the commercial property market to modernise and remain relevant, writes GREG WHIFFIN.

The commercial real estate market is transforming. Physical attributes such as the building’s location, presentation and on-site amenities are no longer the key selling propositions; technology has joined the list as a key differentiator. Indeed, according to Atlus Group, 58 percent of commercial real estate companies are investing in and using technology to help make profits rather than save money.

In an article on Bisnow.com titled ‘To be an Amazon magnet, your city must be wired’, Arie Barendrecht, founder and CEO of WiredScore, says, “It’s easy to believe at this point that connectivity is the lifeblood of all modern businesses. The key thing to realise is almost every important thing we do at work, every application we use, is on connectivity.”

Bandwidth is an essential part of a building’s profit plan

For buildings to keep up with tenant needs and expectations, it is imperative that they are smarter and more connected. Today’s business age requires connectivity for things such as building automation, security, digital signage, eCommerce and machine learning, all delivered through a robust building network.

The reliance on connectivity that underscores network infrastructure is as important as mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems for commercial real estate buildings. For many, bandwidth is as essential as electricity. For most, it is a determining factor when deciding between properties.

James Carlini, author of Location Location Connectivity, observes smart networks need to be reliable, redundant and resilient.

“Twentieth century real estate strategies and solutions will not fit or satisfy 21st century real estate requirements,” Carlini explains. “The needs and demands for buildings today have far surpassed those of the past.”

As networks shift from wired to wireless, connectivity is increasingly stressed at the edge of the indoor network. The traditional approach of installing a single-purpose infrastructure to support a single application in a building is no longer an efficient or effective method. Tenants and buyers expect high bandwidth connectivity.

Increasing demand for bandwidth

An ABI Research report indicates that more than 80 percent of the world’s mobile traffic happens indoors. That kind of mobile usage alone, as consumers access Wi-Fi, cellular and VoIP (voice over internet protocol) networks, already stresses existing communications networks inside commercial properties. And, as property managers add evolving demands from their security, automation and other building operations, it’s clear that demand for bandwidth will only increase.

Carlini counsels that a smart, connected building infrastructure should be engineered to last the lifetime of the building, “not the lifespan of the technology hung off it”.

“If you are switching out cabling every five years, you are not doing a good job of network planning,” he says.

Fibre infrastructure, however, is highly flexible and is the ideal media to converge and support multiple applications and services such as voice, data and video, while providing virtually unlimited capacity to deliver these services. This approach empowers the multiple stakeholders within a building – including the owner, tenants and service providers – to deploy the applications they need or prefer through access to a single infrastructure.

It has long been observed that while the pace of change for technology is rapid, the pace of change in commercial real estate is slow. Emerging technologies, like 5G and the continuous enabling of everyday items through the Internet of Things (IoT), will only create even starker differentiations. Former Class 6 buildings may no longer be able to entice high-end tenants, subsequently transforming the commercial real estate industry and redefining the competitive edge.

Fibre infrastructure for network convergence

Converged all-fibre solutions are highly flexible and future-ready, and allow forward-looking managers to build high-quality networks that support multiple in-building applications, including cellular, Wi-Fi, BMS, LAN, security and other IP-based services. They address today’s communications needs while laying a foundation to easily handle disruption-free future connectivity that lasts the life of a building – no ripping and replacing of outgrown cabling required.

“Horse-and-buggy approaches to commercial real estate expose building owners to a single point of failure,” says Carlini. “Get rid of those obsolete rules of thumb immediately because they do not support the mission critical-applications of today’s corporate core business.”

The key to modern marketability in the industry truly is the smart, connected building – a building designed in a smart manner with a unified and scalable fibre network infrastructure. More and more buildings are recognising the need for businesses to have holistically equipped network capabilities that allow tenants to scale and be modular according to their business needs.

“By doing this, you have effectively cut out at least 95 percent of your competition when it comes to seeking out a tenant,” adds Carlini.

Commercial real estate is undoubtedly on the cusp of revolution. The streamlined convenience of converged network capabilities is sparking a future-forward outlook for tenants and property owners alike. As technology continues to evolve and new platforms are enabled, the demand and, therefore, the need for buildings to be smart and connected will expand – eventually making the transition from high-demand to expectation.

The smart, connected building provides opportunity for significant business potential for myriad commercial real estate stakeholders, no matter how they may fit in to the industry.

Greg Whiffin is director of commercial operations, Enterprise Networks, Corning Optical Communications. To learn more, listen to the webinar The Smart, Connected Building Transformation.

Image: 123RF’s Vasin Leenanuruksa © 123RF

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