Wi-Fi Connections in Apartment Communities Can Help Retain Residents in Tough Economy

Sanjit Biswas (pictured) is the CEO and co-founder of Meraki, a company that has been installing broadband networks providing wireless Internet access to residents of apartment communities for over three years. Meraki has also set up networks in other property types. Wi-Fi is a top amenity request according to executives and operating staff of multifamily buildings, and 45 percent plan to increase spending on Wi-Fi in 2009, as they seek cost-effective ways to gain an edge in the down market, according to J. Turner Research. Biswas is currently on leave from the Ph.D. program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he co-led the research project that won several academic awards and later became the foundation of Meraki’s wireless mesh technology. He holds a B.S. in Computer Systems Engineering from Stanford, and an S.M. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.He talks to MHN Online News Editor Anuradha Kher about the benefits for an apartment community to set up a Wi-Fi connection through Meraki and why their revenue is increasing in a tough economy.MHN: How does Meraki work? Biswas: Our technology is designed in such a way that it does not need a big IT team to maintain or install the system. It’s a simple plug-in installation. A 200- to 300-unit community can be Wi-Fi enabled for about $5,000 to $10,000. The speed is between 1 to 3 MBps. The system is designed for thousands of people to be using the connection at the same time.MHN: How much do residents pay?Biswas: It depends on the business model the apartment owner chooses. It can either be free or as little as $10 a month. Apartment owners realize that by providing this amenity for free or for a minimal sum, they can attract and maintain more residents and they can see a return on this investment in just a few months. MHN: What are the biggest drivers of Wi-Fi adoption in apartment communities?Biswas: Now more than ever, owners and managers of apartment communities are looking for ways to cut down vacancy rates by attracting renters and retaining existing ones. They can do this by providing an amenity such as Wi-Fi connection that doesn’t cost much and does not disturb residents during installation. This is also a way for communities to attract “millenials,” the younger generation who values this amenity.MHN: Why is this a good amenity for renters?Biswas: As current economic environment gets tougher, people are looking for ways to save money and this is a good way to do that.MHN: Has Meraki seen an increase in its revenue in the last few months due to this trend?Biswas: Yes, we have. However, we cannot reveal any of our financials.MHN: Do renters still have the option of choosing their own provider if they are not happy with some element of what the existing connection provides?Biswas: Yes, our network does not interfere with other connections.MHN: How many years is this installation good for?Biswas: Generally, about three to five years, but that’s not because this will stop working but because there will be some new technology and advancements in Internet connections. MHN: How do you install in 120 other countries?Biswas: We either do it by partnering with someone, or we ship everything needed for the installation. If it doesn’t work for the owner/manager, everything can re returned.