CBRE is the largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in the world, and is headquartered in California. Cris Kimbrough is driving CBRE’s in-building connectivity efforts for their clients in a variety of industry verticals, to re-educate and advise them on the technologies and applications that are changing the business models, capabilities and efficiencies across their 3bn ft²+ portfolio of commercial real estate.
Can you tell me a bit about CBRE’s plans for indoor wireless connectivity – where do you think the biggest opportunities are?
On a practical level, CBRE is launching an in-building solutions programme. To try and streamline and simplify the process of getting in-door wireless connectivity and in-building solutions provisioned for our clients – the property owners – and it’s a big undertaking! We manage about three billion square feet in the U.S., so the portfolio we’re dealing with is really variable; it can be anything from 5,000 ft2 to well over a million square feet. The programme will be designed with in-door wireless connectivity in mind with a company called IndoorVu, to help us with that process. They’ll be doing the benchmarking for properties that we’re consulting on; they have a unique approach that goes beyond just the RF benchmarking. So, we’ve got a programme around it, we’ve got a strategy, and we’re educating our clients about the need for indoor wireless connectivity and what it enables in your building.
There are biggest opportunities, particularly in the short term, with implementing these systems and helping those property owners who are feeling the pain of not having indoor wireless connectivity. We also have clients who are forward thinking in terms of technology and are looking to be proactive about solutions; they already understand the need for indoor wireless connectivity, and are looking to stay ahead of the game. All of this is happening across the spectrum of property types within commercial real estate: healthcare, multi-tenant offices, hospitality and so on.
....and what do you think will be the greatest challenges and difficulties?
The greatest challenge is getting the message out about the importance of in-door wireless connectivity. We’re still at the educational stage with clients, showing them what this technology can provide. We’re not just talking about cellular, although that is a component of it, what else can you do with it and what does it mean in terms of keeping your building competitive in the market place and being most efficient?
We’re also talking about the Internet of Things, building automation, and the ability to gather data and know your building like you’ve never been able to know it before, so that you can implement efficiencies and secure networks to deliver value to tenants. IT, cellular, all these systems are converging. Getting those groups of people that have worked in their own silos – whether that’s in IT, cellular, operations –together is a great difficulty.
What will these new opportunities support and enable the real estate sector to achieve?
It will allow these buildings to realise a greater efficiency, and when you think about all the opportunities around IoT and smart buildings and building automation, and how they all rely on this connectivity, it’s a huge opportunity to be part of the connected economy, which is becoming even more connected. It will owners to create value for their properties – through deploying IoT and smart building applications, making the building more efficient – and to provide services to their tenants that they haven’t been able to provide before.
Usually it falls to the tenant to look after the network, but with the use of data growing, and around 80% of that being in-building this is changing. The current and prevailing mentality is that it doesn’t have to be dealt with by owners, but because of the way data is being used, buildings are becoming more involved in connectivity, and owners now need to deliver better satisfaction to their tenants.
How is the real estate industry being changed by this ‘fourth utility’, is it forcing them to think about things differently?
With broadband and Wi-Fi, coming together with cellular under a common infrastructure, systems are converging – so it’s more about how you get the best connectivity for the property.
I don’t think the real estate industry is entirely there yet on the buy-in for being the fourth utility, but as more property owners become focused on how they achieve the connectivity they need to enable all these other systems, it will be in traction over time. I think we’re heading towards the top of the rollercoaster now.
Who do you feel is making waves in the wireless connectivity space? Could be individuals or types of industries (eg smart cities) or companies/technologies (eg CBRS, MuLTEFire etc)
I’m involved in a building task group within the CBRS Alliance as the possible next technology to be implemented in buildings; we’re looking at MuLTE Fire as well, so the idea that we could have LTE secure networks in buildings and private networks to help enable all these other technologies is interesting. This is what we’re looking at on the request of our clients – they want to know if they invest now, are they going to have to ditch it in five years, so we’re always keeping an eye on the future and what the next round of technologies is going to look like, what part of the infrastructure that we’re implementing now will be redundant, and what can be kept and used in the future. That’s part of the education process and it’s something we always get asked when we talk to clients, ‘if I invest now what happens next? Am I spending money on something that’s only going to be good for three to five years?’ The value of CBRS and those types of technologies that deploy LTE in a different way is the ability to bring telecom carriers to a property without having the provisioning of service for us in the way that it is now. These technologies are so important for neutral host and being able to bring the best solutions to the client – the idea that getting all four carriers in the building is possible.
The other is the smart buildings group we have here at CBRE, called the CBRE ESI; they’re a very smart group and we always work closely with them. They can implement the technologies that ride off the infrastructure that we are trying to educate our clients about, so we’re keeping an eye on smart buildings as well.
What kinds of companies or solutions are someone like CBRE keen to work with?
We’re always looking for companies that are collaborative, that want to come in and work with us. Our mantra is that we’re bringing world-class solutions to our clients, so we’re only looking for companies that are bringing new solutions to the market place that we can leverage to bring the best solutions to our clients. We’re always looking at companies that are creative and have good relationships with the carriers and with leaders in the industry. It is quite a crowded industry right now, with a lot of money flowing into it. We’ve spoken to a lot of firms who are looking to make investments into in-building connectivity, so there’s a lot of capital and a lot of players. We’re only looking for those that think outside the box with new solutions.