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November 29, 2022

Managed WiFi: Insights From A Specialist (Live at Optech 2022)

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Hi all. We're at Optech 2022 and my name is Paul Carter. I'm with Dwelo and I'm sitting here with Michael Doucette of BluePort to talk a bit about Managed WiFi. Michael, tell us about BluePort and why MWF is becoming such a popular item in the world of multifamily.

Thanks Paul. So, BluePort is a 20-year-old managed service provider with a core competency in providing Managed WiFi. We focus on the design, engineering, and support of those Managed WiFi networks and we offer it to customers like yourselves. Right now in the multifamily space, we're seeing a large driver of connectivity needs, not just for the resident in the unit but also for the connectivity infrastructure that's needed for smart apartments and smart home technology. And everything riding on one ubiquitous property-wide network is really a key component to making sure that everything works and can be supported consistently across the property.

In MDU, three primary stakeholders exist: the owner, the property manager, and the resident. Could you take each one and talk about how Managed WiFi meets their expectations?

Sure. So from the resident perspective, we're seeing that residents just need connectivity. If you go back and look at subscription losses to cable and things of that nature, we're seeing a large drive of individuals just needing internet for the simple meaning of connecting to the internet. And therefore, they have their apps for TV streaming and everything else that they need from a connectivity perspective. And the idea of a property-wide solution for the resident enables them to roam all across the property from their unit to the different amenity areas, all while remaining connected and really bringing a hospitality-style connection experience to the MDU or apartment building.

From the property manager perspective, having one network that's ubiquitous and property-wide gives them a nice opportunity to have an amenity for the residents that offers quite a compelling feature. If you have connectivity in your unit with a traditional legacy/model, you wouldn't necessarily have connectivity in the public space or the amenity areas. But with the property-wide network, you have a really nice feature where you can sell a property-wide connected experience as part of the lease and part of the apartment offering and offer a lot more amenities throughout the property that connect to that network.

Then, from the owner's perspective, MWF, in comparison to the legacy cable or telco models, certainly stands out on its own. The economics behind that, particularly with revenue, is that it can be driven to the property through offering Managed WiFi as an amenity or a technology fee - whatever you might want to add. Adding it into the resident’s rent is a huge driver and revenue booster for the property, for NOI, and asset value enhancement.

So as a smart tech provider and MWF vendor, how do you see it helping to bring those two worlds together, particularly smart technology from a connectivity perspective?

MWF from the resident experience certainly has all of its great opportunities. But for us, resident connectivity isn't the number one feature we focus on. We focus on total convergence or total network convergence. What that means for us is that MWF is really the foundation for the entire connected experience beyond just the resident and staff. So having that ubiquitous property-wide network or connectivity foundation is really where you can bring everything harmoniously onto one network. This way, you can have it managed, have it proactively monitored, and then supported. And so really you have this one platform that you can push everything through and connect to. I think that's the big difference between what Managed WiFi is versus the legacy model; it’s having that property wide solution and enabling that connectivity foundation so that everything is controlled from one central point.

If I were an owner, I might be a bit apprehensive or nervous about doing this myself and taking that risk. If I’m an owner, what should I think about in terms of implementation and support? And how do I work through all the details of offering a MWF solution to my residents that's now coming from me rather than from another company?

I'll break that down into the two different types of scenarios that we see with this offering. You have your new development and then you have your retrofit. So, on your new development side of things, the earlier you can start planning for MWF, the better. It really should be part of your early design phases for your project. You really want to understand from your MWF provider what the requirements are for the network in terms of wiring and pathway conduits that you may need in a garden-style property. You want to work with that vendor to make sure all those requirements are known, understood, accounted for, and then find any scope gaps that there might be in development as you're planning it. And then, of course, the earlier you can do that, the more you can include it in the drawings, in the scopes of work that you're providing to the general contractor, to the electrician, etc.

Certainly there can be some apprehension towards a process that's been done for many, many years in the legacy telco models where some groups will just come in, wire the building, take it all off your plate and you don't have anything to worry about. So what I would encourage folks to do is to work with their provider and vendor to understand what the requirements are from a Managed WiFi perspective. Understand what the responsibility matrix is and who owns what, who's responsible for what. And then, from there, you can ensure a smooth deployment.

How would I, as an owner, protect myself from all these potential changes that are coming down the road? How do I future-proof a system today and what do you see as the future for MWF over the next 5 years?

I think we'll start to see that MWF really stands out in front in terms of all sorts of connectivity solutions for multifamily properties. As we talked about earlier, the need for a strong connectivity foundation as everything gets smarter becomes more and more apparent each day. More devices need a CAT6 line, more devices need a static SSID, some devices need an IP address, and these just aren't smart home devices. These are property-wide energy efficiency systems. There are all sorts of different components that need this feature and connectivity from a future-proofing perspective.

There's a number of different things that you can do to future-proof yourself. When it comes to CAT6 vs fiber, I think that CAT6 is still a great way to go because of the remote support capabilities that come with that. Fiber's great because it protects against future speeds. But I think speed right now is a little bit of an overblown conversation. Folks do just fine with gigabit speeds today. It's probably not something I would be focused on. But then just understanding what the technology is that you're deploying. Most networks have a strong seven-year life cycle and then after that you might want to consider a property refresh. What does that mean? Well, in most cases it probably means refreshing access points to a newer generation. But, by and large, we try to let that be a support driven conversation. So if we're seeing a lot of support tickets in terms of slow speeds or issues with connectivity, then we're gonna look to find out what those problems are, where they're occurring, and where it might make sense to make changes to that network.

But from a development perspective or a retrofitting perspective, to future-proof yourself, we really wanna work with your vendor on the equipment they're deploying. Has that equipment stood the test of time? What's the feedback on that equipment? Your provider should be able to help educate you and provide you good feedback metrics on what that equipment's going to do, how it's going to perform, and what you can expect to receive from it. And then, of course, strong SLAs and any relationship are always something to go back and refer to when and if there's a problem and how that problem can be resolved.

Thank you, Michael. We appreciate your input. We've been talking Managed WiFi at Optech 2022. Thank you for joining us today.

My pleasure. Thanks Paul.

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