Some may think wired-only internet is becoming a thing of the past. But if you think your days of needing structured wiring equipment are over, think again. Wi-Fi has become a must for most of your customers, while whole-home coverage has continually improved. So, if it works for a single residence, why not use the same approach for a multi-family dwelling? Building-wide wireless coverage is possible, of course, but your customers should be aware of the drawbacks.

As Internet of Things (IoT) technology adoption continues to increase, the delivery of Wi-Fi to consumers is changing. Internet service providers (ISPs) are facing new competition from WLAN (wireless local area network) providers and managed service providers (MSPs) looking to enter into smaller markets.  

For managers of multi-dwelling units (MDUs), whole building wireless network coverage can add value to the residences. This could result in higher rents, but that revenue needs to be weighed against the real cost of setting up a building-wide network. Wireless for whole buildings and multi-building facilities is not a plug-and-play service. Most large facilities like universities or major corporate operations need their wireless networks maintained by WLAN vendors or MSPs.

Enterprise WLAN requires a great deal of security and high performance. The networks typically include the highest-grade equipment using the latest protocols. Wave 2 wireless, for example, delivers theoretical speeds of 2.34 Gbps (Gigabits per second). For security, WLAN vendors and MSPs use tools like network access control (NAC) for user authentication because NAC works for both wired and wireless devices.

All this technology is coming down in price, which means WLAN vendors and MSPs are entering smaller markets such as small to medium businesses (SMBs) and consumers. While 2.34 Gbps speeds may sound great, your customers should be wary for two reasons. First, these speeds are only theoretical, and second, these networks require specialized support.

Network speed issues

Wave 2 is still susceptible to many of the signal issues affecting other protocols. Wireless networks will slow down with the addition of more users and physical barriers. Also, an individual connection’s speed will be impacted by its distance from the wireless access point.

In a multi-family dwelling or any shared building, this can have some serious implications. How does a facility manager explain why the tenants on one side of the building have a better signal?

And what happens when some occupants cause interference – from a metal sculpture or large appliance – that degrades the signal for others?

MSPs and WLAN vendors employ advanced technologies to deal with these problems. Cisco, for example, uses spectrum intelligence in their wireless chipset. Spectrum intelligence can detect, identify and solve interference issues. Another solution employed by Ruckus is the use of a multi-element antenna.

These solutions don’t work in all situations, of course, and multi-element antennae are only effective when installed away from all potential sources of interference including ducting and even thick walls.

Network support issues

With such systems, your customers will need an IT professional to manage the network as high-performing, secure WLANs are complex systems requiring specialized knowledge. This is fine for businesses with an IT budget, but for a residential building, adding IT to the operations budget is a challenge.

Most MSPs will offer network support as part of their package, but again this adds to the operations budget. Even then, when there are wireless issues, tenants will complain to building management, but, with wired broadband delivered individually, tenants deal directly with their internet service provider, not the building manager.