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August 1, 2000
Multitenant Units Get Wired for Future
By Aldo Morri
The wait for the “better, cheaper, faster” promise of broadband may soon be over, at least for those who live or work in multitenant buildings. Multitenant units
(MTUs)–apartment buildings, office buildings and hotels–are quickly becoming wired for broadband access, as maverick CLECs develop footprints in what they think will become a highly profitable market space.
It’s exactly the kind of scenario about which incumbent carriers expressed concern when they claimed telecommunications deregulation would lead to “cream skimming”–a reference to vulnerability for the best clients that incumbents would experience under open competition.
It appears the RBOCs were correct. And the cream is particularly sweet.
In one of the first studies conducted on the MTU market for broadband, Cahners In-Stat Group
(www.instat.com) projects the U.S. market for multitenant broadband equipment and services will grow from $371 million in 2000 to nearly $2 billion in 2004.
“Those might be conservative estimates,” says Sandy
Benett, vice president of operations for hardware solutions provider Tut Systems Inc.
(www.tutsys.com). He says that as many as 188,000 buildings nationwide with more than 50,000 square feet of office space, and another 750,000 buildings and office parks with more than 10,000 square feet of office space are inviting targets.
This vast real estate is a potential major market for broadband equipment, voice and data services, estimated to grow to as much as $11 billion, Bennett predicts.
MTU-specific service providers deliver broadband access to businesses, residences and hotels by moving the Internet PoP–a pizza box-sized “micro-central office” or “mini-PoP”–to the building itself. The PBX-like box allows broadband services deployment more quickly as the need to connect to incumbent COs is eliminated.
The multitenant commercial unit
(MCU) space represents a huge opportunity for aggressive carriers. Companies that specialize in the space–such as Cypress Communica-tions
(www.cypresscom.net), BroadBand Office Inc.
(www.broadbandoffice.net), Urban Media Inc.
(www.urbanmedia.com) and a number of other well-financed startups–are scrambling to set up systems nationwide. Along the way, these carriers have earned the designation of a new carrier category, the building LEC or
BLEC, to differentiate themselves from incumbent carriers or CLECs that base their system architectures on the
This elegant mini-PoP solution reduces the businesses’ wait time for broadband access from weeks to days or even hours, according to Larry Kraft, vice president
of marketing for Advanced Switching Communications Inc. (www.asc.com), a provider of broadband services access platforms for office buildings.
The mini-PoP solution offers numerous economies of scale in the provisioning of services, as well as in the area of service monitoring where broadband access providers spend as much as 45 percent of their total client servicing costs. This could mean big profits down the road.
“By concentrating the mini-central office in the basement of a building, the carrier can easily and economically add clients in the building or change the service level of existing clients,” says Benett. “Carriers can also monitor many clients at once from a remote location.”
Cahners In-Stat Group analyst Amy Helland says that BLEC offerings have enormous appeal to property owners that increasingly see broadband access as a way to differentiate their office buildings.
Quite simply, the mini-PoP CLEC solution should help rent offices, she says.
Not only does this come at no charge to landlords, but under terms of most agreements, the property owners are entitled to a share of the communications revenues derived from the mini-PoPs.
“The key advantage that we [BLEC] carriers have is service,” says Stanley Allen, co-founder and vice chairman of Cypress Communications, an Atlanta-based BLEC, which may be the market leader in setting up broadband communications for the commercial buildings segment. “We may not be the least expensive alternative, and RBOCs may have very reliable networks, but when you have a problem with an RBOC, you need to go through all kinds of layers of people to solve it.”
Part of the power of the BLEC service offering is an extremely simple bill. Carriers recognize that businesses’ communications needs run the gamut from traditional voice and data to e-mail, web hosting, website design and web-enabled applications. Office managers already are burdened with too many tasks, and making sense out of a communications bill is too time-consuming. They want communications services to be bundled and itemized on a simple-to-understand bill. Most BLECs have adopted billing solutions that reliably itemize more than 20 discrete services every month.
Dwellings Not Ignored
While the commercial segment in office buildings may provide the most lucrative space for BLECs, apartments and condominiums also are attractive for many of the same reasons.
Carriers specializing in the multiple dwelling unit (MDU) space are finding they may be able to monitor hundreds of building complexes from a single remote point.
Carrier experience shows that only about 10 percent of apartment dwellers take on broadband services once the
mini-PoP is installed. But that hasn’t stopped carriers such as CAIS Internet (www.cais.com) from focusing on the dwelling market.
On the contrary,
CAIS, ReFlex Communications Inc. (www.reflexcomm.com) and Darwin Networks Inc.
(www.darwin.net) are falling over themselves to get their feet in the doors of apartment communities where uptake of broadband is expected to soar.
The typical apartment dwellers are in their 20s and 30s–the prime Internet generation that demands broadband services. They tend to have higher incomes and are willing to spend more for advanced communications services, because they understand its benefits.
Besides, the difference between home and office needs and usage patterns is dwindling–a trend that Tut Systems is poised to take full advantage of. The company is one of the few hardware providers that provides carriers with platform solutions for apartments and office buildings.
The revenue profile of the dwelling market may become more attractive over time. Today, most apartment residents will settle for DSL or cable modems rather than the T1 speeds common in office buildings. But, “more and more, you find that telecommuters need many of the same kind of services that offices need, such as
VPNs, secure firewalls, web design, etc.,” says Benett.
The hospitality industry also is receiving a lot of attention from hardware and service providers. Hotels represent a huge market opportunity. Business guests accustomed to broadband access at their offices demand the same from their hotels when traveling. High-speed lines in the business center alone don’t cut it anymore; guests want broadband in their rooms–and they are beginning to get it.
Cahners In-Stat Group’s survey of the hospitality market shows that as much as 65 percent to 70 percent of all multitenant hospitality units (MHUs) are planning to install broadband access to individual rooms as a way to attract vital business clientele.
The explosion in the number of conferences and conference centers opens up another avenue of high value-added business for carriers. Conference centers pride themselves on having the most up-to-date communications available, and more and more, this means sophisticated web-enabled applications.
The MHU market also offers many of the economies in provisioning and service monitoring that make the MCU and MDU markets so appealing to carriers.
For example, Tut Systems recently announced the latest version of its subscriber management and operation center software system will allow service providers for multitenant properties to manage up to 240,000 individual subscribers from one network operation center.
Empowered with these kinds of platforms, broadband service providers can manage multiple properties in multiple cities around the world from one centralized location.
Aldo Morri is a freelance writer based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at
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