Controlling networks for multi-occupancy buildings

Any organisation responsible for the networks for multi-occupancy buildings needs to pay careful attention to the connectivity within those sites. For a start, there are a number of stated requirements that must be provided to tenants.

However, the real issue goes far beyond what is required to what tenants expect. Fast internet speeds, reliable WiFi and strong mobile coverage all contribute enormously to the overall experience of those either living or working within the building and are a certain source of complaints if any area is deemed to be substandard. This is especially true for Build to Rent (BTR) companies, who have seen more of their residents adopting a work from home approach during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The home network has never been more important.

And while the connectivity experience of tenants needs to be right at the top of the list of early considerations during the planning and construction phase of a building and then beyond, there are also the requirements of the building owner or manager to consider too, with the need to cater for a range of other systems which also require robust, reliable network connectivity – from security systems, to smart utilities solutions.

When it comes to providing this critical infrastructure there are several ways a building’s network can be designed, installed and managed. Choosing the right approach is key to avoiding future headaches and ensuring the best possible experience for tenants and building managers alike.

Converged networks for multi-occupancy buildings

These multiple connectivity needs mean that most organisations with responsibility for one or more multi-occupancy buildings should choose to implement a converged network within them. This involves the creation of a single physical (generally copper and fibre) network throughout the building and dividing it up virtually into different sub-networks or VLANs using software. Each of those VLANs is then allocated to a particular function, from resident-facing WiFi networks through to behind-the-scenes functions such as door entry and fire alarm systems. It’s a technically straightforward undertaking, with substantial benefits as far as ease of management and operational efficiency are concerned.

Converged networks for multi-occupancy buildings is the perfect foundation for a wealth of different business benefits. It provides a flexible, scalable foundation for a range of smart buildings tools and technologies – such as for example, solutions which automatically cut down on energy usage when residents are away.

Converged networks for multi-occupancy buildings also provide a strong platform for business branding, through mechanisms like the Personal Area Network highlighted above. Residents, for example, can be provided with a single access key, which they can change, not only for connecting to the internet but also for managing authorised devices connected to the internet, including equipment such as smart meters. There are creative opportunities, then, for residents to be presented with the same intuitive dashboard or portal each time they access the network, which can then help build a positive, engaging view of the building owner or manager more generally.

Choosing a provider and maintaining control of your converged network

There are no shortage of companies out there who sell converged connectivity products to this sector – but there are some differences in how they are delivered. The most common model is for the solution provider to maintain ownership of the building network. There are, no doubt, some upsides to this. Ownership means responsibility, after all and an outsourced option, which places responsibility for IT infrastructure with an IT company makes perfect sense, enabling building owners or managers to concentrate on improving the physical environment and other areas of the tenant experience. However, many building owners and managers will notice a problem with this outsourcing of responsibility – namely, that the buck ultimately stops with them when it comes to tenant experience.

Imagine a scenario in which a resident in such a building finds that their WiFi is not working as it should, or that they can no longer monitor their energy usage as before. They are unlikely to want or even be able to approach the converged network provider directly and will instead go to the landlord or building manager. And if that landlord or building manager does not retain ownership and control of the converged network, this can lead to a far slower response time and the possibility of negative tenant feedback.

This is why the mantra of ‘take control’ should be at the forefront of building owners’ and managers’ minds when looking for a converged network provider. Such a provider should be able to create a converged network using the very best hardware and software available – but then also provide a single portal through which building owners and managers can control internet services and other related packages, such as utilities, for their tenants. Instead of providing a third party with the opportunity to sell directly to tenants, building owners or managers can offer these as services as part of a wider value proposition.

Likewise, such a provider should be able to use the converged network to offer owners or managers highly detailed insight into the building-wide consumption of services, including all key utilities where smart metering is controlled. Owners and managers should be empowered to add new services to the network – and this portal – as they wish to grow and develop their buildings, all managed through what can become a single central building management system (BMS).

Converged networks for multi-occupancy buildings can provide a strong foundation for outstanding services and powerful brand-building. But in a sometimes overwhelming marketplace, key stakeholders from those building should choose their provider carefully.

Connectivity must always be balanced with control.