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BROADBAND ARTICLE SERIES --  Commercial Buildings

© Copyright  2001

Broadband For Commercial Buildings

By A.J. “Tony” DeBella
© 2001, A.J. “Tony” DeBella

For years about the only amenities that tenants in commercial office buildings expected were the basics: parking, utilities, basic phone service, etc. But no longer. Today, business tenants also want speed – as in high-speed Internet access. And property owners and managers who don’t provide it are in great danger of losing their competitive edge.


·        According to a survey by the Building managers Association, high-speed Internet access is the service most requested by tenants that are not already wired for speed. Building owners have taken note, too, as it is also the top priority new service they are planning.

·        Cahners In-Stat Group has reported that “owners of MTU buildings (multi-tenant units), apartments, offices, condominiums, hotels, airports, are rushing to provide” high-speed Internet connectivity.

·        According to an article in Real Estate Issues, published by the American Society of Real Estate Counselors, data transmission exceeds voice transmission across telecommunications lines, and data traffic is growing at a rate of 30-plus percent annually.

·        GartnerGroup, a U.S. market analyst, says that bandwidth requirements in local area networks has increased from four megabits per second to 100 megabits per second, and that bandwidth requirements for wide area networks will increase from 200 gigabits per second to up to 100 terabits per second.

Now, throw this into the mix: There are an estimated 150,000 MTUs in the United States with six or more business tenants and only 4 percent of commercial office buildings are linked to fiber-optic lines.

Add it all up and it’s clear there is going to be a lot of activity on the broadband front in the next few years, and with reason.

The simple fact is, providing broadband connectivity is smart business. It makes a property more desirable, and thus potentially increases the building’s value and generates higher rents. It reduces turnover and downtime between leases, and stabilizes tenancy rates. It allows more customers to be served by smaller networks, creating economies of scale that drive down the once-high cost of delivering the necessary bandwidth.

So what’s the problem?

POTS. Plain Old Telephone Systems.

Most commercial buildings utilize a relic of telecommunications days passed: old twisted copper wires. While these systems do provide Internet connectivity, they’re slow, frustrating (too many busy signals), and can limit the size and kinds of files that can be sent or received.

Buildings that are wired for speed utilize fiber optic lines instead of these old copper dinosaurs. Data move through fiber optic lines in photons, which are significantly faster than the electrons that copper wires carry. As a result, more information is transmitted, faster, than through the conventional “gray cabling” systems.

Some of the technology issues related to installing the appropriate broadband infrastructure are covered in accompanying articles (see “The Last 100 Yards”). However, it is important to note that gaining the maximum value – both near-term and long-term – from wiring your building for speed requires property managers, owners, and landlords to consider a number of factors beyond hardware:

Adaptability. It’s a cliché that today’s technology is tomorrow’s old news. But it’s true. It is imperative that you leave yourself room to grow. For example, right now your tenants may only need 10 megabytes of bandwidth per user, and your current backbone riser may be fine. But new technologies may demand more bandwidth, which will require a larger riser.

Backups. Given the fact that businesses – large and small – have come to rely so completely on Internet access, it is likely that tenants will want some form of service redundancy to protect them if a line goes out.

Bandwidth. Demand will vary with your tenants. However, if you have the capacity to deliver 100 megabytes of bandwidth per user, you will probably be in a good competitive position.

Capabilities. At minimum, most tenants will want high-speed voice and data capabilities. However, you should also be able to provide videoconferencing, web site hosting, and network management as needed.

Design. Too often, technology firms do not have sufficient understanding of construction and design. Advanced telecom networks require space for cable, fiber, and other support technology. Vendors must understand not only the equipment, but also how it actually fits into the structure.

Minimum risk. Always try to find companies that have a proven track record. Obviously, check references. But also seek out contractors that have been certified by partners for specific functions such as cabling, fiber optic network installation, etc. Be sure to get written assurances that all work meets or exceeds industry standards, too, and ask for options for extended warranties.

Quality of service. Clear images, data, and voice exchanges are essential in the new economy. Whether it is an e-mail between offices or transmission of a highly detailed graphic like an architectural drawing, the information must be effectively and reliably transmitted from point A to point B, every time.

Sector-specific experience. Contractors should not only have experience in the design and installation of advanced systems, but also in the appropriate industry sector. There are no guarantees that what works in a hospital will work in a hotel, for example, and the nature of technology argues against a one-size-fits-all approach. It just makes better sense to work with someone who knows a particular industry, and can help create a network that will keep pace with future change.

Subcontractor quality. Usually, firms that design and install high-speed telecom networks are in big cities. So if they get a job outside of their region, they must find subcontractors wherever the job happens to be – subcontractors who are hired more for their availability than their expertise. It’s best to use vendors that have a national network of subcontractors that can deliver consistent, high-quality, reliable work.

The bottom line is this:

Broadband connectivity is cheaper than ever. Installing that capability now isn’t just a cost of doing business – it’s an investment in your future. Beyond that, it could well be one of your best insurance policies against half-filled properties.

Questions and answers:

Can you define “broadband” and compare it to “bandwidth?”  I hear a lot of people use these words but they all seem to mean different things. Broadband is the combination of the multimedia services, meaning voice, video, and data, over the same link.  Bandwidth is a measure of the information carrying capability of a backbone infrastructure to provide broadband connectivity.  So, “broadband” is the name of a type of service or package of services and “bandwidth” is the quantity of data that can be carried over a system.  You need bandwidth in order to have broadband.

If I wire my building for broadband, what kind of performance can my tenants expect? Exactly what is it they will be able to do that my competitor’s tenants won’t be able to do, or as well?  Tenants will have the ability to have the facility to support all voice, video and data.  The building will have to provide the bandwidth to handle the performance. The competitor won’t have high-speed connection or multimedia access combined.

Where do the fiber optic cables that connect to my building come from?  Who owns them?  How do I know if they are in my building or are they everywhere?  This fiber optic cabling is referred to as the last mile.  They come from what are called the points of presence or “pop” sights that are connected directly back to the local service provider central office.  The cables are owned by the building’s local service provider.  The only way to know is to ask the landlord what the service providing capabilities are in the building.  More than 90 % of buildings are not wired.

How much does it cost to upgrade and connect a building?   Roughly, depending on A, B, or C class building anywhere from $1500 to $2000 per floor.

What kind of company can do this type of work if I decide to upgrade my building?  How do I find them?  Engineering and professional service companies engaged the in the design and construction of fiber optic networks can upgrade your building.  Local service providers have contractual relationships with this sort of company and should be able to provide this information.

Would my tenants be free to select any service provider they choose?  Absolutely.  Divestiture of the Bell Operating Company and AT&T resulted in the ability to connect in any communication environment, i.e., the advent of local exchange.

Where can I get more information?  By this I mean the really basic stuff.  is one of the best telecom websites for local exchange carriers providing connectivity.

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