Demetrios Barnes is the COO of SmartRent, overseeing operations and business development.
While there is no consensus on what a smart community looks like, and the exact definition varies depending on the industry, the overarching goal remains consistent: providing residents with a unified, technology-based infrastructure to give a confident sense of urban planning that meets environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.
There have been many up-and-coming projects over the last few years, and it is hard for owners to stay focused when there is so much noise. There are two main offerings, however, that are leading the charge and giving us an idea of what smart communities will look like soon and well into the future. Out of all the elements, the ones coming to fruition first and foremost are bulk Wi-Fi and super apps. These elements lay the groundwork for future smart community planning, wider implementation and wider activation.
Wi-Fi, Wherever You Are
The benefits of bulk Wi-Fi provide tenants with a reality where they don’t have to work with the “cable guy.” The solution connects tenants and other personnel to the internet from anywhere within a community. Smart products aren’t only inside the home—they are everywhere throughout a smart community and require constant Wi-Fi access to function. Examples include connectivity for parking, garbage collection, gyms, water, sewer, maintenance and other utilities. This supports the argument that bulk Wi-Fi should be considered a necessary utility, like gas and electricity, in our modern world.
Bulk Wi-Fi is already happening at scale and helping urban planners construct cities. According to the research firm Parks Associates, “apartment builders’ interest in managed high-speed internet grew from 5% for new luxury developments in 2018 to 80% in early 2021.”
Here are some benefits of bulk Wi-Fi.
• Cost Effective For Residents: Similar to the “Costco effect” or employer-sponsored health insurance, purchasing internet in bulk saves money. Instead of paying for Wi-Fi per unit, owners can make a one-time payment for everyone in the community. The payment can be grouped with the rest of a resident’s provided utilities, simplifying their life and saving time.
• Attracts And Retains Residents: Potential tenants view bulk internet as an added benefit because it eliminates yet another bill and third-party installations. It also supports the moving-in experience—a hassle within itself–by allowing residents to work with a residential technician. The in-house technician can be contacted through tenant portals and work with residents to resolve issues quickly, resulting in better overall experiences and increasing the competitive advantage for owners.
• Provides Optimal Connectivity: Having all tenants and devices on the same internet connection can help guarantee high-speed performance. Residents don’t need to stress about different Wi-Fi log-ins in the community, making it easier for them to stay connected while using community amenities.
• Better Operations And Efficiency For Operators: Managers can more accurately monitor usage per resident and adjust accordingly via Wi-Fi-connected sensors. Leak detection and other sensors can continue to work even if the unit is unoccupied, saving owners from paying for preventable property damage.
• Helps Products Live Up To Their Potential: Smart community products are created to be environmentally friendly. Ensuring they have accurate and consistent connections without any disruptions reduces a community’s carbon footprint.
Reliable Wi-Fi connectivity for hubs and smart home devices is important even in the initial stages of building a community. The ideal outcome for any property is to offer these solutions in a new development or add to existing structures as a retrofit.
A Single App For A Single Community
According to Gartner, super apps consolidate and replace multiple apps for customer or employee use. They’ve come to fruition because consumers, understandably, do not want to toggle between different apps to take a single action. We increasingly see apps we already have on our phones going in this direction.
Snapchat originally introduced this with the idea of the “mini app”–bite-sized, third-party apps within the greater Snapchat app. Other social media apps, like Facebook, TikTok and Instagram, allow people to send direct messages, shop, bank and find entertainment. It makes sense that this would be a natural next step for the real estate industry. Zillow, for example, has already announced a “housing super app,” which contributed to the company’s shares going up. Along the same lines as bulk Wi-Fi, a community-wide app would further connect everyone within a smart community to create a more unified experience for both residents and staff.
The future of smart communities sees one “super app” to control all the smart devices and controls that make a resident’s home complete. A super app is designed to be more user-friendly and intuitive with how residents live and interact with technology. It makes the living experience more streamlined, integrated and efficient. For example, if a resident has an issue such as a leak in their home, they would be able to identify the leak and what appliance it’s coming from, call maintenance and schedule an appointment, all with one swipe of a finger. A singular touchpoint for residents enhances the tenant experience and is attractive to prospects.
Smart Communities Are Right Around The Corner
Smart communities are coming sooner than we think, powered by bulk Wi-Fi, super apps and more. Soon, we should see increased momentum in these areas, with investments expected to reach $2.8 trillion by 2027. Already, we see projects from prominent companies like Amazon Web Services, which recently announced a smart city program. Culdesac Tempe, a $170 million car-free neighborhood with 761 residential units, launched the first phase of its community this last fall. And Peachtree Corners, a $16 million investment in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, is testing smart city technology in its community. These projects have the same underlying backdrop of confident urban planning to meet ESG standards.
Heading into 2023, business owners should keep these projects in mind when they bring products to market. Products that provide a more unified experience can help operators focus on managing their business in a unified manner, creating a better experience for residents and leading to long-term occupancy.
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