Simon O’Hare at Curve IT discusses why build-to-rent operators should focus on the importance of converged networking

Why would any organisation, purposefully spend more money and time applying a vital aspect of a product retrospectively over and over again?

It seems a ridiculous statement, however, that’s exactly what build-to-rent (BTR) firms do when they retrofit or subcontract the multiple telecommunications networks required in a new project, rather than starting off with a converged network in the first place. Here’s why – and what they can do about it.

BTR networking needs

It is obvious that a new residential building will ultimately need to support phone lines and WiFi for its inhabitants, as well as any business owners taking up residence. It is it perhaps less obvious how many other systems within a typical building are also built on communications networks.

CCTV, building alarms and other security systems, for example, are networked systems. So too are door entry systems, and building management systems (BMS) including fire safety mechanisms. And this is before we even get onto the array of back office systems which may underpin a residential building, such as staff communication networks.

The duplication danger

As such, BTR operators will, sooner or later have to incorporate network infrastructures into their build process. The problem is, it usually comes later rather than sooner.

A typical process involves the main contractor taking the lead for the build stage then subcontracting out the networking needs to a mechanical and electrical (M&E) contractor. In turn, they will bring in a cabling specialist to install the networks specified as part of the build – for a CCTV and door entry system, say. The trouble is, by now the build has been largely completed, and so a certain amount of expensive retrofitting is likely to be involved.

Some BTR operators think they are being savvier by incorporating networking earlier, as part of the main build. However, this still typically involves the M&E contractor looking at each network requirement separately. The specialist in this area will design and pitch a system which involves a full network with the CCTV running off it. While there is nothing wrong with this in itself, the problems arise when the M&E contractor does the same with a fire and safety supplier, a door entry supplier, a BMS supplier and so on. Each specialist does the same thing by creating a system involving one full network for the entire building or estate, which their own system will run off. That’s a huge amount of duplication for no reason other than bad organisation.

The alternative: a network specialist and a converged network

Instead, BTR operators should look to take on a single specialist in IT networking, a company that understands how all of those relatively simple functions work from a networking perspective, and can integrate them onto a single, strong and secure converged network.

What is a converged network? It means building a single physical (usually fibre and copper) network throughout an entire building, and then using software to divide it up virtually into different sub-networks, or VLANs. Each of those VLANs is then used to underpin a different function, from the door entry system to the fire alarm system, from Wi-Fi to BMS.

From a technical standpoint, this is very straightforward to do. From an operations perspective, its possibilities are enormous.

The benefits of a converged network

The first core benefit of a converged network as opposed to the methods outlined above is clear and simple – efficiency. A converged network removes, at a stroke, all that unnecessary duplication and the wasted time and money involved. It is a far more resource-efficient way of creating the networks a building needs, and this is particularly attractive for BTR operators who need to ensure efficiency before they get tenants into their properties.

A converged network can also generate savings after initial installation by functioning as the perfect foundation for smart building tools and technologies, such as mechanisms which automatically save energy when residents are out or away. BTR operators which install a converged network from the outset are in a great position to install new smart building innovations as they become available, taking a proactive approach to maximising the efficiency of their assets.

Finally, there’s branding to think about. The functionality enabled by a converged network can be a powerful element in enhancing resident experience. Yes, high-performance Wi-Fi is an absolute must for tenants today – but a converged network can make it even better. For example, Personal Area Networks can be generated, enabling a tenant living on the top floor of a high-rise building to access their home Wi-Fi from the ground floor lobby. These networks which travel with tenants can even be used across a BTR operator’s entire estate, creating a seamless resident experience whichever building they are in.

Converged networks, in short, can work at the level of apartments, buildings or an entire estate, and they can have a substantial impact on the experience of living and working in that building. This is why it makes sense for BTR operators to bring IT networking specialists into their projects as early as possible. By working with both the operations team and the brand team to gain a genuinely holistic understanding of what that experience should look like, the right networking partner can use technology to create that experience from the ground up. Rather than ending up with a building that requires retrofitting to meet the security, safety, environmental, leisure and entertainment needs of its residents after build, converged networks can make it happen from the outset.