The Bandwidth Crunch in Student Housing: Part 2

What property owners and managers need to know to continue meeting students’ ever-growing demand for Internet bandwidth.

 

Last fall saw a huge leap in bandwidth demand in student housing. For student housing owners and managers offering bulk broadband, this change means they must now plan for increasing bandwidth and for the related infrastructure, contract, budget and marketing challenges.

Scalable, resilient and highly manageable delivery platforms like Ethernet will increasingly be the only serviceable method of providing bulk high-speed Internet to student housing. Ethernet has always been the most cost-effective platform for delivering bulk high-speed Internet access in student housing, while it has always been a struggle to provide acceptable levels of high-speed Internet access in a dense user environment with cable modems, xDSL and other delivery methods designed for single-family use. In the future, adapting these single-family delivery methods to dense housing will grow increasingly difficult.

Providing WiFi will be a challenge as well. While WiFi is undoubtedly critical to any competitive community, it should serve primarily as a supplement to a wired Ethernet network. In very dense user environments the WiFi access points become choke points, especially as users move towards more constant online applications. WiFi linkages between buildings, which have always been problematic, will become unworkable in student housing. Moreover, the increasing user speeds, the move towards streaming applications, and ever evolving WiFi standards will hasten the obsolescence of WiFi equipment.

Owners will also need to revisit many of their core business decisions and contract negotiations for bulk high-speed Internet access. Bandwidth decisions always require a delicate balance of time and cost. Usually the owner knows that bandwidth needs will increase over the length of the agreement, so contracts typically allow for additions to bandwidth over the contract term. However, the time between increases may now become shorter as demand rises more quickly. Any contract between an owner and provider of high-speed Internet access should allow for the flexibility to add bandwidth as soon as it is necessary. Of course, the connection to the network providing the bandwidth should also be scalable.

Contracts should also specifically address the responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the passive infrastructure (fiber, copper cables, and so forth) and the active infrastructure (switches, wireless access points, and similar equipment). Traditionally, the owner has maintained the passive facilities while the provider takes care of the active components. However, the provider’s obligations to upgrade equipment to keep the property competitive and to meet service level guarantees are often missing from the agreement or are unenforceable.

For their part, owners need to recognize that bulk high-speed Internet, specifically the bandwidth component, is not static. They must budget for bandwidth increases and, as dictated by the contracts, for upgrades to active and/or passive infrastructure.

These challenges will be most difficult for communities that negotiated their service agreements some time ago. In the past, many owners negotiated and drafted contracts for static service levels. Second-tier providers may not be able to meet today’s increased demands. Also, increased bandwidth and network management will overwhelm jerry-rigged infrastructures. Many owners will have to begin the painful process of overhauling or replacing contracts, infrastructures and/or providers.

Given the cost of these actions, owners should consider what speeds are required at each community. What high-speed Internet access is needed to generate traffic, close leases, and enhance retention? The answer will be different for each community. Owners might also consider offering residents the option of purchasing premium upgrades for relatively low cost; this will help appease the 10 percent to 20 percent of residents who demand more bandwidth than the majority.

At some communities, owners may also need to re-evaluate the value of bulk video programming. Most student housing communities will continue to require bulk video services for the near future. But bulk video is becoming increasingly complicated and expensive (see Part 1), students are downloading more and more TV content from the Internet, and owners’ budgets are tight.

Owners cannot afford to ignore these challenges. You must actively monitor and manage the bulk high-speed Internet access at your communities. If you wait until residents complain that high-speed Internet access is slow, it may be too late and it could affect the community’s reputation.

— Henry Pye is vice president of Resident Technology Solutions for the RealPage.
You can reach him at henry.pye@realpage.com.