Robust internet is the main thing that keeps student renters happy and coming back.
The most important student housing amenity is robust, high-capacity Internet, which some may refer to colloquially as Ethernet. According to survey data released at both the 6th Annual InterFace Student Housing conference and the 2014 Annual Broadband Communities Summit, internet connectivity tops pools, fancy clubhouses, and in some cases, location. What does this phenomenon mean to the student housing property owner, developer and manager? How do property owners ensure that they are not just meeting, but exceeding students' needs? Some say it is all about bandwidth, and properties simply need more and more bandwidth. This article shares, in non-technical terms, what InfiniSys Electronic Architects see as the best way to use connectivity to lead to a happy student resident population.
InfiniSys Electronic Architects philosophy is best illustrated through a water system. Ever take a hot shower when someone else flushes the toilet only to be scalded? This is typically caused by a poorly designed water system with pipes and/or pumps that are too small.
To begin with, a properly designed water system requires pipes, pumps and electricity to enable water to flow through the system. The system starts with a very large pipe that pulls water from a large source, such as a reservoir, and feeds into a network of smaller pipes, which eventually ends at the house or apartment unit. Sometimes these systems will include local storage such as a water tower to meet peak demands.
So, how does the resident get more than just a mere dribble out of the water system? Pumps. Pumps are a necessary component of the water system, creating the water pressure to accommodate a highly varied user demand. A properly sized water system provides for sufficient water flow of cold water to the shower when the toilet is flushed, thus not scalding the person in the shower. Such a system does not require frequent and costly upgrades to the infrastructure.
Electricity powers these pumps. The more pressure the resident wants, the more electricity is required to make the pumps run faster. When multiple residents begin using more water and wanting more pressure, the housing complex requires more water pumps to maintain a constant water pressure. This scenario assumes that the pumps were correctly sized from the start.
So, how does this relate to high-speed Internet at the property?
Being scalded in the shower when someone flushes the toilet is akin to multiple residents trying to use the same Internet connection with either substandard infrastructure, electronics, too little bandwidth or some combination thereof. Think of one student resident Skyping with his parents, another roommate streaming "House of Cards" on Netflix, the third taking an online exam. Now, multiply this by all the students in the apartment complex. The Skype call sounds garbled, "House of Cards" will freeze or take a while to load on the TV screen, and the student may not be able to submit his exam on time. Another student down the hall booking his airline ticket home will submit with his credit card information and the system will just say, "processing" with nothing happening, forcing the student to try rebooking his ticket and ensure the credit card was not charged twice.
Just like a water system needing the right size pipes, properties also need a well-engineered and robust physical infrastructure for high-speed Internet. This includes a large fiber backbone (akin to pipe), electronics (akin to the pumps), bandwidth (akin to the electricity, i.e. the more electricity provided the more water pressure in the system) and a cache that is equivalent to a water tower. Thus, the internet system enables the content, all of which is digital, and includes video, voice, games, e-mail, web access and other types of content (akin to the actual water) to traverse the network.
The most critical element of a system is the fiber backbone and subsequent copper data cabling. InfiniSys Electronic Architects has been designing its trademarked NetworkedApartment systems to meet industry commercial standards for the past 25 years. Installing a properly designed infrastructure, creating the ultimate SmartApartment™ design, will outlast any existing and projected standards for the delivery of a minimum of 1 Gbps to each data jack. The fiber backbone is rated to more than 100 Gbps per strand and the copper data cabling to more than 1 Gbps at the lengths specified in our designs.
Electronics are then tacked onto the pipe and may include routers, caches, internet switches (a device that splits an internet signal to wired outlets throughout the residential unit), cable-modems, DSL-modems and wireless access points. Property owners should note that an internet delivery system that uses cable-modems or DSL-modems are similar to a poorly designed and unmanaged water system. When used in a student housing property, such technologies often provide for a less than satisfactory user experience. Students typically report a significant degradation in system responsiveness when there are more than 60 percent to75 percent simultaneous users. Typical student networks have a 95 percent or higher utilization factor during peak evening hours. While cable companies may advertise cable modems with very high downstream bandwidth, they typically have limited upstream capability and do not manage multiple users effectively when many students use one shared modem. Students then experience the issues described above: losing connectivity, getting garbled audio or frozen video on a Skype call, not being able to submit a final exam online, or experiencing a buffered video stream on Netflix.
To enable sufficient Internet connectivity, InfiniSys Electronic Architect selects scalable and remotely manageable core electronics, anticipating future needs and demand. Once the correctly sized fiber and electronics are in place, properties can offer residents bandwidth speeds of more than 10 to 50 times greater than what students have received from traditional cable modem and DSL services. All in-unit switch ports are 1 Gbps rated, and all backbone switches either 1 or 10 Gbps rated, depending on the location within a system. All high-bandwidth usage devices like SmarTV and gaming console locations are fed by data cabling from dedicated 1 Gbps switch ports.
A caching server may be employed to mitigate heavy repetitive video sources such as Netflix. It is typically only effective when incorporated as part of a managed ethernet system. This piece of electronics may be located either at the provider's COLO (where they locally aggregate connection to the Internet cloud) or at the property within the main communications Room. By definition, a caching server stores content local to the property similar to a water tower in the water model. It provides for reserve or boost capacity during periods of high video traffic downloads.
The wireless user experience is partially determined by the type of Wi-Fi access point used. Each Wi-Fi access point will have a frequency standard it operates against and a level of traffic management that can range from a robust multi radio/multi-frequency/multichannel streaming unit to a simple residential retail model. Typically, the access points included within a cable-modem or DSL-modem are of the retail variety and are not designed to handle multiple simultaneous users. To ensure a satisfactory user experience, the number of users (and the assumed number of devices each user will have) that are assigned to a Wi-Fi access point and the access point's location within the unit are critical. Resident satisfaction should not be based on speed tests run over a browser (such as OOKLA – speedtest.net) but rather on the experience of how fast did the website load, if the Netflix video constantly buffers, or did the game freeze during a critical event. It becomes even more challenging to determine performance over a Wi-Fi network when using other wireless enabled devices such as iPhones because the device being used may be a limiting factor in the results. Many of these factors can be mitigated through proper communication of the Wi-Fi networks performance capabilities with the property staff and residents.
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This article was written by a team from InfiniSys including CEO Richard Holtz, CTO Tom Stender, and Business Development leader Sergio Martinez.