Planning for wireless in modular buildings

In an era of concrete and steel, modular construction is key to a wide variety of building projects.

Modular construction is a simple idea. Whilst the concrete core of the building in question is built onsite, almost everything else is prefabricated offsite in a factory setting, and transported to the building site for final assembly. This allows the building to be put together component by component in a logical and efficient fashion. So, a block of flats might involve complete rooms being constructed offsite, transported and assembled room by room.

There are various degrees of modular construction, depending on how close the modular components are to the finished article. Pod construction is more similar to traditional onsite construction. Then there are ‘flat-pack’ type approaches, whereby panelised pieces are formed offsite, then transported. And then there is ‘volumetric construction’, whereby the pieces constructed offsite include the internal finishes. For bulk developments such as student housing or hospitality projects, this can be particularly effective.

Wireless connectivity: a key requirement

But whatever the type of modular construction project, wireless connectivity is going to be a key requirement. From apartment blocks to student halls of residence, office buildings to hotels, the ultimate inhabitants or tenants are going to require reliable and high-speed connectivity for both work and play. Indeed, many modular buildings are ultimately managed and let by a single management organisation, particularly in light of the rise of ‘build to rent’. Such organisations need to be able to guarantee the same high standards of connectivity in every individual pod or component.

And internet connectivity is just one of the overall networking requirements for a typical modular building. Systems such as CCTV, building alarms and other security systems, as well as door entry systems and building management systems (BMSs) like fire safety solutions all require networks of some shape or form.

All this means that modular construction projects need to pay serious attention as to when and how the network infrastructure is built in. Wait until all of the individual pods or components have been installed onsite, and add wireless connectivity at the very end? You get the advantage of clarity and a holistic approach – but are also adding a potentially complex build and installation task at the end of what was meant to be a clean, logical and accelerated construction project, piece by piece.

A converged approach

Instead, wireless connectivity should be approached in a modular way too. One approach is to install a single, strong converged network throughout the entire building, and then use software to split it up into individual virtual LANs, or VLANs. Each individual VLAN can then be used to support a different networked function,  from security and management systems to whole-building WiFi.

Turning specifically to WiFi, an approach which is particularly useful for build to rent and student accommodation is to generate Personal Area Networks, which allow residents to access their home WiFi from anywhere in the building – even if they are in the lobby and their flat is on the top floor. These networks can also travel with tenants between individual buildings in an operator’s estate.

Ultimately, modular constructors should look to involve IT networking specialists as early as possible in their projects, working with both the operations and the brand or marketing team to develop a wireless connectivity strategy which is as efficient and logical as the building itself.