WiFi 6: Is it the End-All Be-All of Connectivity?


Originally appearing in iotforall.com, January 22, 2021
By Tantiv4

It can often feel like even the fastest network speeds aren’t enough to run all your devices. While the struggle is more visible in places that share a lot of bandwidth, like office buildings, malls, and cafes, users can also feel that they use a lot of heavy data like live video producers and PC gamers.

With current network policies already struggling to keep up with connectivity demands, the world needs a new WiFi standard.

What is WiFi 6?

IEEE 802.11ax, or WiFi 6, is the new specification standard post IEEE 802.11ac (or WiFi 5), promising better connectivity, higher speeds, and increased support for several high-bandwidth devices. The IEEE 802.11ax standard was first proposed in 2013 by the IEEE High-Efficiency WLAN Study Group. Their goal was to improve spectrum efficiency in places with multiple competing routers like apartments and malls. They eventually reached a breakthrough in 2018, and it was certified by the WiFi Alliance in late 2019.

How Does It Work?

WiFi 6 routers operate between 2.4 and 5.9 GHz. It also assures better router protection through WPA3 WiFi security. For larger networks, this means better encryption and more thorough security support.

The WiFi Alliance has outlined a couple of key features that are responsible for WiFi 6’s increased connectivity. Including:

Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) and multi-user multiple inputs, multiple outputs (MU-MIMO), separate each spectrum per frequency and support multiple devices simultaneously. This means that more devices can connect without affecting their connection quality.

The 160 MHz channel utilization capability is responsible for increasing the overall bandwidth available. Plus, the transmit beamforming used to signal transmission improves WiFi 6’s range by sending the signals to clients directly, rather than over a broad spectrum. With WiFi 6, you won’t have to worry about stealing bandwidth from other devices, allowing you to run high-data applications like 4K videos and 3D games without worrying about everyone else’s network speed. The impact of the shared medium is mitigated up to a point but not

How Fast Does It Go?

WiFi 6 is capable of speeds up to 9.6 Gbps. That’s a big leap from WiFi 5’s 3.5 Gbps. Modern modems and routers make full use of PCBs with complicated transmission lines and terminations to aid in transferring data, much in the same way cables deliver the power needed to operate our lights and appliances. Then again, WiFi 6 routers have the added perk of being 5G enabled, which results in even higher throughput and lower latency across big spaces.

But innovation doesn’t stop there. Manufacturers are now developing WiFi 6E routers, which are essentially WiFi 6 but are equipped with the chips to operate at 6 GHz. Channels on the 6GHz band are expected to be 160 MHz each in size. That’s enough to transfer virtual reality, augmented reality data, and robotic signals from the comfort of one’s home.

Make The Most Of It

Of course, not all devices are equipped to tap into such high frequencies. Consumer technology like smartphones and IoT first have to be WiFi-6 enabled. Many smartphones from 2019 and beyond, like the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S20, for example, are all WiFi 6 enabled. Newer laptop models like the Dell XPS (2020) and Lenovo Yoga c940 can also tap into WiFi 6 frequencies.

To make the most out of your WiFi 6 connection, choose a plan that’s more tailored to your location. For example, a 2.4 GHz band can cover big spaces and transmit data at a slower rate. The opposite is true for those operating at 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz. They can only cover small locations but transmit data at faster speeds. Theoretically, however, the consistent speed of WiFi 6 ensures that even a 2.4 GHz band can provide exemplary network connectivity.

Secure Good Connections

The short answer is no. It may operate at higher speeds and have some other bells and whistles, but devices will still have a shared medium. And once the data usage goes over the band’s capacity, even WiFi 6’s OFDMA and MU-MIMO won’t be enough to secure stable connections preferred applications all day. This would be a problem in a dense urban environment like apartments, large homes, offices, stadiums, and other establishments that allow multiple devices to connect on a shared medium (i.e., air) will feel the strain. This will also not mitigate the problem in the rural environment due to larger distances and weaker signals. To this end, it still helps to have programs that can prevent network congestion with application awareness.

The lack of application awareness has been one of the main problems that WiFi Forum has been unable to address. It came up with the WMM for bandwidth fairness, but that has so many issues.

Upgrade To WiFi 6

WiFi 6 has many perks, but it’s best to wait until more devices that can support it are released — hopefully by the end of 2020. If you’re eyeing the WiFi 6E routers, know that it’s still in its early adoption, so it also might be best to wait it out until other consumers have reviewed it.

Managed Wi-Fi: The Tier 2-3 MSO story


Originally appearing in LightReading.com, November 30, 2020,
By DAVID STRAUSS, Principal Broadband Success Partners

“Wi-Fi is the Internet. The Internet is Wi-Fi.” So said one of the cable executives we recently interviewed. This sentiment captures how consumers view their in-home experience. It’s this perception that shapes the consumer-operator relationship: inbound call frequency, customer satisfaction levels, churn rates, etc. Given this reality, operators must strive to deliver the best possible Wi-Fi experience for their customers.

To gain a deeper understanding of the managed Wi-Fi actions and attitudes of Tier 2-3 MSOs, we interviewed 11 cable executives during Q4 2020. This research captured diverse perspectives both in terms of operator size and footprint. Those with population coverage of 1 million+, classified as “large mid-sized operators,” accounted for 27% of the executives we interviewed. “Small mid-sized operators,” each covering populations of 200,000 to 999,999, represented 37% of those interviewed. The remaining 36% were classified as “small operators.” These MSOs provide service in the Midwest (40%), Southeast (27%), Northeast (13%), South (13%) and Northwest (7%).

Solution launch

Ten of the 11 service providers have already launched residential managed Wi-Fi and the eleventh will do so by year-end. Two operators introduced their solution five years ago while five operators did so last year or this year. Dissatisfied with their initial vendor partner, three operators replaced their original solution or will do shortly. Two of these three operators are amongst the smallest we interviewed.

Service provider benefits

When asked about the benefits they’ve realized by offering a residential managed Wi-Fi solution, the executives cited increased revenue, improved customer experience and reduced churn as the three most important. Small mid-sized operators particularly valued reduced churn, with 75% of that group choosing it.


Service provider challenges

As you can see here, a variety of challenges have stood in the way of most of the operators fully realizing these benefits, although two indicated that they haven’t experienced any challenges.


The monitoring challenge was described in several ways. For example, the Wi-Fi vendor with its own systems is not integrated with the operator’s HSD monitoring system. One executive from a small mid-sized operator said he would like to receive a quality-of-service score to proactively help customers. This would be helpful in situations where the quality of a customer’s service degrades due to a neighbor getting service, for example.

Installation issues differ depending upon the use of a self-install or technician-enabled approach. For the former, there are coverage risks if the customers places pods incorrectly. One executive views self-install as a “big waste of resources.” That same executive now takes a “concierge approach” by having technicians fully walk each home to place pods properly and explain the portal. But reliance on technicians isn’t without installation challenges – particularly during a pandemic.

Customer benefits

Next we asked “Which of these features are most important to your customers?” Not surprisingly, every executive said “Wi-Fi coverage throughout the house” is important. Almost half noted that their customers value having the “ability to prioritize and control access for specific applications, devices and users.” One small operator who serves the Bible Belt noted that their customers especially value having parental controls.


Customer satisfaction levels

Over 80% of those interviewed view their customers’ satisfaction with their solution as either high (55%) or very high (27%). The two executives who gave it a moderate grade say they will be re-launching their solution with another vendor soon.

The reasons given for very high/high ratings are:

  • In-home coverage is high. We generously place beacons when walking the entire house.
  • Our managed Wi-Fi solution (over a separate device) provides a better customer experience
  • It’s a plug & play solution
  • Customer application is evolved
  • Customers are reporting satisfaction. Yet, we can do a better job of explaining app features.

Even though customers are generally very satisfied, there’s still room for improvement. Here are the steps cited by some of the executives we interviewed:

  • Design and implement smarter self-healing networks; currently researching advanced options.
  • Integrate monitoring, which would drive quicker resolution (e.g. single screen for CSRs).
  • Improve the installation experience (in conjunction with CableLabs).
  • Introduce a customer application (coming from the vendor).

One-box vs. two-box

Several executives opined about a one-box versus a two-box solution. According to an executive at a small mid-sized operator, his experience with one vendor “revealed the flaw of a single-box solution. Wi-Fi specs change rapidly while those for a basic modem do not.” The preference for a two-box solution, particularly in the PON world, was voiced by others. For example, another executive did not like embedded Wi-Fi on PON tech -– requiring reliance on an element managing system. “There’s a risk of the modem getting hot and interfering with the Wi-Fi chip set,” the exec said.

Looking ahead to Wi-Fi 6

Another vendor-related issue which surfaced is the view that several suppliers offer excellent hardware while others have the best software. As such, some service providers have lobbied for vendor partnerships to deliver optimized solutions. This trend is expected to evolve further with Wi-Fi 6.

As one executive at a large mid-sized operator stated, “the hardware purchased and used could be independent of the software. By decoupling, you can put better software in boxes and not rely on the less desirable all-in-one offerings.” Another executive also touted the expected advantages: “With Wi-Fi 6 next year, we can improve the customer experience even more.”

David Strauss, Principal, Broadband Success Partners

Managed Wi-Fi: Why it’s never been more important


By Greg Owens
Originally Appearing in, October 28, 2020, LightReading.com

A July 2020 study from Statistica reports that 58% of Americans are working from home at least one day a week, with 44% working from home every day. Before the pandemic, only 17% were working from home five days a week.

Apart from the normal challenges and distractions associated with working from home – finding a quiet location, juggling schedules and avoiding binge-watching – one in seven Americans (15%) are also dealing with daily Internet connectivity issues and more than a half (53%) are experiencing issues at least once a month, according to anApril 2020 report from Waveform.

The challenge with consumer-grade solutions

For some people, one possible solution is to buy more (or better) technology. After heading to their local electronics store or visiting their favorite online retailer, these consumers are greeted by a wide array of Wi-Fi routers, extenders, boosters, repeaters and mesh systems – all promising to deliver better coverage and throughput. But do these products always deliver on that guarantee? Not necessarily.

In reality, adding more technology makes things more complicated, not better. Then, when the Internet service provider (ISP) is called for help, customers find there’s none available because their newly purchased technology often lacks the necessary remote troubleshooting capabilities.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Managed Wi-Fi provides a better customer experience

At the end of the day, consumers want two things when they are working from home: a stable connection and adequate coverage for every connected device in their home. Truth be told, most people would prefer to get both things from a single company.

A good managed Wi-Fi solution, available from an ISP, offers four things to consumers:

  • Simplicity: A reliable Wi-Fi system, validated and provided by the ISP, removes the stress for consumers of having to evaluate a complex array of products and make their own purchase.
  • Security: Automatic firmware updates and integrated gateway-based security (that offers protection for all connected devices) provides peace of mind for consumers.
  • Affordability: Modest monthly payments, instead of the steep upfront costs associated with purchasing a Wi-Fi system, are much appreciated.
  • Support: Product warranties and 24/7 omni-channel technical support (e.g., phone, online chat or mobile app) are valuable should any technical issues arise.

The impact of Wi-Fi 6 on managed Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi 6 standard (aka 802.11ax) includes more than 50 new enhancements, most of them designed to improve data rates, capacity, coverage and power efficiency.

Consumer-grade Wi-Fi routers and gateways, some costing hundreds of dollars, are available to support the growing number of compatible consumer devices (e.g., Samsung Galaxy S10, iPhone 11/12, iPad pro and most new laptops). Offering a Wi-Fi 6-powered system can be a huge differentiator for ISPs, especially if it is part of a managed Wi-Fi offer that provides consumers with an alternative that is more affordable – and comes with premium technical support and a comprehensive warranty.

Greg Owens, Product Marketing Director, Calix

Wireless evolution: The big tech advances supercharging Wi-Fi 6, 6E, 7


By William Van Winkle 
September 8, 2020, Venturebeat.com

A major U.S. Federal Communications Commission ruling in April unleashed 6 GHz for unlicensed use — a huge boost for expanding Wi-Fi’s potential. The floodgates for products and solutions that will use next-generation Wi-Fi capabilities are only now starting to open. Consumers and businesses alike should be ready. Globally, 59% of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022. So whether your interest is personal entertainment or corporate productivity, understanding recent and coming changes to Wi-Fi is key for smarter planning and choices in everything from AR/VR headsets to enabling remote workers and complex IoT.

KEY POINTS

  • Wi-Fi 6 adoption is pervasive across consumer and business worlds, but still in early stages.
  • Key differences in Wi-Fi generations involve radio bands, channel widths, number of bits used in quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), and implementation of multiple-in/multiple-out (MIMO).
  • Wi-Fi 6/6E offers incremental gains in single-client performance but big leaps in multi-device environments, including homes.
  • Wi-Fi 7 arrives by 2024, promising maximum throughput exceeding 30 Gbps.

To understand Wi-Fi in general and how newest generations improve on their predecessors, let’s examine a few key specifications.

Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), launched in 2007, shows its age but remains serviceable for less demanding environments. A quick refresher on its vital stats provides a useful baseline for appreciating Wi-Fi’s evolutionary advances.

  • Bands. Wi-Fi 4 operates on 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. 2.4 GHz tends to provide longer coverage ranges, because it uses longer wavelengths (although this can be counterbalanced in 5 GHz access points and clients by using additional antennas). However, 5 GHz performs better at shorter ranges, in part because 2.4 GHz channels tend to be narrower and more crowded with connected devices. 2.4 GHz also struggles with coexistence with other wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth.
  • 20 MHz and 40 MHz channels. Wi-Fi 4 doubled the maximum channel bandwidth from 802.11b’s 20 MHz. That’s important, because wider bandwidths handle more traffic.
  • QAM. Digital quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) transmits telecommunications data through symbols, each of which contain a given number of bits. More bits per signal means more data being conveyed in a given cycle. A 64-QAM system conveys 6 bits per symbol.
  • Multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO). MIMO is a wireless technique for sending and receiving multiple radio signals over the same channel. MIMO uses multiple antennas at each end to harness this “multi-path propagation” and achieve higher overall throughput. More antennas generally mean higher performance. Wi-Fi 4 allowed for 4×4 MIMO, meaning four antennas each for receiving and transmitting.

Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) arrived in 2013. It dispensed with the 2.4 GHz band and only used 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 4 used a single-user (SU) MIMO scheme. That means a device could only transmit to one receiving device at a time. Wi-Fi 5 hopped to multi-user (MU-MIMO), opening the door to much more efficient handling of multiple clients from one router or access point. Maximum channel width increased to 160 MHz and modulation to 256-QAM. The number of spatial streams doubled from four to eight (although few if any access points ever implemented more than four). The PHY rate (the bandwidth of the network adapter interface) took a massive 11x leap to 6.9 Gbps, yielding a practical MAC throughput of 4.49 Gbps, compared to 390 Mbps for Wi-Fi 4. Again, these are theoretical rates, not what users saw in real life.

The new now: Wi-Fi 6 and (soon) 6E

Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) in August 2019. Based just on top-line specs, the improvements over Wi-Fi 5 seem modest. For a single user, Wi-Fi 6 is only 37% faster — and that’s with adding back 2.4 GHz spectrum alongside 5 GHz support. Channel bandwidth tops out at 40 MHz under 2.4 GHz, but reaches a full 160 MHz in 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 6 steps into 1024-QAM, preserves support for eight spatial streams (8×8), and also does MU-MIMO. When maxed out, Wi-Fi 6 yields a maximum data rate of 9.6 Gbps.

If that doesn’t sound worth an upgrade, hold on. Think about how few Wi-Fi devices were on your home network a decade ago. Most of us could count them on one hand. Today, the number has probably doubled and will likely multiply in the coming years. Imagine trying to carry on conversations with multiple people in a crowded room simultaneously. With Wi-Fi 6, you not only can (magically) talk to multiple people at the same time, you can speak and listen more efficiently, so conversations move faster.

Wi-Fi 6 introduces orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), a cumbersome mouthful that allows routers to subdivide channels into smaller radio bands called resource units (RUs). Different RUs can service different client devices for better support of crowded device environments and/or support different data streams to the same device, which can help lower latency. Wi-Fi 6’s combination of OFDMA and MU-MIMO, which now supports multi-device communication in both directions, is particularly powerful.

Wi-Fi 6 further optimizes for crowded environments with a feature called Overlapping Basic Service Sets (OBSS). With previous Wi-Fi generations, client devices would test if traffic was using a given radio channel before transmitting. If so, they would wait until the channel was clear, whether that traffic came from the user’s network or another competing/overlapping network in the same space. That’s good for easing congestion, bad for latency rates. Rather than waiting until all traffic is gone from a channel before proceeding, OBSS allows the router/access point to “color” traffic by network. The user’s network might be blue and a competing network red. (These are visual metaphors, not literal coloring of IP packets.) If red traffic appears, the router can go ahead and still allow blue traffic, thus increasing reliability and lowering latency.

OBSS will prove critical across a range of applications. One is the growing field of remote surgery, where video must be at the highest possible resolution and with the lowest possible lag. A 2014 study found that “latencies ?200 ms are ideal for telesurgery; 300 ms is also suitable.” Wi-Fi 6 testing often finds latency rates below 40 ms.

Similarly, VR applications have long struggled against virtual reality sickness, in which frame rates, resolution, and latency can be important contributing factors. The higher bandwidth and lower latency of Wi-Fi 6 can mitigate these issues. Gaming will also benefit from Wi-Fi 6, especially in genres like first-person shooters and rhythm games, where split-second accuracy is critical.

Improvements in congestion, density, security

Wi-Fi 6 gets smarter about reducing wireless congestion. Every client device sends out a periodic ping to the router, giving its identification and status. Imagine a teacher trying to take roll, saying, “Who’s here?” If 20 kids answer simultaneously, it’s chaos. Wi-Fi 6 implements Target Wake Time, allowing routers to schedule when devices can ping their data. Also, fewer device wake-ups can translate to longer device battery lives.

Device density improves, too. Consider IoT environments packed with smart devices, such as manufacturing floors or military theaters filled with troops and ordnance. Hundreds of devices may operate within a few square meters (including battery-powered devices, which will benefit from lower power consumption) all trying to connect at full speed with a single access point. Wi-Fi 6 makes this possible at sustained, previously impossible performance levels.

For security, Wi-Fi 6 relies on WPA3, which remedies some of WPA2’s susceptibilities to brute force attacks on pass-phrases and the ability for malicious users to perform packet capture in public hotspots. WPA3 enables Wi-Fi Enhanced Open, which preserves encryption on an otherwise open network, alleviating some need for security through VPNs. This will make public wireless computing, as well as high-traffic work environments (think office hoteling and headquarters meeting rooms) much safer and more convenient.

In the year since launch of the spec, we now have a fair number of high-end (and backward-compatible) routers that support the spec. However, in January 2021, expect Wi-Fi 6E’s arrival. Wi-Fi 6E takes advantage of the April 2020 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to open 1200 MHz of radio spectrum around 6 GHz for unlicensed use. This will enable another seven 160 MHz channels.

Wi-Fi 6E preserves all Wi-Fi 6 features and adds a third radio band at 6 GHz. This extra bandwidth will be increasingly valuable to high-data rate applications, particularly those with high-def video components. We mentioned virtual reality, but augmented reality will also benefit. So, too, will service providers offering things such as in-vehicle entertainment and high-speed device tethering. Wi-Fi 6 enables 4K and higher video feeds, with more cameras connecting into fewer access points, thus saving on infrastructure costs.

It may take longer for 6E to become mainstream, as conventional applications and environments may not need the extra traffic legroom.

Looking ahead: Wi-Fi 7

Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) is expected to arrive in 2024. This latest evolution could be the Gigabit Ethernet-killer you’ve been waiting for.

Part of this will stem from adoption of 4096-QAM and part from an ability to work across 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz simultaneously, rather than hopping singly to the best-possible option. Wi-Fi 7 will embrace up to 320 MHz channel bandwidths and 16 spatial streams. Interestingly, as the IEEE’s candidate features document discusses, wider channels are not always better. But the issues with very wide channels can be mitigated with simultaneous multi-band operation. All this will more than quadruple Wi-Fi 7’s maximum theoretical data rate to over 46 Gbps, with expected real-world bandwidth up to 30 Gbps shared across many devices.

Video will be a huge beneficiary. 8K video uses four times as many pixels as 4K, and many people likely will need multiple streams delivered. Wi-Fi 7 is expected to triple Wi-Fi 6’s speeds across twice the number of frequencies, in part due to the ability to transmit and receive simultaneously across the same frequency as well as across multiple bands. Again: faster speeds, more devices, and lower latency. Everything that benefited under Wi-Fi 6 and 6E gets better in this next release.

First-gen Wi-Fi 7 chipsets are expected in late 2023, but there’s a long road for Wi-Fi 6/6E iterations to play out before production-ready Wi-Fi 7. Still, there’s a lot to be excited about. If industry leaders like Deloitte, Cisco, Intel and others are correct, Wi-Fi and 5G will co-exist and play a critical role in providing uninterrupted, dramatically better performance for AI, edge, and cloud applications benefitting consumers, mobile workers, and organizations alike.

Paradigm shift: Five connectivity markets to be revolutionised by Wi-Fi 6E

Test Caption 

Originally Appearing in Corrs Chambers Westgarth, July 13 2020.
Authors Daniel Thompson, James North

State of the art ‘smart building’ technology has rapidly become a key differentiator for all stakeholders in the real estate value-chain – owners, operators, tenants and end users. However, as building technology becomes more complex, building developers and operators face new challenges that require technology-specific skill sets to address.

The data-driven ‘smart buildings’ of tomorrow will be made possible by the core technologies of Industry 4.0 – namely, 5G, IoT, AI and cloud. They will offer unprecedented customisation and control, operational efficiencies and cost saving, and will also generate valuable data sets. Smart building technology will use fleets of IoT sensors, machine learning and data analytics to learn occupant preferences, monitor occupant activity, connect physical and electronic identity, provide digital design tools, and automate ‘operational’ building technology (e.g. climate control, lighting, fire, and security).

COVID-19 has brought many of the benefits of smart buildings into acute focus: automated and remotely managed building systems have minimised the need for onsite staff during lock-down, and technologies such as thermal cameras, occupancy monitoring systems and dynamic space allocation management offer innovative solutions to safely return to work. However, with these benefits come a number of new challenges that require technology-specific skill sets to address, for example:

  • IoT devices used in smart buildings, and their connection to various cloud environments, present a far greater attack area for hackers to gain access to building systems, and the interconnectedness of building systems will increase the risk of harm that may be caused by cyber breaches;
  • the data sets generated by smart building sensors and analytics systems are likely to contain personal information of individual occupants or visitors and will require rigorous attention at the design stage and ongoing controls to ensure privacy compliance; and
  • the design, integration and lifecycle management of smart building technology will involve an increasing number of vendor solutions and greater complexity to manage internally.

Many developers and operators will not have the internal capability to address these challenges and, for this reason, procurement and management of smart building technology is increasingly outsourced to specialist building technology contractors, or ‘Master Systems Integrators’ (MSIs). However, the procurement approach to (and commercial and contractual model for) engaging an MSI is not well established.

Traditionally, building developers have contracted numerous technology vendors for a range of particular building systems, generally under the head building contractor and after the building planning and design stages are complete. As technology moves from the periphery to the centre of future building design, early engagement with an MSI will be integral to ensuring that technology solutions are adapted to meet business objectives and overall building strategy.

MSI engagements will become far more complex than traditional technology contracts, and will often involve outsourcing end-to-end responsibility for design, build, commissioning, and ongoing management, support and evolution of smart building technology. Developers and operators of smart buildings should be rethinking their procurement and contracting approach to technology implementation in order to reap the benefits promised by smart building technology.

Outcomes-based procurement

The reality of most building systems today is that information is siloed in individual systems. A core aim of smart buildings is to integrate building systems to enable data flows from these systems to be collected, analysed and used in real-time to support desired outcomes. For example, a business objective may be to identify whether a meeting room is occupied. There may be many ways of achieving such an objective, using data from one or more building systems:

  • data from a meeting room scheduler may show a room is booked;
  • data from a lighting sensor may show that a room is unoccupied; and
  • data from workplace tracking systems may show that the scheduled attendees are not in the building, or in another meeting room.

Generally, when procuring smart building technology, developers and operators should focus on developing clear business outcomes or capability ‘use cases’, rather than prescribing particular technology requirements to achieve these outcomes. This ‘business outcomes’ procurement approach is well suited to the smart building context, as it allows MSIs to utilise their specialist knowledge of legacy, new and on-the-horizon technology, and design and integration expertise, to propose cost-effective solutions. This approach will also speed up the time to issue an RFP, and increase the scope for MSIs to innovate and compete to provide the best value solution that meets the required business outcomes.

Engagement model

There is no ‘industry standard’ model of MSI engagement, and contracts take on a number of forms. However, the MSI engagement model will expand beyond simple consulting services, or delivering integrations between particular building systems, and will often encompass end-to-end responsibility for the design, integration, operation and lifecycle of all building technology systems.
The characteristics of deeper MSI engagement models will generally include:

End-to-end design & build responsibility. The MSI will be responsible for designing and delivering a turn-key technology solution that meets the customer’s requirements, including responsibility for ensuring all third party systems incorporated in the solution are fit for purpose. This approach shifts design risk from the developer to the MSI, whose expertise in the vendor market leaves it best placed to recommend the right systems, and removes the opportunity for finger pointing between vendors if requirements are not met. This model of engagement is generally contracted on a fixed-price / fixed-scope basis.

Project responsibility. The MSI will have contractual responsibility for delivering the technology solution to meet a project timetable, and for project managing third party technology vendors and the inputs from the building owner and other stakeholders. In the case of a new construction or renovation, the MSI will need to develop its project timetable around the construction timetable, and work closely with the construction project team to identify design and access requirements. Early engagement in the building design stage is essential for ensuring that the technology and construction projects progress in harmony.

Post-commissioning ops. Traditional facilities management functions will be transformed and in many cases replaced by smart building systems, which require specialist IT and data expertise to operate and maintain that may be beyond the abilities of in-house facilities management and IT teams. Accordingly, MSIs will have a greater role to play in managing the operation of smart building technology than traditional ‘operational technology’ contractors, which may include IT support and maintenance services, technology vendor management (including management of licensing, vendor software support, and end-of-life issues), cyber security, unified data management, privacy compliance, optimising and improving building operations through data analytics, and training services for in-house teams. A key part of the value MSIs offer in the operational phase of a smart building is to connect building stakeholders to the data generated by building systems in meaningful ways, and assisting operational decision-making based on such data. Performance of such ongoing operational services will be driven by service levels, which may include metrics for systems availability, energy efficiency, preventative maintenance, systems security, and customer satisfaction, among others.

Upgrade and enhancement. Building lifecycles are significantly longer than technology lifecycles, and the technology in smart buildings will evolve in time. In many cases, technology upgrade or enhancement work will commence from the moment the building is commissioned. There is often a gap in perspective between the design and build teams and the stakeholders most invested in the operational use of the building, and this will often result in the MSI development team being engaged in continual development or re-configuration of building systems to meet operational needs. MSI contracts need to contemplate more than the initial solution delivery, and include terms governing how future projects or continuous delivery will be governed. Engagement models may include minor enhancement work built into operations and support services, priced technology roadmap options, gain-share mechanisms for joint investments, and/or agile project development regimes.

Looking ahead

How a smart building owner chooses to engage with a MSI will depend on a number of factors, including the complexity of their technology requirements and their in-house capabilities. Although engagements with MSIs are likely to continue to involve significant consulting work on an hourly rate basis, and piecemeal integration projects, the trend in MSI engagements for truly integrated building systems will shift towards outsourcing end-to-end responsibility for all building technology, both in the delivery and operations stages.

There will always be a cost for pushing greater contractual responsibility on an MSI, but as technology and the smart building industry continues to develop, the value in deeper partnerships with such service providers will become more compelling, and MSIs will become more accustomed to accepting and capable of managing such risk.