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Broadband Infrastructure for Commercial Buildings: Technology Options Broadband Infrastructure for Commercial Buildings: Technology Options

Broadband Infrastructure for Commercial Buildings: Technology Options

It is undeniable that widespread deployment of burgeoning technologies and the Internet of Things (“IoT”) is imminent and will change both public and private sector functions in ways that we cannot yet fully imagine. The deployment of these technologies and the opportunities they bring is dependent upon widespread deployment of advanced telecommunications capabilities.

Many communities are seeking to connect local businesses and residents through fiber-optic telecommunications technology. Similarly, IoT networks often require a “backhaul” fiber network. As a result, in a trend that has been accelerating over the past few years, commercial tenants are analyzing the broadband capabilities, including provider and network redundancy, of potential leased space as a key factor when determining where to locate their operations.

This article will discuss several strategic steps for building critical broadband infrastructure, as well as how commercial property owners can address tenants’ needs in a cost-effective manner.

Smart Building Connectivity Solutions

The baseline technology commercial property owners should consider is fiber optics (“fiber”). Fiber is attractive due to being “future-proof” meaning the available bandwidth can be increased without having to change the infrastructure, unlike other modes to deliver broadband such as cable or digital subscriber line (“DSL”). This system could entail a fiber-optic line that reaches a single employer or major development, or could be a fiber ring that circles an entire city. The network can be privately owned, publicly owned, or created through a public-private partnership, and can be constructed and connected to a commercial facility either underground or aerially. Fiber, depending on the electronics used, can carry enormous amounts of data (“bandwidth”).

A second technology that is becoming increasingly important is cellular. In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) unanimously voted to open high-band spectrum for fifth generation (or “5G”) expansion. We are still several years from true 5G deployment, which will require smaller, more numerous towers and antennas (“small cells”). However, once the requisite infrastructure is deployed, 5G mobile connectivity will likely become the societal standard. In addition, because of 5G’s capabilities to penetrate buildings and still provide large amounts of bandwidth, some tenants may choose to simply utilize a wireless connection. Depending on the size of the operation and the data generated, others will require wired and wireless connections.

A third technology for consideration is non-cellular wireless, such as microwave and Wi-Fi. Both of these wireless connections are available without using cellular services. Wi-Fi requires an in-building infrastructure deployment connected to a large bandwidth connection, such as fiber optics, in order to facilitate wireless internet connectivity. There are many companies out there that are now in the business of installing Wi-Fi infrastructure into commercial buildings. Commercial microwave connectivity is essentially a point-to-point connection usually between a tower and roof mount on the building. This technology, formerly disfavored due to technical challenges such as fading signals in rain storms, has improved drastically over the past ten years and now offers a cost effective solution to sites that cannot access or afford a fiber connection.

Tenant Technology Needs

Commercial property owners should seek to understand potential tenant telecommunications needs. Minimal research into tenants’ needs can inform the technology decisions, for example:
  • What types of tenants occupy the commercial space?
  • How much do tenants spend on telecommunications connections? 
  • What are their current broadband speed needs? What are their anticipated needs? 
  • Can you attract a different category of tenant if you increase broadband speeds? 
The initial challenge facing commercial property owners is determining what companies and technologies are available to serve the property. Typically there will be a telephone company and cable company capable of serving the building with a variety of technologies. However, some existing technologies are inadequate, too expensive, or even becoming obsolete, which can be difficult and create frustration. In such instances, City officials can potentially provide assistance by either sharing knowledge of viable commercial options available or offering the service through a fiber optic network that the municipality already owns and/ or operates. Ultimately, if multiple telecommunications companies are available to provide service to the building, pricing will usually be lower and service will be better simply because they have to compete.

Commercial property owners should also not overlook the valuable communications assets that they have available, such as building entrances; lateral connections to fiber and/ or other communications lines; vertical assets – i.e., the roof and flag pole; risers within the building; and the “meet me room” or telecommunications closet. Several of these are explored further below.

Regarding entrances, it is important that there are multiple access points into a building so that, in the event that a tenant needs redundant services, there are two routes available. This is especially critical in the case of a service interruption – essentially, if one form of connectivity is interrupted, there is a back-up connection (“redundancy”). With multiple building entrances, the tenant will not lose service because they will be provided service via the redundant line. This of course means that the building will need two lines (“laterals”) into the facility off of what is called the “backbone” line of the communications network. This backbone line usually is in the street right-of-way in front of the building or in the utility easement in the back of the building. Laterals with two entrance facilities will satisfy even the pickiest tenant regarding redundancy.
Roof rights are also important and they can be utilized for two primary purposes:
  • First, commercial property owners can rent roof rights to either cellular companies, microwave companies or others who have a need to serve the area around and near the building. This provides building owners with a revenue stream and/ or more connectivity to the building. Another option is for commercial property owners to simply allow a telecommunications company that wants to serve the building onto the roof to connect (usually by microwave) to another network so that they can provide service to the building tenants, without other rights.
  • The second use of rooftops is for the installation of risers, which are used to connect multiple floors in a building. This option has value; however that value is not leasable and it must be protected. Ideally, risers should be utilized by multiple telecommunications companies and be connected to the multiple building entrances, which in turn are connected to multiple laterals. Building owners need to make sure there are no choke points on the property. It is a strategy among some telecommunications companies to fill up risers and make them useless for other companies to use, thereby limiting competition. Telecommunications companies will sometimes go further, filling laterals with useless copper in an effort to block competitors from entering the building at all. A commercial property owner must be cognizant of these potential actions and ensure that they prevent telecommunications companies from damaging the value of their property by obstructing risers and laterals in their well-intentioned effort to serve tenants.
The “meet-me-room” or telecommunications closet is typically a place in a commercial building where telecommunications companies interface with building tenants. Once again, this closet should be available to any telecommunications company and should be large enough with sufficient HVAC to allow multiple companies to place equipment in there and serve customers.

If considering an exclusive building arrangement with a telecommunications company it is advisable to have legal counsel on-hand for such negotiations. Legal counsel has experience in the field and is likely to help you negotiate a better deal and avoid contractual nuances and overly long-term commitments that the commercial property owner may not have anticipated.

The overall question for commercial building owners and facility managers when considering smart building infrastructure is what creates value for the tenants. It is expected that tenants will want high-speed, low-cost internet connectivity, but there are several forms of delivery available, from fiber, to cellular, to Wi-Fi, as well as multiple building components that can be used as assets for expansion. When allowing telecommunications companies into the building, owners and managers should also make certain that they are offering tenants a choice and competition. As companies continue to become more technology dependent and new high-tech companies continue to enter into the market, the demands for high-speed connectivity will continue to augment and will best be delivered through redundant connections that likely utilize fiber optics.

Gregory Dunn is a partner with Ice Miller and in the Internet of Things Group. Greg has represented telecommunication clients for more than 33 years, providing legal and strategic assistance to a variety of private and public clients. He has comprehensive knowledge of both public utility and broadband issues and regularly works with clients on Smart City initiatives and public-private partnerships. Greg can be contacted at or 614-462-2339.

Lindsay Miller is an attorney with the Internet of Things Group and the Government Law Group at Ice Miller. With nearly ten years of experience in technology initiatives, Lindsay has a reputation in the broadband and technology arena of being a strong advocate with a successful track record in building relationships with public and private sector stakeholders. Lindsay regularly advises on how to leverage the Internet of Things and Public-Private Partnerships to build smarter cities. This includes providing guidance and counseling to multi-sector leaders as they seek to develop and finance infrastructure, and implement policies to build a smarter city. Lindsay can be contacted at or 614-462-1136.

Ice Miller provides legal solutions for clients, including those involved with Smart Cities, Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAV), the Industrial Internet of Things, the Internet of Health Things, Intelligent Transportation Systems, and many other connected businesses. The proliferation of the IoT creates unprecedented new uses for internet-enabled devices and heightens the demand for high-speed connectivity among residential and commercial users. Our work spans the full broadband pipeline from assisting municipalities that seek to foster economic development and Smart Cities initiatives, to ensuring sufficient broadband connectivity in the corporate site selection process, to working with internet providers and manufacturers of related tech equipment, and more. This experience enables public and private sector clients to stay at the forefront of the IoT revolution. For more information, please visit:

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.
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