A check list of do's and don'ts for supplying the best internet service to your residents.
With the explosion of wireless devices on and off campus, well-designed internet networks are becoming an increasingly important offering for property owners, developers and managers to ensure their competitive advantage. Well planned, flexible networks are now a foundational element in the quest for residential satisfaction and portfolio success. This article provides the top Do's and Don'ts for new and existing assets culled from more than 10 years of experience providing internet services to the student housing market.
The Do's of Student Housing Networking
1. Do ensure the solution being deployed is in line with contract terms: Be careful not to pick a solution with hardware that's only good for two years in a five-year wireless contract. Questions to consider are: "What is the true longevity of the solution?"; "Will the hardware last?" and "Who pays for and replaces the hardware?". Red flags should pop up if the provider is not willing to contractually accommodate risks throughout the term of the agreement by building in technology refreshes.
2. Do plan for success: Accounting for wireless drops helps developers avoid being too far in the construction process before having to cut into sheet rock. Planning also results in solution flexibility and longevity. If the infrastructure can support different types of solutions, developers have more options to choose from. A well-thought-out, flexible solution ensures freedom from repeated rewiring every few years to meet escalating connectivity demands.
3. Do start early for existing assets: Rework is much more time-consuming for existing assets because of limited access to rooms, current infrastructure work around and manager work hours, etc. If your current solution is not optimal, start the process a year out before the actual deployment date, especially if rework is involved. This will give you sufficient time for competitive pricing, and you won't feel rushed to deploy in an occupied situation.
4. Do use checks and balances to ensure infrastructure provides flexibility to scale: If the provider installs the wiring, the general contractor should conduct an independent design review so that the provider does not dictate the entire infrastructure. This arrangement also works in reverse. This works because the provider has a vested interest in having the infrastructure put in correctly. CampusConnect frequently conducts multiple site visits, and provides inspections and quality control. We also help with technology services unrelated to the Internet Service Provider, such as access control, close-circuit television, and office admin tech service, frequently serving as liaison and point-of-contact with the general contractor for technical questions.
The Don'ts of Student Housing Networking
1. Don't assume one size fits alll: Strive for a portfolio philosophy or view, but not a portfolio approach. For example, the developer's portfolio view can be "I want to be a technology innovator in the markets we serve," which can then be applied to individual markets using different solutions. Some owners implement a single solution at all their properties, assuming that the value of a solution is the same in every market. Developers can save by determining which markets require a specific product, while other markets may consider it a nice-to-have.
2. Don't buy a dissected model for bandwidth: Don't give your provider an excuse for performance. Ensure accountability with a specific end-user service level such as "Every user will have a guaranteed end-user service level and provider will be responsible for upgrading property bandwidth to meet those requirements at no additional cost." This strategy accommodates for changes in demand and bandwidth consumption and shifts risk to the provider.
3. Don't buy generic multifamily solutions. From layout to amenities and telecommunications, your properties are specific to student learning environments. Solutions for multifamily spaces generally don't meet the demand and unique needs of student residents. Not only do students use more than multifamily houses, their peak usage times are in the late evening. Many of our clients have found the need to replace lower-density, lower-capacity cable-modem-based solutions that were inadequate from the first day of deployment, in order to provide a service level that is acceptable to student residents.
Installing network infrastructure can positively impact your portfolio, but the transformation should be carefully managed and performed with minimal waste. Network services that are "built from the ground up" will serve as a pillar to help support larger business objectives such as increasing resident retention, maintaining full occupancy and elevating your properties above the technology curve.
Rob Paver, president of Campus Connect, is a technology specialist with 10 years of project management and construction experience in the student housing industry. As CampusConnect's president, he directs company strategy and business development, as well as oversees the design and management of client IT implementations nationwide.