It’s All About the Bandwidth

Fresh challenges are forcing new ways of thinking about telecom delivery.

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor

Given the rapid pace of technological change, providing telecom services to multifamily residents has never been more complex. The need to deliver ever greater bandwidth, keep pace with evolving resident preferences for handheld devices, and predict what the future of telecom will bring is keeping many property management companies on their toes.

How telecom is delivered to multifamily residents depends a great deal upon the type of apartment community being considered. So says Ken Miller, chief technology officer with Atlanta-based CFLane, a full-service multifamily apartment manager involved in everything from acquisitions to managing its own owned assets, as well as the assets of others.

“With the multitude of property types—from market-rate conventional, affordable HUD and tax credit, [and] senior and student housing—the different types of product you are leasing present different kinds of challenges,” he says.

“They also dictate a logic flow as to the type of product you will offer. For instance, if I’m leasing student housing to students living off-campus, I’m going to look to a provider to bring in a different type of product than I would at an affordable community with less need for bandwidth.”

Additionally, typical student housing will not only require more bandwidth, but the bandwidth will have to be attended, Miller says. “We not only need bigger pipes, but we also need to manage the entire bandwidth spectrum down to the individual device addresses those individual students are using,” he reports.

Many students in the building may have an iPad, iPhone, laptop or desktop, and an Xbox. Multiply that need for connectedness by 600 students and you have a different set of challenges than would be presented at an ordinary community with many devices—but not as much bandwidth appetite.

But lest some assume bandwidth appetite is confined to settings with younger populations, be assured that’s not necessarily the case.

“At transitional senior housing, I’d still need bandwidth, because a lot of transitional seniors are using E*Trade or other investing sites to view their portfolios, or using Facebook to keep in touch with family,” Miller says.

The interesting thing about technology proliferation is that providers’ ability isn’t necessarily keeping pace, he adds. Providing streaming services at reasonable prices across all units in a building can be a hurdle.

In a student community where movies are being downloaded, Miller says, “we know what they’re downloading, so we can provide it locally rather than having them download that content from a service like Netflix… There are providers who are working with Netflix, allowing temporary storage of movies so they can be accessed locally as opposed to being fetched each time.

“You can do things with a concentration of people in an apartment community that you couldn’t do as easily with people in private homes.”

Not long ago, apartment residents watched movies on cable networks, and now they’re watching feature films on their tablets, Millers says. That’s why bandwidth is on top of the list of talking points when his company negotiates with telecom providers. “We have to be flexible for each of those platforms,” he says. “We have to be conscientious of the fact we still have traditional cable viewers and others who are more interested in watching movies on tablet devices.”

He anticipates having to continue to be mindful of resident preferences that evolve with swiftly changing technology advancements. For instance, Miller foresees whole building Wi-Fi being far more affordable five years from now.

Along with that development, he says, residents will want to be able to be free of wires anywhere they go. “The general public assumes we’re already taking care of that now and more and more will have that assumption over the next five years, so we have to be on top of our game,” he asserts.

The goal of CFLane is to provide the best value-add service to its owners, who look to the company to keep them abreast of next steps in technology.

“They don’t have time to understand every nuance of everything out there,” Miller says. “They look to us to compare what’s out there, winnow out those options that don’t make sense, and come back to them with viable options that let them maximize the value of their real estate.”

The military life

Providing telecom in military housing can present different sets of challenges, says Maria Pietroforte, senior vice president of property management with East Greenwich, R.I.-based Corvias Military Living. An integrated company with development, construction and property management divisions, Corvias delivers customer service and living experiences for military people at seven U.S. Army installations, managing 20,000 single-family and apartment-style homes where soldiers and their families, as well as individuals, reside.

One telecom obstacle the company faces is that its housing is often in out-of-the-way settings. “Many, many times, we’re in remote locations, so there’s not the variety of companies we can tap into to provide services,” Pietroforte says. “Many times, we’ll find there are no cable providers in the area, and we have to use satellite. It’s very different in remote areas.”

Other hurdles are similar to those faced by property managers in settings like the off-campus college housing facilities Miller cited. “The speed of Internet connection is more and more important,” she says. “You have younger and younger people in housing all the time. It’s like a student housing demographic.

“They’re young, used to high-speed Internet and used to tools. They have young wives or they have teen children. Everyone is using some handheld device. A phone outlet has almost become a thing of the past.”

Delivering campus-style Wi-Fi is increasingly important to the soldiers Corvias Military Living serves. Barracks built in apartment style boast density that lends itself to Wi-Fi. But other Corvias communities can be eight miles wide.

“At Reece Crossings at Ft. Mead, now being built, we’re looking at our options and whether we should go beyond computer stations to providing Skype services in a center for those who don’t have it in their homes,” Pietroforte says.

At the company’s Randolph Pointe at Ft. Bragg, where roommates share living units, Corvias is finding residents’ needs are different than they once were. The roommates may not want a flat-screen TV installed, but each is likely to be using handheld devices. “They may be watching TV on a tablet, or very likely they’re going to want to Skype with a spouse in service overseas,” she says.

Pietroforte anticipates that soldier residents will increasingly move to mobile devices in the years ahead, leaving them with different opportunities for connection. Whether they will be more or less dependent on Corvias Military Living to provide connectivity is yet to be determined, she observes.

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