When looking at a building, how good its internet is, is probably not one’s first thought. But for the tenants and companies inside it, it’s a key building service that they rely on daily.
As Arie Barendrecht explains, “it’s vital to tenants of buildings and critical to attracting and maintaining new tenants – it’s a non-negotiable design component."
Barendrecht is the co-founder and CEO of WiredScore, a company that ranks commercial buildings on their connectivity. Beginning in New York, the company has provided wired certification to over 300 buildings in the city, with further operations across several other US cities as well as London and Manchester in the UK. The company’s work is instrumental in showing architects how their designs need to prepare for the 21st century and acknowledging those that already do.
An interesting lesson from analysing connectivity across international cities is that the biggest variations aren’t found from city to city, but between buildings on the same street. While neighbouring buildings may appear physically similar on the outside, “under the hood," they can be completely different. It’s this difficulty in gauging connective performance by the average tenant or broker that wired certification hopes to combat, by making internet infrastructure more transparent.
This transparency is perhaps a good reminder for architects that they also need to be paying attention. Even just looking at a floor plan reveals “a tonne” about the connectivity of a building. Large points of entry, considered space allocation and secure, air-conditioned telecom rooms are good to see.
Space allocation, in particular, is a critical factor. It’s not unusual for tenants wanting to upgrade their connectivity to discover they can’t, simply because there is no room for it. A common example of this seen by WiredScore is not having the floor space for wireless equipment like DAS or small cells. The space for wireless is simply not included in a lot of current building designs, but increasingly needed by tenants given the rise of the mobile workforce.
It’s also important for spaces to be flexible, not just for the potential to free up more floor area, but also to support the installation of new technologies regardless of what sort of wired or wireless infrastructure is required. This is especially relevant for new buildings where technological requirements can easily change between the time of planning and its completion.
When evaluating existing buildings, “about 25% of our evaluation is focused on the design and infrastructure of the building,” says Barendrecht. But for buildings that are still in development, design and infrastructure are the sole bases of evaluation. There are two umbrella concepts that rule good connectivity in building design – redundancy and resiliency.
Redundancy moves away from putting all your eggs in one basket, i.e. systems based on one central riser, which depend entirely on nothing going wrong. Nowadays, many companies depend on having connectivity 100% of the time, making this sole dependency especially risky. Instead, diverse conduit pathways provide an alternative backup if one side were to come under fire, flood, or other physical damage. This involves having at least two different internet providers running their cables vertically through, and horizontally out of different sides of the building.
Resiliency focuses on the protection of the equipment itself, such as placement above grade – a lesson many New Yorkers learnt following the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. It also covers allocating telecom in a way to prevent day to day damage, and the best-designed buildings for connectivity separate equipment from areas of the building where users could accidentally damage equipment.
Materiality also comes into play, especially their effect on wireless coverage. Energy-efficient glass, in particular, blocks external cellular networks from entering buildings. So for developers aiming for LEED certification, Arie suggests having wireless strategies in place to compensate for the typically worse cellular coverage caused by low-e glass. These strategies are likely to involve further infrastructure considerations, so it’s important these considerations come in early in the planning of a building.
In the years to come, he sees connectivity playing a larger role earlier on in the design process, something that is usually left as an afterthought. Part of the reason for this afterthought could be the physical size of connectivity equipment, which still remains less clunky and smaller than that of HVAC and plumbing.
By raising awareness, however, around the importance of connectivity through wired certification, he hopes that more will understand that “telecom isn’t something we should cut corners on”. Since the arguments for redundancy and resiliency also apply to other building services, increased thought into the integration of connectivity with other building service systems and the building itself, could perhaps come to shape a more holistic approach to everything that’s “under the hood” of a building.
WiredScore rankings range from ‘Certified’ through to ‘Platinum’, which are more widely digestible than riser dimensions and cable paths. This reflects the heart of wired certification, says Barendrecht, which is to translate “the smart technical design planning that an architect has done into a really easy language to understand”.