The commercial real estate sector is undergoing a transformation. The Internet of Things is expected to transform not only the way buildings function but also how the tenants within those buildings operate and communicate.
This sea change will require robust in-building infrastructure, both wireless and fiber, to support the millions of sensors and devices sending and receiving data every second of the day. The nation’s wireless carriers are addressing the need for in-building coverage and capacity primarily in large venues that service thousands of disparate users. But for the millions of commercial buildings where carriers are not deploying in-building infrastructure, building owners, enterprises and third-party providers are increasingly filling in the gaps.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Airwavz Solutions is one such third-party provider that is focused on bringing in-building infrastructure that will capitalize on current and future wireless networks to buildings and businesses across the country. Airwavz owns and operates wireless infrastructure inside commercial buildings in dense metropolitan areas. The company’s solutions provide building tenants and guests with exceptional cellular service while also allowing wireless carriers to improve coverage and increase network capacity.
In June, Airwavz secured rights to lease Globalstar Inc.’s nationwide terrestrial Band 53, which received approval from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project last year, for in-building wireless services. Pilots are expected to begin in the commercial real estate sector this year.
The company said while current network topologies—such as distributed antenna systems, distributed radio access networks, Wi-Fi and fiber-optic systems—address today’s in-building wireless needs, the expected explosion of IoT devices and the millions of connections needed for smart building applications will require new technologies to supplement today’s solutions.
“The potential to offer our commercial real estate clients robust wireless services, based on both licensed Band 53 and quasi-licensed Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is driving us to innovate and break through current business models and technological barriers,” said Mark Horinko, president of Airwavz. “Until now, this option really did not exist.”
Horinko expanded on Airwavz perspectives about connectivity in the commercial real estate environment during the 2019 CoreNet Global Panel earlier this year featuring Horinko, Verizon’s Executive Director of Network Frank Cairon, and commercial real estate industry veteran Stuart Hicks, who joined the Airwavz board of directors in February.
Following are edited excerpts of Horinko’s comments during the panel, which Airwavz recently posted on its YouTube channel.
What does 5G mean for the future?
I think we’ll see it first in the industrial space where that latency piece – or that time from when you request data to the time you get it back – is super short when you have robotics and different manufacturing processes where that’s super critical. I think that’s where we’ll start to see it evolve initially. And then into smart cities. When we get into 5G and the Internet of Things, we’ve got to connect thousands if not tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of devices to this network which we don’t do today. These are going to be sensors and cameras and different telemetry components within buildings that manage air quality, energy, security, people in and people out, and different things like that.
Do you need to have in-building wireless to function with 5G?
I really see 5G as a journey and not a destination. We’re already starting to see some of the carrier aggregation – combining all those disparate spectrum groups into one so it produces more than each one would do individually. I think this is a step toward 5G. I think we’ll start to see some of the benefits sooner rather than later of 5G and I think we can start to incorporate some of those IoT things even today before we get true 5G into buildings.
What does it mean that in-building wireless should be the fourth utility?
The analogy we use is it’s the building owner’s responsibility to hire a plumber, but it’s the water company’s responsibility to bring the water to the meter. The same thing with electricity. It’s the building owner’s responsibility to hire the electrician and the power company will bring power to the meter. That’s how we see this market evolving. There’s just not enough capital to go around to do what needs to be done, so we look to the building owner to help put the infrastructure in and we look to the carriers to bring service to that infrastructure.
What does IBW infrastructure look like?
Looking at the infrastructure itself, there’s been some movement in in-building wireless infrastructure over the past decade. A lot of that was what we call repeaters-- where you would put an antenna on the roof and point it to a cell tower and basically pull that capacity from a cell tower and retransmit it through a building. Those days are kind of gone because we’re facing some real challenges in terms of adding capacity to the networks. Essentially today what we are doing in in-building wireless infrastructure is we’re putting dedicated cell towers, for lack of a better term, inside the building where you have dedicated capacity, you have dedicated performance and you’re not really competing with the services on the street or serving areas outside of that building.
What is the situation with wireless consumption in buildings today?
What you see in a building today in terms of coverage and that capacity piece - that wheel spinning as you’re trying to open an app - that is not static. As consumption in the network as a whole continues to grow – and I believe we’re tracking 30 to 40 percent demand growth on these networks every year -- means we’re having to double capacity on the networks every two to three years. What you have in your building today, both in terms of coverage and tonnage or capacity, is not static and that will deteriorate or degrade over time as consumption per device continues to go up. So, unless you have an in-building system, what you have in buildings today is probably the best you’re going to see going forward. It will slowly degrade over time.
Who pays for the in-building systems?
There’s three or four discrete models in this environment. One is the carrier funds the whole thing. They put in the infrastructure and they work with the asset manager to put that in. The other is the venue makes the investment and puts it in to serve tenants or attract and retain tenants. And the third is a third-party such as us where we make the investment, we own the infrastructure, we operate it and work with both the carrier and the building owner. The fourth one that is emerging and I think will gain some momentum over the next few years is the enterprise (corporate tenant) itself taking more control of their LTE networks in the enterprise space. I’m sensing that they may not wait for the carrier or building owner to make these investments and they need to get this infrastructure in place to forward their business cause. We typically work today directly with the asset managers because these are long-term leases, we do look at it as infrastructure, it’s very fiber rich, we put a lot of fiber in the building to support not only what we are doing today but we’ve got good visibility about where things are going.