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AIM 2021 Session Recap: The Bulk Managed WiFi Evolution

Why Big Owners and Developers are Switching to Buying Internet in Bulk

Over the last 18 months, technology adoption for both multifamily communities and residents has accelerated at an astronomical pace.

With the new technologies come new expectations for some of the most foundational technologies operators offer to their residents and onsite teams. One of the foundational technologies in need of transformation to meet new demands is internet service. 

Touchless leasing, socially distanced leasing offices and greater bandwidth demands have pushed many operators to implement bulk-managed, community-wide WiFi solutions that empower associates and residents alike to have reliable, always-on internet access anywhere at the community. But the decision of what technology to implement and how to implement it isn’t easy, according to the panelists on The Bulk Managed WiFi Evolution panel at the 2021 AIM Conference.

“There are some obvious resident experience focal points that are at the top,” said Rush Blakely, president and chief executive officer of RealtyCom Partners. “It has to be instant on or always on. It’s got to be fast. It’s got to be reliable. Beyond that, the resident now has to be able to use this not only in their unit, but also in their friend’s unit or in the common area downstairs. 

“And then you layer on your staff. You’ve got your maintenance staff that needs to able to leverage SSID’s that are private for them only. As an owner, there’s some operations savings in there as well. There is also the income component as well and that’s way down there on the list.”

In fact, both Blakely and Ian Davis, a telecommunications and technology attorney at Davis Craig, agreed that the fact that communities can earn ancillary revenue from community-wide WiFi isn’t as important as other features.

“When you crunch the numbers, they’re like, ‘Wow, I can make money.’” Davis said. “If you’re going into it strictly for money, I usually advise people don’t do it until you understand why you’re doing it because it’s your most important amenity. Once you do that and you see the value proposition, it makes more sense.”

It’s the most valuable amenity for a number of reasons, according to the panelists. Community-wide WiFi not only enables new technologies, such as smart access control and self-guided tours, to operate at maximum effectiveness, but it also fills in cellphone coverage dead spots. 

“When I ask the property manager, ‘How’s your cell phone coverage?’ they say that’s the single biggest complaint,” Davis said. “Part of that could be fixed with a property-wide network, but it never got presented to them.” 

Although there are many benefits to community-wide WiFi, it’s not always easy to determine what specific methodology to implement, how to implement it or which provider to partner with. 

“If you go out and do an RFP with five vendors, there’s no guarantee what you get back will be apples to apples,” Blakely said. “So you really need to drill down on what is the scope of work. What are the expectations of them, what is the expectation for you.”

And operators have to protect their long-term interests in case service levels don’t meet their expectations.

“The biggest piece I can share with you from a legal perspective is flexibility in these contracts,” Davis said. “If you don’t get anything in it, get a unilateral termination right that makes the provider whole for their hard costs and gives them some fraction of their lost profits. Then you don’t have to have all these debates about how you will perform or you will cease to exist on my asset. Far too often I see a six-figure contract controlling the operation and disposition of a nine-figure asset. I don’t know how our industry got there, but it’s mind numbing.”

The number of operators implementing community-wide WiFi, especially in new developments, is also mind-numbing. As with any new technology, however, working with the right partner with the right contract is critical.

  • Ian Davis, Telecommunications & Technology Attorney at Davis Craig, PLLC
  • Mark Zikra, SVP of Technology & Innovation at CA Ventures
  • Rush Blakely, President and CEO at RealtyCom Partners

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