In Building Connectivity – The New Normal

Anyone who has stepped outside in the past few years would have noticed that handheld wireless device usage has been increasing exponentially. While it used to be “normal” to see busy executives with their cell phones attached to their ears, this quickly evolved to include everyone from school age children to their grandparents. Having a cell phone became part of daily, obligatory gear. Meanwhile today, the “new normal” is to have multiple connected and interconnected devices at all times, and this phenomenon does not appear to have an end in sight.
Concurrently, the way devices are used also changed significantly over the years. At first, cell phones were only used to make analogue calls (1G). Devices moved to digital in the 90s with the proliferation of 2G technology, which also allowed for text messages using the Short Message Service (SMS) and later Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) allowing for messages containing digital images, videos and sound content. The next step was inevitably handheld wireless access to the internet (first introduced in 1999). These developments resulted in an increased demand for greater data speeds, which was facilitated through 3G mobile broadband technology. People began to rely on their phones not only for making calls and text messages of various types but also to send emails, surf the internet and stay “connected.” The development of 4G IP based technology and its associated network allowed for people to truly stay connected in ways that were never before envisioned. Streaming video and music, video conferencing, instantaneous internet and countless applications relying on wireless connectivity have become so commonplace that it boggles the mind. The upcoming development of 5G and the associated development and use of more and more complicated applications will continue to change the way we live our lives.
However, jumping back to the opening line, you do not actually have to “step outside” in order to see all of the above in action. While cellular coverage was initially limited to dense, outdoor urban areas, this too quickly changed to being available in as many outdoor areas as possible up to today, where the new standard is for indoor coverage in all parts of every structures. While this comparison is rather simplistic, it can clearly be seen in the development goals of the carriers.
CBRE Inc.’s Telecom Advisory Services group (“TAS”), which was previously IVI Telecom Services until being acquired by CBRE in late 2014, has provided all aspects of environmental and regulatory due diligence for wireless infrastructure development since the late 90s. A review of various types of past TAS projects was extremely informative about the way the wireless telecommunications development industry has progressed over the years.
As expected, services were initially focused on traditional new tower and macro collocation sites. This focus slowly changed to modifications and technology improvements to existing sites, while still working on sites to fix coverage issues. In more recent years, while coverage is still a focus in many areas, small cells and distributed antenna systems that cover smaller and smaller footprints in order to maintain capacity have seemingly been at the forefront of the development plan for all the carriers. This makes sense given the “new normal” of having multiple connected devices running applications that require higher and higher bandwidth than ever before.
An integral part of providing for capacity is the development of in-building distributed antennas systems (or similar solutions). CBRE’s TAS group first saw an uptick in projects involving in-building systems around 2010. These projects were generally limited to larger venues such as stadiums, government facilities and hospitals, which is in keeping with how the outdoor network was built, focusing on the denser public spaces first. However, a review of projects over recent years shows that there has been and continues to be a large uptick in the number of in-building systems being developed within commercial real estate properties. This review revealed over 200 in-building installations for commercial real estate properties just within the New York City market in the past few years.
While the information reviewed did not include the type of technology, the funding models nor the various associated parties involved in the development, it was certainly informative as to the new focus on developing in-building solutions for commercial real estate properties. Approximately 80% of cellular data usage occurs inside of buildings and the need for cellular data capacity is expected to increase at least seven fold by 2020. In-building connectivity is fast becoming a utility, not just an amenity — a need-to-have rather than a nice-to-have.
Unfortunately, the some wireless carriers have reportedly decreased their funding for in-building cellular systems at commercial properties over the past few years. The combination of increased need for capacity and decreased carrier build-out is rapidly leading to stressed cellular systems. Owners need to address this deficiency in order to attract and retain tenants. However, unlike with Internet Technology or landline services, there is a not a dedicated Point of Contact or Subject Matter Expert  for in-building solutions. At the same time, the in-building wireless space is extremely complex. Low-bid RFPs often result in the installation of systems that are insufficient for the needs of the landlords and tenants, or are not carrier-approved. These systems are not cheap and, if sized improperly, will not result in the maximum benefit for property owners.
Many commercial real estate companies, including CBRE, are working diligently to change this dynamic and provide a single conduit that can create aggregation needed to acheive the most value to property owners. The focus should be and will be the needs of property owners and ensuring that the right solutions are being brought to the table and implemented properly.
It will be extremely interesting to see how this convergence of the commercial real estate and wireless infrastructure industries continues to evolve and what new technologies, funding solutions and additional benefits of in-building solutions will come.
Authored by:
Mr. Berezowsky is Senior Managing Director of CBRE Inc.’s Telecom Advisory Services group which is CBRE’s internal resource focused on wireless infrastructure development at, on or within CBRE managed and/or owned properties. He has over 10 years of experience in the wireless infrastructure industry having helped to found IVI Telecom Services, Inc., a nationwide environmental consulting firm specializing in environmental and regulatory due diligence which was acquired by CBRE in late 2014. He attended The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art (Bachelor of Architecture) and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and is Vice President and events chair for the New York State Wireless Association and co-chair of the Wireless Infrastructure Associations Environmental Engineering and Consultants Working Group.
Adrian Berezowsky | Senior Managing Director
CBRE, Inc. | Telecom Advisory Services |
Cris Kimbrough is Managing Director, In-Building Solutions with CBRE Inc.’s Telecom Advisory Services, a new division within the CBRE platform. Cris is working on bringing strategic focus to in-building cellular implementation in CBRE managed properties. Before joining CBRE, Cris was a Program Manager for a nationwide site acquisition and environmental consulting firm, and has experience in several aspects of telecom consultancy. Cris holds a PhD from NYU and is a certified PMP.
Cris Kimbrough, PhD, PMP | Managing Director
CBRE, Inc. | Telecom Advisory Services

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