Broadband is the second service set up by individuals in a new home – only electricity is deemed more important. So why are many property developers and landlords still failing to ensure the quality and reliability of both broadband and mobile services in new buildings?
In an era of ubiquitous mobile coverage, tenants are far from impressed to discover the use of modern insulation and tinted windows effectively blocks any mobile signal entering the building; whilst the lack of good broadband when speeds of 1Gbps are now available, can only be blamed on poor planning.
For landlords, the provision of inadequate communications facilities is beginning to impact rental values and affect tenant perception. With the increasing reliance on smart TVs, Skype and remote working, good communications is not a ‘nice to have’ for tenants, it is essential.
Developers have little leeway when it comes to complying with requirements for insulation and building efficiency; therefore delivering good communications requires planning, good mobile reception and, where possible, fibre connection. Communications is not an add-on option. It is the fourth utility and, as such, needs to be given the same consideration as water, gas and electricity – at the very beginning of any new development project.
Mobile and Internet technologies have transformed virtually every aspect of life over the past decade – including in the home. From smart TVs and internet phones to remote programmable household devices and the multi-channel entertainment experience, the quality and reliability of communications within the home is now a critical consideration for a growing majority of people.
Indeed, homebuyers now rank a fast broadband connection above off-street parking and local amenities when considering a new property and a good connection speed can even add 5% to a property’s value, according to a study by Broadbandchoices.
Almost one fifth (19%) ensure broadband is the first new service they activate when moving in – placing it ahead of gas, 10 per cent, and TV, 8 per cent. Electricity is the only utility to be given a higher priority, with 21 per cent seeking a supplier first. Communication is now a critical factor in property decision making.
While it is no surprise to learn that home buyers routinely check broadband speeds when evaluating a house – how does this affect the rental market? According to the Broadband Speed Test carried out by broadband.co.uk, in March 2014 national average download speeds recorded by users surpassed 20Mbps for the first time; with the UK average speed at 20.63Mbps, with average upload speeds also increasingly to 3.45Mbps.
With ultrafast, even hyperfast, broadband services now available in London, Bristol and Cardiff offering up download speeds up to 1Gbps, tenants are unlikely to be satisfied with a standard broadband service delivering just 2Mbps.
In addition to the broadband issues, growing numbers of landlords are discovering that the use of tinted windows, which incorporate foil in the manufacture of the glass, and foil backed insulation such as Celotex is interfering with mobile signals. These construction methods effectively create a Faraday Cage around the building which results in intermittent or non-existent mobile reception within apartments.
This is creating a growing problem for landlords unable to meet residents’ rising expectations: in an era of declining landline usage – especially amongst tenants who tend to move around more frequently – there is a complete reliance upon, and expectation of, an excellent mobile signal.
Of course this is not an insurmountable problem – but it can be significantly more costly to retrofit a solution than planning for good communications as part of the overall development. To provide tenants with access to high speed services, a developer needs to install fibre to the building – and that needs to be planned early in the build process.
Even before embarking on the build it is important to understand what capability BT has enabled in the area and assess the quality of service delivered by providers. How much choice is on offer to potential tenants? Are services such as ultrafast and hyperfast broadband available? If not, is standard fibre an option? What connection speed is on offer and what is the maximum capacity that can be delivered to the building?
A similar approach needs to be adopted to the mobile signal. To comply with building regulations for well insulated houses, developers often have little option but to use materials that will affect the quality of signal. But blindly building with materials that could effectively wipe out the mobile signal without considering suitable alternatives, will ultimately ruin the tenants experience and reduce the attractiveness and saleability of the accommodation.
Those landlords that take this approach and invest up front in excellent communications are gaining significant market differentiation. While traditionally the onus has been on tenants to activate a new phone line and broadband, a number of savvy landlords in London are now looking to bundle high quality broadband services as part of the overall rental.
The quality of service is guaranteed and the tenant has one less issue to worry about. For tenants who routinely rate broadband in the top five considerations when looking for a new flat – alongside local facilities and distance from the tube – the provision of broadband within the rental agreement is compelling.
So what does the future hold for landlords with buildings that lack a good tenant communication experience? The reality is that at some point in the near future the infrastructure will have to be upgraded to ensure tenants have access to good quality mobile and broadband services. If not, tenants will start to leave and rental values will drop in comparison with equivalent properties with better services. Considering the mobile signal within the property will become increasingly key as network operators expand 4G networks, further extending consumer reliance on the mobile infrastructure.
Property development and construction is set to soar over the next year as a result of the relaxing of planning regulations and the improving economy. But given the torrid financial experiences of the past few years no developer or landlord can afford expensive mistakes – and failing to build high quality communications in to a new build in 2014 would be a very expensive mistake indeed.
Planning ahead and making mobile and broadband communications a fundamental component of the overall design and build process will be key to meeting fast evolving consumer expectations for what is now not only the fourth utility but a key consideration in any property decision.