Wireless technology is the backbone of IoT. Here’s what to look for in a future-ready network, and how to budget for it.

Science fiction has teased us for decades with the idea that someday our buildings would be able to adapt to our every whim, allowing us to control lighting with a wave of the hand, gain access with a fingerprint or retina scan, or employ robots to clean floors or deliver mail. Now, the IoT (Internet of Things) is poised to help deliver on those promises.

As with every other industry, technology is changing the way CRE (commercial real estate) functions and how buildings are managed. Various types of sensors can track features within a building such as motion, air pressure, light, temperature and water flow, and then—with in-building wireless connectivity providing the backbone—enable BMS (building management systems) to autonomously sense, communicate, analyze, and act or react to people or other machines in a nonintrusive manner.

This may sound like a new way to frame current practices, but this isn’t the building automation that many CRE buildings already employ. This is the next generation of fully integrated solutions that leverage a single infrastructure to operate all building management necessities and require minimal to no manual involvement.

This automated action based on analytics is the real advancement, allowing IoT systems to make intelligent decisions on their own based on data and other strategic insights, enabling fast action on collected data and adding new value for CRE companies. According to Deloitte, “… the CRE industry is perhaps uniquely positioned to implement the technology, using IoT-enabled [BMS] to make building performance more efficient and … sensor-generated data to enhance building user experience.” This adds up to costs savings, more streamlined day-to-day management, and improved productivity and comfort of residents and tenants within the building, as well as energy conservation.

With the cost of sensors and data storage falling, more CRE firms will sally forth in adopting IoT applications. The push toward IoT has many firms taking a closer look at the technology factor that will drive everything else: their in-building wireless system, and whether it’s ready for the future.

Connectivity: What IoT Needs to Thrive?

In very general terms, the IoT chain has four components: a device and its data, connectivity, analytics, and management. So, for example, in a CRE building, physical maintenance assets like ladders might have a sensor on it. When a maintenance employee needs to track down a ladder, he or she pings the sensors; the network wirelessly transmits location data from each sensor; the BMS analyzes the data; and the employee receives an alert to indicate which ladder is closest, and the fastest way to get to it.

That’s just one simple example to illustrate the way the IoT works in a CRE building—and the point is that no data can be sent or received without constant, high-bandwidth connectivity that supports realtime data flow from hundreds and even thousands of devices and sensors living on the network. Without the layer of connectivity, IoT can’t exist.

This will create a challenge for CRE buildings using legacy Wi-Fi or other older wireless systems. Any firm that wants to get serious about incorporating IoT into its current and future offerings will need a powerful in-building wireless network that works both now and in the future.

A DAS (distributed antenna system) can solve a CRE firm’s current needs as well as position it to take advantage of the technologies of tomorrow—and there are several key components of an IoT-ready DAS platform.

What to look for in an IoT-ready network?

The network should:

  • Facilitate the ways tenants and residents prefer to communicate now;
  • Be multi-carrier, to give access to everyone in the entire building, no matter what carrier they use;
  • Be full spectrum, so it can access all of the most utilized cellular and public safety signals as well as all of the frequencies available between 150 MHz and 2700 MHz on a single hardware layer;
  • Support simple, inexpensive upgrades to meet tenants’ and residents’ future connectivity and communication requirements;
  • Offer simple installation, with a minimum amount of hardware needed, to keep installation time and costs down;
  • Use a “one-and-done” approach to hardware installation, with the single original hardware layer able to support all carriers and frequency bands, as well as new connectivity requirements in the future, without additional hardware;
  • Be fully fiber based, instead of coaxial cable based or a hybrid of cable and fiber, to ensure optimal performance, as well as to keep costs lower and minimize installation time; and
  • Support emerging technologies like IoT as well M2M communications and 5G cellular—all of which need stable and reliable cellular connectivity;

These critical traits will guide a CRE firm toward a network that is IoT-ready and future-ready—and, importantly, will provide a reasonable, simple way to scale for future IoT capabilities that might still be but a twinkle in an engineer’s eye.

However, paying for the right system remains a pain point for many CRE companies—and some may be reluctant to embark on their own IoT adventure because they fear the costs associated with a wireless upgrade and the investment in sensors and devices. According to Deloitte, “Given the current focus on costs and margins, CRE companies may be predisposed to seek to improve margins first through tried-and-true methods of cost savings and operational efficiency, rather than connectivity. But IoT applications offer more possibilities to build upon those efficiencies, enabling CRE companies to use data generated through connected systems to differentiate their services and identify new revenue opportunities.”

A new business model provides a way to help CRE firms finance a quality DAS system and prepare for IoT and coming technologies: CaaS (cellular-as-a-service).

A New Business Model

CaaS takes the same long-accepted business model of outsourcing technologies—think of cloud storage, and SaaS (software as a service) apps from companies like Salesforce and Microsoft—and revamps it for the in-building wireless space.

Many CREs want to provide better connectivity to their tenants and residents and incorporate more advanced IoT devices, but don’t want to get involved to the point of having to staff an entire IT department of RF (radio frequency) experts who can manage the wireless in-house; the “set it and forget it” approach is usually more attractive. Additionally, a firm may not want to buy the infrastructure outright, which involves a lot of capital outlay.

Now, with a CaaS option, improved connectivity becomes an operational expense—just like paying the building’s utility bills every month—removing the concerns about high upfront costs, as well as recurring downstream costs due to system changes and additions.

In the CaaS model, the solution is offered on a monthly, per-square-foot basis and includes deployment and ongoing system monitoring and maintenance. Any new frequency or operator additions on the system or additional coverage areas would not require the CRE firm to make additional capital outlays; they would be covered as part of the service.

This means the CRE company can depend on a reliable third party to manage the in-building wireless. The system is supported by industry-accepted service-level agreements as part of the ongoing monitoring of the solution, ensuring an expected level of service every day, much like paying a utility bill creates the expectation that the lights always turn on.

This alternative business model that will allow CRE companies to check every box on their in-building wireless system wish list, getting a true IoT-ready system by paying for it with an operational expenditure model, not a capital expenditure model.

Ready for the Future

Adding IoT capabilities to CRE buildings has the potential to transform the sector, giving the industry the opportunity to add value for customers, save on operational and maintenance costs, and rise above the competition.

But IoT needs a strong backbone: a robust, reliable in-building network that can take on not just the challenges of IoT, but also anything the future may hold. A DAS that can meet a CRE firm’s needs must be future-ready, but with the issue of cost constantly looming overhead, a firm may feel it is not able to invest in the DAS of its choice.

Now, with CaaS offering a new business model—paying for an in-building wireless system as a utility—CRE firms have a broader range of options, allowing them to make decisions today that prepare them for the future, and giving leadership confidence that the choice they make today will still be the right choice down the road.

About the Authors

Slavko Djukic is CTO for Zinwave. Djukic can be reached at Slavko.djukic@zinwave.com. Gopal Ghaghada is senior director, product development, for Zinwave. Ghaghada can be reached at gopal.ghaghada@zinwave.com.