Unprepared commercial landlords will likely face a barrage of complaints as the physical design of their buildings impedes reception of next-generation 5G wireless signals, a building design expert has warned.

Site investigations often revealed that building designers had taken a short-sighted approach to facilities design – allowing space for air-conditioning and plumbing ducts, for example, but skimping on space for current and future telecommunications needs.

Given that fast, reliable and pervasive connectivity has become as important as environmental factors, WiredScore head of global expansion Eden Dwek told Information Age, many businesses go into a new lease only to find out that their smooth operation is being compromised by poor connectivity and wireless blackspots.

“A lot of times, these things get squeezed out during the design process,” he explained, “because landlords want to maximise the amount of space they can lease out – which might mean you are minimising the amount of space in your telecommunications room.”

Buildings are built to last for decades or centuries but designers can’t anticipate what fast-changing telecommunications might look like in the future, he said, noting that buildings constructed before 2007 simply had no understanding of how pervasive and powerful mobile computing would be.

“A big thing for us is to try and get landlords and developers to think not just about how the building will be used when it goes live,” Dwek said, “but how it will be used in 10 to 15 years’ time.”

Turning 5G up to 5

With around $11.4b worth of construction work done on non-residential buildings in the September 2019 quarter alone, Australia’s construction industry is producing thousands of new buildings each year – but unless they are designed with future technologies like emerging 5G mobile networks in mind, Dwek warns, tenants may find themselves struggling to work from the inside of pervasive mobile blackspots.

The high density of mobile phones in urban commercial areas was a challenge during the rollout of 4G mobile networks and congestion issues have continued as increasing device numbers cut speeds by up to 38 per cent.

Despite general public disinterest in 5G, the technology is likely to become pervasive within years as new devices add support – which could create even worse congestion issues because 5G and its supercharged 5G mmWave version operate on much higher-frequency spectrum that does not penetrate buildings’ concrete and steel anywhere near as well.

Coverage can also be impeded by environmentally-friendly design features, such as window films – which cut down on the amount of heating sunlight that enters the building but also, Dwek said, “have significant issues for mobile penetration”.

Coverage also becomes problematic in buildings with over 10 storeys, given that existing mobile macro cells are generally angled downwards to accommodate mobile users in low buildings and at street level.

Such issues will force 5G network operators to roll out more base stations at closer distances – but inside buildings, it’s up to the landlords to do the right thing to ensure additional equipment can be added to ensure continuous coverage from 5G and subsequent technologies.

Better telecoms = better returns

Formed in 2013 with the endorsement of then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, WiredScore has been working with building owners to evaluate and rate their telecommunications infrastructure in the spirit of the 6-star NABERS scale that rates buildings’ environmental efficiency.

Ideally intended to be used during the design phase but also applicable to existing buildings, Wired Certification guidelines evaluate the building’s telecommunications infrastructure, granting Silver, Gold, Platinum or Certified status based on their design, suitability for current and future wireless technologies, and other factors.

This includes everything from availability of suitable power, internal clearance for telecommunications risers, restricting the types of technologies used in the building and the availability of redundant fibre backhaul to the design of a distributed antenna system to improve in-building coverage.

“The key thing is that landlords [need to] understand how people are going to be using 5G in their buildings,” Dwek explained, noting that 5G will also be heavily used to link Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices that rely on pervasive connectivity.

“It’s not just who is going to be using 5G,” he said, “but what is going to be using 5G. The way people use their phones is very different to the way people work when they’re walking around a static device.”

WiredScore entered the Australian market last year, with 15 buildings now certified –including six Sydney office towers already certified to Platinum status and a Melbourne building set to be announced this week.

The Australian buildings join operations in six other countries, with landlords steadily coming onboard as they realise that a widely accepted infrastructure certification can command premium prices from tenants whose businesses rely on seamless access to mobile applications and cloud services.

Australian landlords have delivered an historical precedent: fully 78 per cent of Australian buildings’ office space has been rated with NABERS, with a recent study identifying “a strong financial incentive to target a high NABERS rating” and reports suggesting a 5-star NABERS rating provides a 9 per cent premium in value.

The rollout of the national broadband network (NBN) was also cited as allowing landlords to ask for premium pricing, with NBN-connected suburbs attracting the greatest interest from renters.

With poor telecommunications a significant cause for costly business downtime – which Gartner estimates can cost $8,000 ($US5,600) per minute – Dwek believes building ratings are rapidly becoming appreciated as more than an academic issue.

“Consumers will start to pick up on these issues and demanding from their commercial landlords that they get a similar experience to what they’re seeing at home,” he explained.

“That will be the burning platform – especially for forward-thinking landlords who want to differentiate their buildings.”