Flexible office and co-working setups have been regarded by many, including the ICT channel, as unprofitable and unsustainable due to their lavish setups and thrown-in perks to give them a compelling appeal. However, with governments desperate to kick start their respective economies post pandemic, the shared workspace landscape is very much “in Vogue.” That said, there has been a shift in expectations vis a vis commercial leasing and procurement strategies and this is having a ripple effect on the multi-tenant building supply chain in its entirety.
After three lockdowns and regional tier systems, many businesses are nervous about committing to long-term leases for fear of further disruption. Moreover, they are demanding flexible, short-term contracts along with pleasant working environments that are Covid-safe, fully equipped and with an abundance of public amenities/breakout areas.
Apart from redefining tenancy expectations, Covid-19 has also reinforced our dependency on cloud computing and agile working, both of which require reliable internet access, so high-speed broadband is a must in the shared office concept. However, just as important, arguably more so, is reliable 4G coverage — yet many mixed-use buildings are failing on that score. Ensuring reliable coverage in these property types is down to the building owner/manager who has limited expertise in this area. As such, there is a largely untapped business opportunity for the ICT channel.
The mid-tier market has been historically ignored by conventional systems integrators, particularly the larger players, because they haven’t been able to cost-effectively cater for the smaller-scale projects. However, with the flexible office market growing, and businesses increasingly pushing mobile only strategies, reliable cellular coverage is no longer a nice to have but an absolute necessity. And not just for regular voice and data services either: reliable mobile coverage is integral to many smart building applications.
Ensuring a strong mobile signal indoors using mobile repeater-style equipment has until recently been challenging because of regulatory constraints, equipment costs and the need for MNO involvement, which resulted in long deployment times. Although commissioning a comms system has become much less arduous since Ofcom relaxed the rules pertaining to the use of mobile repeaters, improving mobile coverage in a building with 200 plus tenants isn’t just a case of “plug and play”. Multiple factors must be taken into account including location, the outdoor network, total number of users requiring connectivity, for what purposes, capacity etc. This is where systems integrator experience is invaluable, because a poorly installed solution will not deliver the desired results.
With many office-based staff obliged to work remotely or in a hybrid environment for almost 18 months, business attitudes towards flexible working practices are changing fast. Not only that, countless organisations are also undergoing corporate restructures, with agile working taking central stage and integral to this is seamless mobile connectivity. With the tier-1 building space shrinking, meeting the comms needs of mid-tier buildings is providing systems integrators and the wider ICT channel with a worthwhile business opportunity. The market is large, covers a range of property times, and what’s more, it forms the backbone of the UK economy.
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.