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Demand for flexible office space is growing and mobile connectivity is playing a key role by Colin Abrey

“Substandard mobile coverage is unacceptable in a world driven by cloud computing and agile working,” says Colin Abrey of Nextivity

Not so very long-ago flexible office space and coworking facilities were regarded by many as unprofitable and unsustainable due to their lavish setups and thrown-in perks to give them a compelling appeal. However, with countries the world over taking steps to kick start their respective economies, the shared workspace landscape is very much “in Vogue” as conventional real estate and business leasing arrangements have had to overhaul their propositions in light of Covid-19.

12 months ago, business districts across the country emptied almost overnight as their workforces were ushered out of their offices and into their front rooms/kitchens/ bedrooms/garden sheds to maintain “business as usual”. However, by virtue of an applaudable NHS and a vaccination programme second to none, many of them are looking forward to returning to the office, for some of the time at least, because the notion of homeworking is not quite as appealing as it once was.

That said, commercial leasing expectations post pandemic are proving to be very different to what the managed office industry is familiar with. Many organisations are nervous about committing to long-term leases and/or investing in office infrastructure for fear of further disruption. Moreover, tenants are demanding flexible contracts along with pleasing working environments that are Covid-safe, fully equipped technically, and comprise an abundance of public amenities/breakout areas. Flexible office business models tick all these boxes. Limited upfront expenditure is needed because the necessary IT, office furniture and broadband connectivity are all part of the deal, making them highly appealing.

As well as redefining commercial leasing arrangements, Covid-19 has also reinforced our dependency on cloud computing and agile working through reliable remote access, both of which are regarded as a given in the shared office concept. However, far more fundamental, and also taken for granted, is reliable 4G coverage, yet many mixed-use buildings are failing on that score. Businesses are increasingly pushing mobile-only strategies and landlines are fast becoming obsolete in the workplace. PwC, for example, removed all landlines from their offices back in 2018 and many other organisations have since followed suit, with smartphones providing a single point of contact for all business and leisure conversations. Smart infrastructure has also gained foothold, with, smart lighting, face recognition access control etc. now the norm in all modern offices.

Mobile phone signals, however, are by default weaker inside any building, even if there is a mobile phone tower close by. By how much will depend on a number of reasons including location, building design/type, topography, the MNO provider and population density. Mixed-use buildings typically leased out as flexible office space are particularly susceptible to poor mobile coverage because their glass and metal facades tend to block mobile phone signals, particularly as you go to higher frequency as often used for 4G and 5G.  Not only does a workspace with poor/zero coverage cause great inconvenience to tenants, from a commercial perspective, office facilities with substandard mobile coverage will yield much lower rental values than those that good service connectivity. Although facilities managers are not expected to be telecoms experts, they do need to recognise the commercial implications of unreliable mobile coverage and steps they can take to overcome this.

Delivering a strong mobile signal indoors using mobile repeater-style systems had always been challenging because of regulatory constraints, equipment costs and the need for MNO involvement, which resulted in lengthy deployment times. Indeed, many larger building owners/managers had been forced to consider contraband systems to overcome the problem, which put them at loggerheads with both the operators and the regulators.

Pure Offices, a key player in the UK serviced office market, is one such company that struggled with poor mobile coverage, so much so, they were receiving complaints from tenants on a daily basis. The company took decisive action to find and install a robust, reliable and legal in-building coverage system to overcome these concerns and deliver a better customer experience.

“One of our key serviced offices in Nottingham is in a mobile network blackspot, affecting the whole building and with all 4 of the main UK mobile networks providing little to no coverage internally,”explained Stephen Day, a director of the company. “As a result, our customers had been complaining daily of poor connectivity and difficulty conducting their business. We tried several solutions, such as Wi-Fi calling and network provided booster boxes, but results were intermittent and unreliable. We needed a robust, corporate solution that required minimum attention from us as landlords and provided our customers with full mobile network coverage across all 4 networks. That’s when we approached Frequency Telecom regarding the Cel-Fi solution.”

The pandemic has forced companies operating in the flexible office space to rethink their business strategies in line with market expectations for agile working, and central to this is seamless mobile connectivity. Offering reliable mobile connectivity allows serviced office and commercial real estate providers alike to incorporate lucrative mobile-driven value-added services into their leasing arrangements, not only for commercial cellular but also for smart infrastructure and public safety communications.  Fulfilling this is neither difficult nor expensive.

About the author

Colin Abrey is Vice President, Channel Sales for the EMEA region at Nextivity. He has spent more than 30 years in wireless and international telecoms industries and held senior positions with several leading companies operating in this space, including Anixter, Zinwave, Cambridge Broadband Networks and Global Network solutions (a division of L-3 Communications). He has deployed many large-scale in-building projects, including airports, convention centres, hospitals, malls, commercial buildings, sports stadia, and hotels.

2018