Multi-dwelling units (MDU) are on pace to see 400,000 new buildings constructed in 2019, with the average building size of 30 units. For a variety of reasons, these are an attractive housing choice for many.
MDU’s come in a variety of forms including:
- Student Housing / Dorms
- Nursing Homes / Assisted Living Residences
- Luxury apartments
- Military housing
- Temporary / Short Term Apartments
With the explosion of personal technology and smart devices such as locks and refrigerators, property managers need to prepare as the growth of these “IoT” devices takes off.
When examining the types of smart devices, property managers, and tenants can expect, they fall into four basic groups: safety, energy consumption, entertainment, and convenience.
- Safety: (all or some monitored to contact public safety) physical access control (smart locks); smoke & carbon monoxide detection; video access/surveillance; and others. In some cases, specialty MDU’s will deploy additional devices such as for fall detection (primarily for Nursing Homes / Assisted Living Residences)
- Energy Consumption: to control energy usage, there are many smart devices available or on the way including those for HVAC; flooding/water leaks; power outages; lighting; unit maintenance and supply monitoring/reordering (e.g., burned out light bulb, etc.).
- Entertainment: gaming, music (e.g., Spotify, etc.) and video streaming (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, etc.) and a host of others
- Convenience: voice-activated assistants (Amazon Alexa, Google Voice, Apple Siri, etc.), washers, dryers, refrigerators, unit parking sensors, etc. all of which save time, energy, etc.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported Amazon’s efforts to partner with property managers to push Alexa smart speakers into domiciles across the country as the control center for smart devices. Given Amazon’s heft and broad market influence, MDU property managers need to plan for deploying and managing all this technology in existing facilities and new building construction. Otherwise, they are at risk of losing tenants to competitive properties.
What are the Infrastructure and Knowledge Requirements?
While it is possible to install a completely wireless network in an MDU, Wi-Fi speed and signal strength may be degraded by distance, materials used in the structure (i.e. concrete, rebar, metal studs, wall, and flooring width), and interference caused by other wireless devices (i.e., wireless alarm systems). An additional drawback of a wireless-only network is the need to install each wireless access point (WAP) near an electrical outlet, limiting or eliminating installation locations.
To eliminate these issues, each wireless access point (WAP) is connected (“patched”) to a network switch located in a wiring closet located on each floor via Ethernet cabling or possibly a fiber connection that is home run to a primary telecom room/closet located the ground floor or basement.
The Advantages of Physical Connections
- Power Over Ethernet (PoE) switches may be used to power to each Wireless access point (WAP) eliminating the need for placement near an electrical outlet. The WAP may now be installed in nearly any location that provides maximum data speed and wireless signal strength.
- Physical connections provide the ability to install network drops (outlets) in each residential unit. Physical connections provide the most reliable speed for gaming, video/music streaming, and virtually any IoT device.
- Properly installed; shielded Ethernet cable eliminates signal interference.
For these reasons, it is best to use wireless networks as extensions or additions to hard-wired networks, not as a replacement for cabled data.
Internet connectivity with associated considerations such as bandwidth, speed, high availability with auto failover to redundant ISP and power (generator/battery) need to be planned to ensure high performance/always on performance.
Ongoing Management phase:
Once the devices are installed in the units, common areas, and the facilities equipment spaces of the MDU, each device must be connected to the local area network (LAN) of the building(s), managed, and monitored. To accomplish this task, a cloud-based service (i.e., Irontrust Networks IoT Hub) or a physical (on-premise) IoT hub is required to connect to, configure, manage, and monitor each IoT device deployed in the MDU. As new IoT devices become introduced to the market, the number of devices found in a single MDU will increase.
IoT devices will also require software and firmware updates, repair or replacement, and protection from (or stopping) cybersecurity attacks and intrusion. Each of these issues must be identified and resolved quickly to minimize downtime and potential damage.
Around the clock monitoring of the network, connectivity, and overall device health will be necessary to keep tenants happy. End-user support and training may be necessary for building residents, admins, and maintenance staff. And when problems do arise, network and device maintenance/troubleshooting must occur to resolve problems quickly.
Security and Regulatory Compliance Concerns of IOT Devices:
With IoT devices comes two major challenges: cybersecurity and regulatory requirements of data. For cybersecurity, tenants and property managers will need to be vigilant with deployment and ongoing usage to minimize risk (e.g., strong passwords, etc.). Regulatory requirements enter into the picture in certain situations. For example, an assisted living MDU will likely have tenant health data being captured and stored by IoT devices. Property managers must, therefore, plan for such situations to remain compliant.
To be sure, there’s a lot to consider regarding technology deployment and ongoing management that property managers must address. The question becomes how best to do so to keep tenants happy.
In-house Staff or Service Provider?
Property managers can use in-house IT staff to deploy and manage the connectivity, storage, and performance of their units or engage a service provider. Regardless of which path is chosen, both involve people, process, and technology.
- Attract and retain competent technical staff.
- A suite of technical skill sets will be required, including deep subject matter experts as well as user support/help desk folks.
- Provide frequent training to keep up with new IoT devices being introduced
- Maintain appropriate staff levels to cover multiple shifts (24/7/365 coverage requirements)
- Deployment and testing for new construction or building/unit renovation
- Ongoing maintenance including patching, outages, user support,
- Evolution of cybersecurity, compliance and privacy-related protocols over time
- Connectivity – wireless and wired for short term and longer-term bandwidth requirements of a building or unit including access points, in-building hubs, and other products that deliver reliable, high-quality communications services.
- Tools for advanced monitoring and management of connectivity, cyber security, storage, and other infrastructure or critical applications (e.g., building access, surveillance, etc.)
Larger property managers with existing IT staff in place may opt to use in-house resources. However, many will likely choose to work with service providers rather than tax existing IT staffs focused on supporting internal enterprise systems. Mid-sized and smaller property managers will likely seek help from service providers.
There are many service providers for connectivity, network, and other MDU needs, their capabilities, expertise, and operations vary. Property managers must be diligent when selecting the right one for deployment and ongoing management. Characteristics of suitable providers include:
- deep expertise with support and management of connectivity, networking, IoT, and related technologies to help during deployment (new construction or building renovation) and for ongoing management (end-to-end services).
- “high touch” and responsiveness during all phases, particularly for on-going maintenance of MDU systems and devices.
- 24x7x365 coverage, including seamless processes and staff for outages, troubleshooting, and remediation on a timely basis.
MDU’s must provide for an explosion of smart devices to be installed in their units. To keep tenants happy and renewing their leases, they’ll need to have strong technical skillsets available to deploy and manage these on an ongoing basis. Many property managers will use competent, high-quality, and reliable services providers to do so. If they don’t, tenants will readily move down the block to another MDU.
About the Authors:
Evan Sacks is General Manager of Irontrust Networks, an Affiliate Company of Provdotnet, LLC.
Ron Sacks is CEO and Managing Partner of affiliated companies, Provdotnet, LLC and, Irontrust Networks.