Planning Internet for an Apartment Building

Your prospective tenants demand high-quality internet and WiFi. In 2020, this is an important amenity and one you need to provide to acquire and retain resident guests. Promoting reliable fiber backed internet service as an amenity in your apartment building has a firm advantage over the competition. Making sure that moving in and onboarding to the internet needs to be as frictionless as possible today, Internet has become the defacto fourth utility and it needs to work with the reliability that comes with turning on running water. To provide the best service to your residents you have to provide Managed WiFi which manages the wireless airtime and gives your residents a trouble-free experience.

Since you are reading this article, you already recognize that you need to be providing world-class internet and property-wide WiFi at your apartment buildings. You may be trying to provide this service to your tenants. In our experience, we find that the reason that many apartment complexes struggle with reliable and fast internet is poor planning. DojoNetworks experience with the challenges MDU properties face can ensure your planning is successful.

Determine the bandwidth needed and project that into the future

  • Examine your infrastructure (existing or planned)
  • Decide on the common areas that require WiFi coverage
  • Plan your desired coverage map and wireless access points (WAPs)
  • Coordinate infrastructure improvements & wiring runs
  • Execute installation
  • Post installation inspection & testing
  • Training & education for staff & tenants
  • Fanatical Resident Support

How Much Bandwidth Do You Have?  How much do you Need?

Determining the bandwidth needed will depend on the size of your building, needs of your tenants, and the price of the bandwidth and finally where you think those bandwidth needs will be in three years or five years.  The needs of your building and market could be anywhere from 1G to 100G.  Depending upon the structure of your bandwidth agreement, you can ensure that you can upgrade this when your building needs additional capacity.

Part of our feasibility studies at DojoNetworks™ is to make this determination with our partner-clients and then to price the available bandwidth options at their building’s location.  Since we’ve done this hundreds of times, we can quickly locate all the available providers and price the best options for your business.  If you are doing this on your own, you’ll be looking for the commercial representatives of your major local telecommunications companies and/or other local ISPs that have existing infrastructure in your region.

The Infrastructure to Carry Your High-Speed Internet

Providing high quality and property-wide internet service in your apartment complex will come with the addition of plenty of equipment.  This includes items such as controllers, ethernet, fiber, ONTs, wall mount enclosures, and data closets, etc. You will certainly need a number of wireless access points.  This infrastructure becomes an asset and increases the value of your building. Depending on your IT vendor and your ISP, how you acquire this equipment may vary.  With DojoNetworks™ our team will build this into your capital expenditures or CapEx and manage the details of what you need as well as make adjustments on the fly.

With a traditional telecommunications company, your IT team is likely to need to purchase and install the additional equipment or rely on a local vendor to achieve the infrastructure upgrades.

Survey of Blueprints for Infrastructure Planning

Whether you are planning to break ground for a new building, upgrade your WiFi or provide property-wide Wifi for the first time, a survey of your building plans and wiring is the best place to start.  This is where you can determine if you have the proper CAT6 or CAT7 wiring, if your wiring runs are the correct length and what physical barriers may disrupt your WiFi coverage.

New Construction (Greenfield)

There are advantages to new, or greenfield construction when providing property-wide wireless internet. In these cases, it is important to contact your ISP immediately and work with them on the design before you ever break ground. This gives the provider ample opportunity to work with you and have the least number of roadblocks through the process.

Working with your provider, electrician, and contractor to create a proper low voltage design is paramount. This will reduce interference and minimize the number of adaptations or change orders ($$$) that need to be made as construction goes. Adding cameras, electronic doors, security systems, and other systems associated with IT networks need a strong low voltage design plan to flow without interference.

Factors to consider: Cat6/7/8 can only go 100 meters from the switch to the end point in the apartment, so you need to make sure you don’t have runs longer than that. This will sometimes require extra data rooms/closets depending on the size of the building. Fiber from a single MDF to in room data panel can be used as there is no distance limitation, but then you need to have active powered equipment in each apartment which can be a failure point.

Existing Construction (Brownfield)

If your building is constructed and has wiring in place, there will need to be more testing beforehand. Oftentimes, previous electricians, contractors, or internet service providers did not have the idea in mind to create a building-wide managed service or to add potential low voltage systems.

With brownfield construction, the apartment building owner will have to work with the service provider to layout new wiring plans. Based on the current blueprints, your internet service provider will provide a drawing that will model the adjustments needed to be made to the preexisting construction plans.

Whether modeling for brownfield and greenfield constructions, the following will need to be labeled on your blueprints: your point of demarcation, network racks, patch panels and existing data closets.

Other considerations are how the wiring is going to be run. DojoNetworks likes to fish the wiring through walls and ceilings as much as possible, but that is not always possible and sometimes you have to use track or crown molding to hide wire that runs down hallways and sometimes in apartment units.

Data Closets, MDF and IDFs

One critical aspect that is often overlooked in older buildings and even new building plans is that ethernet cannot extend beyond 100 meters. To establish an effective building-wide connection plan, it requires establishing the Main Distribution Frame (MDF) closet and running fiber from the MDF to Intermediate Distribution Frames (IDFs) closets throughout your building. Designing a plan to ensure the least number of data closets in your apartment building is crucial to minimizing disruption. However, these closets need to be in the right locations to service all the access points in their area.

Do you have sufficient data closets in the right locations?  What spaces could be leveraged to create new data closets where needed? What is the cooling consideration for the equipment if necessary?

What Type of Apartment Complex Is Being Planned

Property-wide WiFi planning and service is very different for a high-rise style building as compared to a garden-style or campus apartment complex.  In the high-rise scenario, a key challenge becomes the distance between data closets combined with floor-to-floor interference issues.  By comparison, the challenge in a garden style complex is one of getting fiber from building to building and keeping infrastructure costs low enough to make the project cost effective.  Both types of apartment complexes are candidates for property-wide WiFi, however they each have unique challenges to solve.

Where do Your Residents Need WiFi Coverage on Your Property?

The next area of planning is a relatively simple one and is just a conversation with your management staff and resident support staff.  Where will your tenants want and need WiFi coverage in your building or complex?  Obviously, the lobby areas and your clubhouse would need WiFi.  Now, do you want to ensure your tenants get seamless coverage on the elevators?  Have you considered your gym, pool, parking lot or other outdoor spaces?

The areas you want to cover will need wireless access points and could need their own cable runs.  You may choose to leave off your parking garage in phase one, but still plan the infrastructure to extend your WiFi to that area in the future.  Determining all of your common areas that will have service will allow you to plan the quantity and location of your access points.

Plan your Wireless Access Points

Access points are the devices that create wireless local area networks (WLANs). These are connected to the MDF or IDFs via an ethernet cable. These points run throughout your apartment building, creating local networks all around. This ensures that when your tenants move about the building, their devices will pick up on the closest access point and provide the fastest service.

One of the biggest impediments to installing a managed WiFi for your building is interference between access points. With too many access points in an area, the services can compete with each other and get a clogged, slower network. This is the biggest issue that comes with having tenants provide their own routers. Their private routers are competing with each other and causing signal loss and interference. A managed WiFi system has access points flowing cleanly and managing the overlap. At DojoNetworks™ our access points are smart systems that use Artificial Intellegence to automatically correct and adjust the signals through your building.

Determining the proper placement of access points will allow for fast services in every corner of the building and no interference. The image above shows the type of coverage you want to see in your buildings. The image below illustrates the type of interference that is necessary to avoid.

Schedule & Coordinate Construction & Infrastructure Improvements

Now that you have your plan, who is the project manager to get all the pieces in place for your new managed WiFi system? Your team will have some physical construction, wiring runs, coordination with your new bandwidth installation as well as adjustments to your MDF and data closets.

These items need to be coordinated with move-out, move-in and any other work that your building has in process. Achieving the right timeline is critical to resident happiness and a smooth transition from your current Internet service.

Radio Frequency Models

To determine the proper placement of access points, your service provider should be running a predictive radio frequency (RF) coverage model or Heat Map. These Heat Maps used in conjunction with your blueprints will help determine where the wiring goes as well as how many access points are needed to cover the entire premises.  

Performing these models before construction is vital for greenfield builds and will lower the number of modifications that will need to be made post-construction. These models will help determine the number and types of modifications that will need to be made for brownfield construction.   The images above are examples of the coverage Heat Maps we use in our planning process.   

Execute Your Installation and Upgrade Plan

Your plan was made, your construction complete. You have vendors who’ve built your new data closets, completed your upgraded wiring and installed your wireless access points.  After the infrastructure upgrades, your internet service provider should be testing and evaluating the new wiring and physical barriers as well as any adjustments that were made during construction to the original plan.  At this stage there may be some revisions to your heat maps or WAP placements. 

Survey on a Stick

In order to ensure that Access Points (AP) are properly placed, your internet service provider will conduct an AP on a Stick Survey (APoS).  

This process involves isolating an individual AP. After running a predictive model, the AP will be placed in these areas on a stick near the ceiling to determine signal strength. Each area that is predicted to have an AP will be tested by the APoS method.  

Based on these results, your access points locations and settings will be adjusted to fit the real world of your building.  

Post Installation Testing and Network Tuning

The process of deploying the fiber to the building from a telecommunications company will typically take 90-120 days. During that time, it’s common to get the building infrastructure ready for your new bandwidth.  However, after the fiber is deployed, tuning and adjustments will still need to be made. Therefore, a post-install RF survey is conducted by your service provider. These are similar to pre-installation surveys including radio frequency, coverage, access point interference, and more will be tested. Other benefits of a post-installation survey include.

  • Signal Strength
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio
  • PHY Rates
  • Signal Coverage
  • Sources of Interference
  • Data Rates

The post-installation survey will also include a heat map of the current coverage and access points that are installed so that the landlord can visually see his service.

Network Tuning to Improve Performance

The surveying and mapping often lead to tuning and adjustments. Your internet service provider should have a centralized controller to report and optimize your network configuration. They will tune and make adjustments based on readings from your centralized controller and optimize the strength between APs and each person’s device.

Training & Education of your Stake Holders

As a landlord, it should not be your job to train, educate, and support issues with the network that your tenants and employees may have. Your internet service provider should work with employees of your building to educate them on the service they will use.

This can include providing

  • Informative materials such as pamphlets and flyers
  • Refrigerator magnets and other in-unit signage for support requests
  • Email or Text notices from provider to residents
  • Customer portal to submit requests and get updated information

Your internet service provider should be proactive in educating your tenants before they move in and provide on boarding instructions for a frictionless connection to the network.

If the construction is being done on an existing building (brownfield), customers should be provided details of what is being done to enhance the property and get good communication and proper notice for when installers will be in their unit and what they will be doing.

Customers should start their service confident in knowing what they are getting as well as who and how to contact support if an issue arises.

Fanatical Resident Support

Despite all this planning and having a world-class network, end-users will always require support.  This can be for temporary problems with bandwidth providers, user-error, new devices or even problems with their devices.  At DojoNetworks™, we consider it our core mission to handle these promptly and completely for your resident guests.  By providing fanatical resident support, any problems with the WiFi system are our responsibility, not the responsibly of your property manager.  This allows any system problems to be recognized quickly and routed to the DojoNetworks™ employee who can solve this customer issue right away, and potentially avoid other residents from experiencing a similar issue.

Using Dojo Networks to Plan Your Apartment Building Internet

Providing a property-wide internet service to an apartment building is a process that takes planning, testing, and tuning to complete. Attention to detail and a correspondence with electricians, building owners, and contractors is needed from your internet service provider to make the process simple and stress-free.

DojoNetworks™, takes pride in working with apartment owners to provide managed WiFi with high speeds and reliability. If you’d like to begin this planning process with us today, please reach out and let’s have a conversation.