SmartRent's Wyron Bobis leads the connectivity discussion at Apartmentalize '24

Community connectivity took center stage at NAA Apartmentalize 2024 in Philadelphia, where thousands of professionals gathered. SmartRent Executive Vice President of Operations Wyron Bobis moderated an express education session titled “Seamless Connectivity: Where in the WiFi is Waldo?” joined by panelists Jennifer Kent of Parks Associates and Ivy Christman of Quest Management Group.

Unlike fans of the classic “Where’s Waldo?” picture search puzzles, rental housing operators and residents shouldn’t have to hunt for a WiFi signal in their communities. Yet, the reality is stark: while Waldo roams freely across jumbled pages, only 1% of apartment residents can seamlessly roam their communities on private access points without losing connectivity. This gap presents a significant opportunity for multifamily operators to enhance resident satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Multifamily communities are upgrading their WiFi systems, moving away from choice internet (where residents source their own provider) and legacy or “bulk” WiFi obtained at a discount by management companies. Community WiFi, a more advanced solution, offers community-wide connectivity through in-home and shared access points.

“WiFi is one of those things that’s ubiquitous and behind the scenes, but there’s a lot of nuances about how it’s provided,” said Jennifer Kent, Vice President of Research at Parks Associates. “Residents feel the pain of poor deployments.”

Kent shared a Parks Associates study on the correlation between WiFi service and renter satisfaction. The survey asked for a net promoter score (NPS) — a measure of customer loyalty ranging from -100 to 100 — for both properties and internet service. The study revealed striking differences:

  • Residents with choice/retail internet in their communities scored their WiFi service at a 7.1 NPS while giving their properties an abysmal -20.2.

  • Residents in communities with legacy/bulk WiFi scored their communities even worse, with identical -27.5 NPS ratings for both their properties and WiFi service.

  • Residents living in communities with managed WiFi submitted promoter scores of 6.4 for their properties and an impressive 19.1 for their WiFi.

These scores clearly demonstrate the positive impact of community WiFi on resident satisfaction.

“Younger renters want connectivity at the pool and other amenities. Anything that’s more seamless and more viable for their daily lives is appreciated,” Christman said. “We want to be proactive. Community-wide WiFi is part of our three-year plan at all our properties.”

While new developments are an ideal time to deploy community WiFi, Bobis said the benefits have many management companies tackling retrofit projects.

“Retrofit is definitely more complicated than new development, but the end result is worth the work,” Bobis said. “There are a lot of resident considerations when you install the new infrastructure. When you pull new cable, you have to cut access holes. Sometimes you have to go below ground and find a new path to route cables. Project management is a huge key because there are a lot of moving parts.”

Retrofits average between four and seven months, Bobis said, depending on the fiber connection setup schedule.

“When all is said and done, you have to make sure you have the least disruption to current residents,” Bobis said. “Then, after installation, a lot of testing needs to be done to make sure you have a strong signal throughout the property.”

The demand for strong, consistent WiFi is undeniable.

“What surprised me is the number of devices people have connected to WiFi. I guess you just don’t think about it,” said Bobis. “Data shows an average of seven connected devices, and people are spending an average of 60 hours a week online.”

Community WiFi benefits extend beyond residents. Community management teams need access to property management systems and other technologies. “It’s not just about individual access,” Kent added. “Community WiFi is the backbone that allows IoT devices to come online.”

Community WiFi enables owners and operators to connect smart devices such as thermostats, lighting, plug-ins, window shades, leak detectors and humidity sensors under a single dashboard, amplifying their collective impact. IoT networks enhance asset efficiency, risk mitigation, and energy savings and directly contribute to NOI.

Operators can also create ancillary income by passing through WiFi fees to residents. A Parks Associates survey showed an increasing willingness to pay for modern WiFi, with 64% of renters willing to pay $49.99 for 300 Mbps speeds and 35% willing to pay $99.99 for 2+ Gbps speeds.

Christman noted that residents generally prefer bundled fees with rent or amenities for simpler budgeting.

Meeting evolving renter demands

As the multifamily industry evolves, community WiFi emerges as a powerful solution to meet resident expectations and streamline operations. By investing in robust, property-wide connectivity, owners and operators can boost satisfaction scores, enable smart home technologies, and potentially create new revenue streams. In today’s connected world, seamless WiFi is no longer a luxury—it’s an essential amenity that can set properties apart in a competitive market.