Can You Hear Me Now? What Tenants Must Know About Office Building Cell Service

We’ve all struggled with poor cell phone service in large buildings, frequently with our face pressed to the window trying to catch a bar.  The service issue typically isn’t with the carrier, but with the obstructions within a building or neighboring buildings.  Given today’s mobile workforce where we’re using our devices for a lot more than making calls, tenants should consider this issue before renewing a lease or looking for new space. Forward thinking landlords are also concerned about this issue as they know it will affect the value of their property, which is based upon a well-occupied building.  In this post, I outline the trends behind the increasing demand of cell service, its impact to tenants, how some landlords are addressing this issue and what tenants should be doing. 

According to the study “Cellular in the Workplace Survey 2017” by Zinwave, a wireless infrastructure provider, 74% of office workers complain about in-building cell phone coverage.  While this is particularly true in dense urban areas, it also occurs in suburban buildings where signals are not only blocked by construction materials (i.e., concrete, metal and low-e glass) but they also collide with other signals.

Cell Service Demand Drivers:  There are a couple big trends that are driving the increased use of cell service which will only intensify with the advent of 5G service:

(1) 52.5% of US households (according to a 2017 study by National Center for Health Statistics) are wireless-only and employees are frequently using their wireless phones and devices for business, i.e., the “bring-your-device to work” policies;

(2) Younger workers (i.e., millennials) having grown-up with cell phones, are not big adopters of landlines in the office and certainly not at home; and

(3) With today’s mobile workforce, more work (requiring a lot more data than a simple phone call) is being done on mobile devices which can almost replace your desktop or laptop computer.

Impact to Tenants:  Poor cell coverage can lessen productivity and potentially create a challenge in the battle for top talent.  Those are a couple of the conclusions from the 2017 survey by Zinwave.  Additionally, the survey found that:

  • Of the 74% that complained about poor coverage, 33% of those report they “frequently have bad experiences with cellular coverage” while 41% reported that they “sometimes have bad experiences with cellular coverage.”
  • Younger workers (age 18 – 34) experienced the greatest amount of “frequent bad experiences” at 40%, compared to 28% for workers age 34 – 54 and 10% for workers 55 years of age and over.
  • 58% of employees blame their employer for the cell coverage issue.

Solutions:  Depending upon the size of the building, landlords have a couple of options to increase cell service in their building:

  • Distributed Antenna System (DAS) is a technology capturing a carrier’s signal and re-transmitting it inside the building through various radios and antennas. Within DAS there are two versions: (1) Active – using a carrier’s provided network equipment to install service at the building; and (2) Passive – capturing the signal outside the building and then redistributing it internally.
  • Small Cell Technology – less expensive and more flexible than DAS, small cell technology is a carrier-controlled access node providing coverage. The downside of this approach is that it is controlled by individual carriers whereas DAS can be carrier-neutral.

What Tenants Should Do:  As strong internet connectivity is a lifeline for most businesses today, tenants in evaluating buildings should consider the overall building internet connectivity (as I wrote about in my blog, Transparency Coming to Office Buildings’ Internet Connectivity).  WiredScore, an independent company rating building’s connectivity, as part of their rating, also addresses DAS and cell coverage enhancement. If a building that you’re negotiating with doesn’t have such cell enhancements, it may be a point to raise in negotiations which can save larger tenants the cost of internal signal enhancements.  As the demands for data continue to grow, connectivity will become more important to tenants when deciding where they locate their business.

Thank you to Todd Fariss, Product Line Director at WilsonPro – Wilson Electronics for his valued input.

Don Wenig
Blackacre Advisors LLC

DISCLAIMER.   Our writings are from a real estate transaction perspective and for informational purposes only. Nothing herein shall be considered legal, accounting, tax, or architectural advice. Please consult with the appropriate professional(s).

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