February 2008

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Dr. Anand K. IyerEMAIL INTERVIEW  Dr. Anand K. Iyer & Ken Sinclair

Dr. Anand K. Iyer, President In-Building Wireless Alliance

Dr. Iyer is the founder and President of the In-Building Wireless Alliance. In January 2008 he joined WellDoc Communications as President and COO. He has more than 20 years of consulting, industrial, and academic experience in the areas of business strategy development, network engineering, economic modeling, service development, and value network analysis. He was most recently a Director in the Wireless Communications Practice at PRTM Management Consultants, where for more than a decade he focused on helping companies in both the commercial and government sectors capitalize on the convergence of three mega trends: Internet ubiquity, emerging wireless technologies, and innovative business models.

The In–Building Wireless Alliance

The IBWA formed informally in 2004 from a few in-building wireless product and service providers and commercial real estate owners. We felt that there was an inherent value in the implementation of in-building wireless and we decided to set out to quantify it.

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Sinclair: Why do you consider in-building wireless to be so important?

Iyer: In-building wireless enables people to communicate reliably, regardless of where they are inside a commercial office building. We’ve grown to expect 100% coverage in hotels, hospitals, and such. Yet we still accept having to hang up or losing a call as soon as we enter a commercial parking garage or an elevator in an office building. It shouldn’t be so- and in other growing parts of the world like Hong Kong and Dubai, it isn’t. They’re pouring wireless into the concrete in those places. The U.S. has a lot of catching up to do.

Despite the ever-growing need for always-on connectivity, most commercial buildings in the U.S. have not yet adopted wireless hook-ups. Without a reliable indoor signal, we are bound by cables and have to rely on wishful thinking to keep calls online.

And it’s not just individual productivity that takes a hit when buildings are ill-equipped to handle the new-generation requirements. Public safety officials and emergency first responders are also affected by inadequate people-locating services and poor emergency communication coverage, both of which could potentially lead to compromised life-saving planning and rescue operations.

Building owners, too, encounter many disadvantages from staying with the wired way. They risk losing tenants who refuse to sign leases without WiFi capabilities, and they have difficulty tracking and consolidating data about in-building energy consumption, security, or other feeds that require frequent monitoring but reside on different IT platforms.

In-building wireless presents a leap forward in ubiquitous connectivity and mobility.  While the effort has been mostly grass-roots until now, several prominent companies are banding together to promote in-building wireless and establish standards for the industry to adopt.  The In-Building Wireless Alliance is one of the leaders of this coordinated movement.

Sinclair: How did the In-Building Wireless Alliance get started?

Iyer: The IBWA formed informally in 2004 from a few in-building wireless product and service providers and commercial real estate owners. We felt that there was an inherent value in the implementation of in-building wireless and we decided to set out to quantify it. We knew what it cost to install, but what was the value (per square foot)? What would be the optimal business model- meaning who pays what? No one knew. So that’s what we decided to collectively find out, and along the way we’ve learned more than we bargained for.

In 2005, the IBWA conducted a comprehensive study to quantify the potential return on investment for all stakeholders of in-building communications. The results were eye-opening. Even by conservative standards the long-term ROI is several times the cost of implementation. Right now we’re also researching several in-building wireless “pilot buildings” that will provide actual savings and performance results and will help us define standard product and service road maps and configurations and test innovative next-generation solutions. We’re excited about what we think we will learn.

We’re now a “one-stop shop” for innovative in-building wireless ideas, education, thought leadership, and intellectual property development through ongoing research, new solutions, and new partnerships. This working relationship is based on a novel business strategy: getting key players together based on financial incentives and implications. By definition, collaboration by these industry players is required for success. It’s been a great success so far. The IBWA is also currently working with federal, state, and local lawmakers and public safety officials to act as a mechanism to adopt standards and encourage investment. 

Sinclair: What is the future market of in-building wireless?

Iyer: Gartner Inc. and ABI Research both predict the market for in-building wireless systems will hit or surpass $1 billion in 2010, doubling from $500 million in annual sales in 2007.

According to IBWA research of more than 70 participants from the real estate and public safety communities, the areas designated as having the greatest need for coverage improvements include parking garages, elevators, and open areas. In addition, building owners rated the ability to coordinate with local emergency responders as the most important public safety feature.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Sinclair: What’s driving the implementation of in-building wireless in the market?

Iyer: Key events have driven demand for in-building wireless solutions, and the economics of in-building wireless are proving too good to pass up. The availability and cost effectiveness of home wireless solutions is driving demand within multi-tenant commercial buildings, and competition is high among building owners for leases and renewals. Katrina and 9/11 both highlighted the need for seamless communication, and outcries from the public safety sector (police, fire, etc.) now have some listeners.  Lastly, rising energy prices and a global effort to be more “green” are forcing tenants and building owners alike to question their energy usage and ability to conserve. All of these forces have created a perfect storm of sentiment demanding true in-building wireless coverage.

Real estate firms and commercial property developers are quickly getting up to speed on the advantages of having their buildings WiFi-ready—and they are beginning to understand that in-building wireless network conversion can translate into big financial gains.

Analysis done by the IBWA shows additional value of $5 per square foot per year—with 5X ROI. Public safety savings is estimated at $59–$103M annually for fire emergencies alone. In a traditional office, in-building wireless can reduce the number of access points needed to achieve full coverage by 50–80%, and improve throughput by more than 200%. In-building wireless reduces the incidence of dropped calls and improves reception in building “dead zones” such as elevators and garages created by newer building materials and architectures.

Sinclair: Can in-building wireless improve someone’s bottom line?

Iyer: Absolutely. A typical building will realize an annual benefit of $4–16M from an investment of approximately a quarter of a million dollars. This will be achieved through improved productivity and operational efficiency combined with lower capital costs. Just as important, in-building wireless can impact an organization’s top line as well.  For those commercial building owners who make the investment and create a services relationship with the wireless infrastructure providers and their tenants, all parties win.

Sinclair: Can you talk more about the energy savings or ‘green’ aspect?  

Iyer: Energy costs account for about 38% of commercial office building expenses. With energy prices continuing to climb rapidly, knowing how to most efficiently light, heat, or cool a property can yield significant savings. For example, sensors could link to wireless networks and automatically determine if heating, cooling, or lighting systems should be adjusted. The same concept can be applied to other monitoring systems such as parking garage lighting and escalators, so that usage is turned down when not in use. And information can be bundled into one feed, which ultimately reduces overall IT costs. We’ve already seen a real estate owner in the IBWA put this into practice, and not only are their energy costs going down, but tenant satisfaction rates have gone way up.

Sinclair: What if WiFi leapfrogs In-Building Wireless or a carrier goes out of business?

Iyer: WiFi can be part of in-building wireless. If executed strategically, the infrastructure investment will accommodate future modifications and additions—and by starting out carrier-agnostic, you mitigate the risk.


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