The Power of the 4th Utility in Student Housing

Tech experts attending NMHC’s virtual student housing conference talked about residents’ increased need for secure and consistent internet connectivity, and how the pandemic has accelerated the use of new technologies.

(Clockwise from top left) Blaz Vavpetic, Chris Pitts, Daniel Myers, Nick Hill and Mark Scifres

(Clockwise from top left) Blaz Vavpetic, Chris Pitts, Daniel Myers, Nick Hill and Mark Scifres

As more universities turn to online classes, the internet is becoming the fourth utility, both for on- and off-campus properties. Additionally, according to Chris Pitts, director of sales and operations at Spectrum Community Solutions, the internet is how students also work, interact and entertain themselves. Citing a CISCO report, he estimates that by 2023, an individual will own an average of 13 to 15 devices.

READ ALSO: Is the Pandemic Changing Student Housing Architecture, Design?

With this increase in devices and dependency, residents expect the internet to be convenient, secure and consistent. Moreover, as DojoNetworks President & Founder Daniel Myers points out, two-way video communications, such as Zoom calls, require a more stable network, especially when paired with other services, such as streaming. These combined demands prompted the panelists attending an internet connectivity and technology panel at the National Multifamily Housing Council/InterFace Student Housing virtual conference, to make a clear distinction between Wi-Fi and managed Wi-Fi.

Pitts made a comparison to illustrate how the latter technology works in airports. “We architect networks that have the signal strength and capacity for all of these devices, but most importantly there is centralized air traffic control, so people get consistent performance,” he said. Myers also noted that unmanaged networks can lead to collisions. Speaking about the habit of students bringing personal routers, he made an analogy with another utility. “If you turned on all the spigots in the entire apartment building, no one would have any water pressure.” 

According to the panelists, student housing property owners understood the importance of a well-managed network and they are accelerating the integration of Wi-Fi as an operation tool. Furthermore, the pandemic led them to change their products and practices. Pavlov Media CEO Mark Scifres mentioned that more off- and on-campus networks are running on equipment that is similar to what Facebook data centers use. “It’s really important to build infrastructure that’s not going to be obsolete,” Myers added.

Ready for the future

As the conversation shifted to new technologies, panel moderator, Nick Hill, chief revenue officer at Synergy Fiber, prompted the panelists to discuss the role 5G would play in student housing networks and beyond. 

While admitting that marketing has more to do with the term than technology, Scifres noted that 5G is more suited for public spaces and outside roaming. However, experts agreed that 5G has its own place within the industry and they relate to it as another tool in the box. Blaz Vavpetic, chief technology officer at Single Digits, mentioned that his goal is to establish a seamless transition of user experience, regardless of the wireless technology. “We look at it from a convergence perspective,” he said.

The internet of things is another technology that is becoming more present within student housing properties. Pitts noted that the pandemic accelerated the need for wireless door locks and demand for thermostat control and water monitoring increased. This growing trend is the result of environmentally-conscious residents and cost-efficient owners, he added. 

READ ALSO: Student Housing Leasing: Lessons Learned

Tech experts are optimistic about how the internet of things is going to change touring and renting student housing apartments. Scifres mentioned that virtual tours will be more common in the near future and noted that he even expects to see holographic video presentations of units. “You are kind of exploring new technology with the residents and with the property management and leasing agents,” he added.

Wrapping up the session, panelists ultimately concurred that traditional apartment owners are also looking to implement managed Wi-Fi and the internet of things within their properties. “There is such a strong demand this year to discover what the student housing market has known for decades,” Scifres concluded.

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