Top 5 Deployment Considerations of Community WiFi

By: Kathryn Casna

The results are in: Community WiFi is in high demand. In our third-party report, Community WiFi: A Tactical Guide for the Multifamily Market, half of residents (51%) who have managed WiFi say it played a part in their housing decision. Most ranked it up there with laundry facilities, soundproofing and proper insulation. Community WiFi also offers owners and operators a ton of benefits — increasing revenue chief among them.

So why aren’t all property managers implementing community WiFi?

Unfortunately, deploying community WiFi isn’t easy. Ten-year exclusivity contracts with internet providers, a lack of existing infrastructure and residents’ hesitancy to change are some of the factors that can make undertaking this endeavor feel daunting.

Despite these challenges, plenty of property managers have successfully deployed community WiFi. Here’s how they approached deployment — and how SmartRent can help.

1. New builds are driving the trend

At the frontlines of the community WiFi trend are new builds. Modern managed WiFi is part of the suite of automation and smart technologies that builders are increasingly adding to their projects. New builds that offer community WiFi will have a competitive edge over those that don’t.

If you’re planning a new build, don’t overlook community WiFi. It’s easier and less expensive to deploy this technology now than to add it later. But don’t rush it, either. Even in a new build, deploying community WiFi still requires careful planning and testing to ensure reliable performance and full coverage across the property.

2. Retrofits are how to keep up

Keeping up with the amenities and trends that go into new builds is a constant challenge for existing MDUs, and that goes for community WiFi, too. Luckily, most property managers are already working to catch up. The vast majority of MDU property managers (89%) who don’t already offer bulk WiFi are either investigating or actively planning to start offering it. If you deploy the highest quality internet with the best experience, you’ll be more competitive than most.

Retrofitting your property comes with its own set of challenges. The biggest could be your existing exclusivity contract with a retail internet service provider (ISP). Most of these contracts last for 10 years. And if the ISP owns the wires running through your community, you might not be able to keep using them unless you renew. In this case, your deployment of community WiFi will cost much more, because you’ll need to run your own wiring.

If you have an exclusivity contract, start considering your exit strategy now, even if you’re years away from the contract’s end. Start finding financing, laying infrastructure and planning your deployment so you’re ready to part ways with your ISP when the time comes. If you wait, you might get stuck renewing your contract just to maintain uninterrupted internet access to your community.

Property managers with multiple MDUs tend to retrofit their portfolios’ high-rise and mid-rise buildings first, because these properties tend to offer the highest ROI. Running infrastructure in these structures is easier and less expensive, and more densely-populated buildings tend to have the most connectivity issues with unmanaged WiFi. Garden-style buildings and multiplexes can be more challenging to retrofit, and residents might not have as many complaints about the existing WiFi.

3. It’s a competitive landscape

MDU owners typically see the most ROI by becoming the sole provider of the internet in their communities. However, this model isn’t always possible. Local regulations may stipulate that residents have a choice of provider. And with 5G wireless internet companies extending their reach, residents may have multiple options, no matter what.

According to our research, most residents would rather have better service at a lower price point than be able to choose among multiple provider options, but not everyone is comfortable giving up that choice. To succeed as a sole provider, property managers must offer stellar service at an affordable price point.

4. Some residents push back

Having a good experience from Day One is critical for a successful community WiFi deployment. For new builds, that means making resident setup at move-in easy and fast. For retrofits, there’s the added challenge of making installation as non-disruptive as possible.

As part of your deployment strategy, have a plan for communicating with residents and educating them on the benefits of the new WiFi technology and how it works. Showing them how to stay seamlessly connected as they move about the property often makes residents excited about upcoming changes.

Avoid disrupting residents as much as possible. When possible, enter units for installation only once and provide a consistent date for when the new service will be available.

You’ll also need to consider the long-term experience. It’s best to install an access point in every unit so each resident can plug in their devices if they want to. To ensure a good connection with no dead spots, have an expert plan. Then set up and thoroughly test the system before transferring residents to it.

If you plan to be the sole provider of the internet after a retrofit, consider making community WiFi optional for existing residents, then offering only community WiFi to new residents. It’ll take longer to get every resident onto the new system, but you’ll avoid some pushback.

5. Focus on choosing the right vendor

As the community WiFi trend grows, so does the number of vendors willing to take on these projects. Choosing the right one is critical for a successful deployment that minimizes disruption to residents and optimizes your ROI.

Owners and operators with successful deployments under their belts note four criteria for vendors:

  • Ability to scale to support company footprint

  • A quality experience and reliability

  • A frictionless onboarding process for residents and their devices

  • 24/7 customer and technical support

Supports your company footprint

Whether you’re deploying in one property or multiple properties, you need a vendor that can accommodate the size and scope of your project. They need to be able to tackle your project concurrently with any other projects they might be working on — and provide accurate time frames for completion of the work.

Resident experience and reliability

Since resident experience is critical for a successful deployment, the WiFi you provide needs to work, day in and day out. And that means you need a vendor with enough experience to plan and install a reliable system. There’s a lot that goes into a system that supports strong connectivity without any dead spots.

If you plan to be the sole provider of internet, you’ll avoid a lot of resident pushback if your system works stellarly. And if you’re not the sole provider, you need to provide a better experience than your competitors. Either way, it’s crucial that you choose an experienced, reliable vendor.

Frictionless onboarding for residents and their technology

A great vendor knows that one of the biggest pain points for residents and property owners is a clunky, frustrating onboarding process. Move-ins can be stressful for everyone, so you need a vendor that can get residents set up in minutes. Ideally, this is a hands-off process for your staff and takes just a few minutes.

24/7 customer and technical support

Community WiFi has the power to improve the efficiency of your site team — or bog them down with complaints from residents and technical difficulties. To keep WiFi support off your team’s plate, choose a vendor that offers customer and technical support day and night. That way, any questions your residents or staff have are answered quickly.

Is SmartRent the right community WiFi vendor for you?

Owners and operators are increasingly choosing vendors who can handle all of their proptech needs, community WiFi among them. That’s because community WiFi is often the first project on a long list of technology investments.

Community WiFi is the backbone for smart access control, Smart Apartments, Self-Guided Tours, mobile maintenance and so much more. And SmartRent is with you for all of it.

No deployment is the same because no community is the same. We’ll help you tailor a deployment plan, install infrastructure and provide continuous 24/7 customer and technical support. Connect with us to get started.