Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Bitcoin Boom?

Bitcoin is the virtual money phenomenon that is sweeping the internet, but what exactly is it? Bitcoin describes itself on its website as “a consensus network that enables a new payment system and a completely digital money.  It is the first decentralized peer-to-peer payment network that is powered by its users with no central authority or middlemen.”

What that basically means for users is that it’s cash for the internet that is not subject to the exorbitant fees that you encounter with typical online payment options.  With no central authority, Bitcoin users are able to exchange payments online virtually free of charge.  It’s an encrypted digital currency that retains its value through the limited number of bitcoins that are made available.

The Bitcoin software and protocol is completely open-source.  Any developer around the world can obtain the code and make their own version of the software to compete against Bitcoin, with desired modifications or improvements.  According to The New York Times, 36 so-called crypto-currencies are currently listed on coinmarketcap.com, a website devoted to tracking the digital currency market.  Ripple has emerged as a popular alternative to Bitcoin with strong backing from Google.  Ripple operates a currency as well as a unique system on which any currency, including bitcoins, can be moved around or traded.

According to Bitcoin’s website (bitcoin.org), as of August 2013, the value of all bitcoins in circulation was more than 1.5 billion US dollars, with millions of dollars in bitcoins exchanged on a daily basis, but a recent article by The New York Times pegs the recent market value at around $4.1 billion.  Some notable online services that use Bitcoin include Wordpress and Reddit, and Bitcoin is also keen to point out that many “brick and mortar businesses like restaurants, apartments and law firms” use bitcoins as well.

A recent article published on Wired.com reports that the University of Nicosia in Cyprus — an eastern Mediterranean island-country off the southern coast of Turkey – recently announced that students will now be able to pay their tuition with the popular digital currency “bitcoins.”  The university’s decision to accept bitcoins is part of an effort to support their new Masters of Science in Digital Currency program. 

Also, according to Bitcoin Magazine, BYU Idaho recently began accepting student housing payments in the form of bitcoins for select properties.  The two properties — the Nauvoo House for Men and the Mountain Pines Apartment for Women — are the first university-approved student housing facilities to accept bitcoins.

“This is a huge step forward for cryptocurrency, especially Bitcoin,” says the article. “Although someone can pay bills with Bitcoin using services like BillPayForCoins, the recent news at BYU-Idaho will bring ease of use and practicality of accepting Bitcoin to the forefront.”

Bitcoin is still in the early-adopter stage of its innovation.  Whether or not the crypto-currency will go mainstream still remains to be seen.  Saying that developers need to modify their payment options to accept bitcoins at this point is premature.  But, there is a message to take away here, and that message is that technology is not stopping anytime soon.

While developers don’t need to be early adopters, they need to know what the early adopters are doing, so that they can be part of the early majority when it comes to providing the latest in technological support and features for their tenants.  They need to be aware of the early adopters, so that they’re not blindsided when these things go mainstream.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wi-Fi is Worth the Money: Why Dependable Wi-Fi Can Increase Occupancy and Overall ROI

According to statistics put forth by MC Marketing Charts, college students own, on average, seven tech devices. Nine out of ten say they use their wireless devices while watching TV, almost half of which say they do so daily. The way that people use their televisions, computers, and phones is changing. This is especially true for college students, and even more so for students living in multi-family housing. In today’s world, entertainment, learning, collaboration, communication, and organization can all happen through wireless devices. These devices all require the internet, and students want their internet to be wireless.

College students living in today’s world have grown up experiencing the extraordinarily fast paced technology evolution that has now become mainstream. So, they see technology as a tool to be used, and they expect it to work. Having a dependable Wi-Fi connection throughout a residence is crucial. 

From laptops and tablets to cell phones and iPods, today’s students are connected in virtually every way. Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites like LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest keep them in touch, and almost all of those sites are accessible on wireless devices. So, it would not be uncommon for one student to be checking Instagram on his or her smart phone, doing research on the internet, Facebook chatting with a friend and streaming Spotify on a laptop or iPad all at the same time.

In addition, people are changing the way they watch television. According to Statistic Brain, there are 29.2 million Netflix subscribers, and 2 billion hours have been logged streaming Netflix over high speed internet connections. Students especially love Netflix. This creates another demand for a wireless network to be available. It is feasible in a student housing scenario to expect any one of the occupants renting the unit to be streaming video in the living room while the other roommates are streaming video on their laptops. 

The bottom line is that students want dependable Wi-Fi, and in multi-family student housing, the Wi-Fi needs are multiplied. Imagine if a five story building with 100 beds per floor was at 100% occupancy, and every student was streaming video on their laptop while surfing the web on their iPad at the same time. That would add up to be 1,000 wireless devices pulling from the available Wi-Fi network simultaneously. Engineering the network to be able to handle the demands of the residents for today and also tomorrow is where InfiniSys comes in. 

Students have a lot to do, and they use their wireless devices to get it done. The engineers and designers at InfiniSys are diligent in designing each property to be technologically functional. Wi-Fi is a big part of that because students consider it to be more of a necessity than a luxury, and having it means that more students will be interested in renting. Every property owner wants to have 100% occupancy of their buildings, and InfiniSys has the expertise, foresight, and reputation to design the technology systems that the potential residents want. That’s what they do best, now and in the future.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

At Home on the Go with SkyBell™ and SKYCAM

SkyBell (formerly known as iDoorCam) and SKYCAM let you keep an eye on your home from your mobile devices.

With SkyBell, the doorbell is finally getting an upgrade.  As the lifestyles’ of many people become more and more mobile, SkyBell caters to the travelling masses by letting them answer the front door from almost anywhere in the world.

SkyBell works by connecting to your home’s WiFi, so that when somebody rings your doorbell, you can answer the door from any of your WiFi enabled mobile devices.  You can then choose to see, hear or speak to whoever is at your door from your mobile device.  Or, if you are busy, you can simply choose to ignore the call.  The device also offers a unique “Do Not Disturb Mode” that will mute the sound of your home’s doorbell in the event that you are home, but do not wish to be bothered.  Maybe you work from home and do not wish to be disturbed; perhaps the baby is sleeping; or maybe you’re deep into a nostalgic Breaking Bad Netflix marathon.

Whether or not you are at home, SkyBell gives you the ability to answer the front door from wherever you are.  It is fully equipped with both a day and night vision camera.  It also has a speaker, microphone and motion sensor.

The motion sensor is an especially interesting feature, because it provides the ability to receive front-door alerts on your mobile devices, whether or not the person at your door actually rings the doorbell.  If the motion detector picks up movement, then you will get an alert, and be able to see what’s happening at your front door.  This could be useful whether you’re keeping an eye on things while your child is home alone or wondering if FedEx dropped off that package you’ve been waiting for.  Or perhaps your friend is old-fashioned and still knocks on doors.

Your SkyBell feed can be received over WiFi, 3G and 4G and is compatible with both iOS and Android mobile devices.  The SkyBell free mobile app is available for iOS and Android as well.

If SkyBell goes mainstream, it seems plausible, if not probable, that apartment buildings would forego the antiquated, Seinfeld-era buzzer system in favor of this modern alternative.

By expanding on the SkyBell platform, SKYCAM was born.  SKYCAM is a wireless surveillance and monitoring video camera that uses Skype as the DNS server (which means no monthly DNS fees).  The uses for SKYCAM are endless.  You can monitor your home or office or keep an eye on your pet, use it as a baby monitor or a front door video phone, monitor any corner of the house, call your loved ones when you’re away from home or talk to parents, grandparents and other relatives even without a PC.

Like SkyBell, the user can access SKYCAM’s surveillance stream from their mobile device.  SKYCAM is also equipped with night-vision capabilities, and is compatible with Android, Apple iOS, Windows, Linux and any other device that supports the Skype app.

Learn more about these products at:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Untethered Charging

How nice would it be to have the ability to recharge your mobile devices without all of the hassle of today’s “power hunt?”  It is just that thought that lead Cota by Ossia [http://www.ossiainc.com] founder Hatem Zeine to put his background as a physicist to work to solve this problem.  And, he actually may have done it.

In a recent article on TechCrunch (http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/09/cota-by-ossia-wireless-power/), Zeine discusses his work on the technology that will allow battery-powered devices to be charged —wirelessly — from a distance of 30 feet.  He has successfully tested the concept that uses the same frequencies currently used by wifi communication.

The project has been in the works for over 10 years now, and Zeine has quietly raised $3.2 million to support his endeavor over the last decade.  Now, Zeine is finally ready to reveal his brainchild to the world, which he showcased for the first time in a live demo at Disrupt. 

TechCrunch Disrupt, which took place last month in San Francisco, is one of the most highly anticipated tech conferences of the year.

Commercial versions of Cota by Ossia’s technology will be shipping in a few months with consumer products scheduled to be available by 2015.  Much like Ethernet cables gave way to wireless internet, it seems that Zeine’s new technology is poised to eventually eliminate outlet charging in favor of a wireless option.

The implications of this new technology for multifamily housing developers could be significant.  In this age of hyper-convenience, having a dead battery bring your day to a halt is unacceptable.  Creating a haven for power for residents who can go about their routines — never stopping to charge — means a change in lifestyle that is sure to get the attention of residents.

Zeine is endeavoring to “… eliminate the concept of ‘charging’ as a conscious act altogether.”  With this lofty goal becoming a reality, developers and property managers need to begin to incorporate this technology into their low-voltage infrastructure and planning.

Friday, October 04, 2013

VoIP Phone Service, the new normative

Cloud based VoIP services are becoming the new normative for leasing office and other business phone services at multifamily properties.

Over the past few years, phone companies have been slow to realize and accept that telephone service is no longer a mainstream product.  As a result, obtaining and moving phone service from construction trailers and temporary leasing facilities to permanent leasing offices is more of a challenge for property owners than it needs to be.  Telephone and cable companies now view Internet service as their primary product, followed by video with traditional voice phone service a very distant third.  Alternatives for replacing traditional phone services are emerging though, as properties rely on the Internet more and more for operations.  The size of the Internet pipe feeding properties for residential and office use is both increasing and becoming less costly.  Property residents who now rely on their cell phones for voice communication rarely request traditional phone service.  When they do, most select services from the cable company, some VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service from a third party (Vonage or MagicJack), Google voice, Skype or another web based VoIP service.
Many multifamily owners ask: “How do we meet the requirement for POTS (copper) telephone lines for our fire system”? The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), which sets the standards for the fire system communicator, has changed NFPA 72 to allow for both Internet and cellular connectivity.  Security systems have had UL approval for years to use the Internet or cellular radio to communicate and monitor systems.  Elevators and other 911 devices, like Blue Light poles, now have both VoIP and Cellular Radio connectivity. 

Today, multifamily property operators have many choices, each with their own pros and cons.  InfiniSys has been transitioning its Customers to VoIP technologies over the last several years.  Now, many of the voice services delivered by traditional telephone companies use VoIP technology.  Cable companies have been offering their own versions of VoIP for several years as well.  In the rebuilding of lower Manhattan after the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, Verizon did not restore copper cabling, electing to use its FiOS technology instead, and now offers its private branded version of VoIP. 

So what are the economics of VoIP versus traditional business class telephone service and why do they make the most sense on a project that has bulk Internet service? 

  • ·         With conventional phone service, three to four components comprise the operating cost and a select few comprise the capital cost.  Operating costs typically range $50 per line per month including taxes, and telephone answering services may add another $50 to $100 per month for the property.  Voice and video conferencing may also increase the operating costs.  The capital costs are typically a small switch and the cost of the phones.  For example, 10 instruments and a switch installation costs under $5,000. 

  • ·         An on-property based VoIP switch, which offers all of the same features, may lower operating costs 10-20 percent, but may also have higher upfront costs and typically requires a special circuit.

  • ·         A cloud-based VoIP service uses a small piece of the broadband service to the property and is not tied to the physical location, removing the issue of transferring a phone number from a temporary location to a permanent location.  At a basic level, all of the same services as a traditional system are available at about a 50 percent savings per line per month.  While the individual phones are more costly, when balancing against the added cost of a phone switch, the end cost is usually a wash.  Feature sets such as conferencing, digital white boards, direct inward dialing, forward to cell with one button push, outlook integration, voicemail with forward to email and virtual switchboard may raise the cost as high as $35 per line per month, which still yields significant savings.  Even when separate bandwidth is required for operational reasons the separate bandwidth is usually in the range of $5 to $10 per month per device. 

Owners should explore and migrate to VoIP to both increase functionality and reduce operating costs at their properties, providing long-term cost savings.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why People Rent: Dispelling Some Common Misconceptions

If you rent, you do so because you can’t afford a home.  Or, you are just too young, and have no desire to own a home at this point in your life.  It is a misconception to think that these are the only – or even the most common – reasons for renting.

In a recent article picked up by the “Capital Business” section of The Washington Post, Tom Bozzuto, CEO of The Bozzuto Group, explains how the profile of today’s renter has changed along with the times.

“This is no longer the fifties,” Bozzuto says. “Many people rent in America as a matter of choice, not necessity. Many of these people love the flexibility renting provides. Many like that renting allows them to live in places where they couldn’t afford to buy.  These people, these renters, are contributing members of the community who hold full-time jobs, spend money, volunteer in their community and vote.”

Bozzuto also points out how the apartment dweller is marginalized in the political realm.  With the left focused only on subsidized housing and the right concentrating solely on the single-family home, little or no attention is given to the apartment renter.  This political mindset inevitably bleeds over into the private sector and affects the assumptions of the general public, as well.

While renters receive little attention from politicians, they are no small segment of the population.  Bozzuto estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of Americans rent.

For those in the industry of building, selling and managing apartments or multifamily housing developments, the “too young, too poor” assumption can be hugely detrimental to your marketing initiatives and can mislead your approach to interacting with potential and current clients.  Renters want to be treated with the same respect that potential homeowners receive.  And, what they really want is flexibility.

The need for flexibility of today’s renter tends to go beyond just their choice of housing.  It is a basic desire for choices, options and possibilities.  They want alternatives.  They have preferences. 

No doubt, this recent craving for choice has been largely fueled by the rapid advancements in personalized and mobile technology.  And, for developers of multifamily housing units, no area offers greater opportunities or greater challenges.

It is essential that your development is capable of accommodating the various technological preferences of your renters.  Can they choose their preferred service provider? Are your apartment amenities both Mac and PC compatible?

On the flip side, today’s technological capabilities provide an enormous range of ways to wow your potential clients.  Between jumbotrons in the pool area, state of the art entertainment rooms and hallways equipped with scent technology and mood lighting, there is no shortage of chances to impress your tenants.

The renters of today are smart.  And, they want to live in a Smart ApartmentTM.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Need for Speed

Place yourself in the shoes of a typical college student:  You've invested in a brand new computer because you know you’ll need it for taking notes, writing papers and doing research throughout the upcoming semester. Increasingly, your professors are also sending you online for more and more required coursework – often including exams!

You’re ecstatic because there’s nothing better than doing coursework in the comfort of your own apartment. But, then you suddenly remember how spotty your internet is at your apartment complex. The joy quickly fades as you realize that, undoubtedly, you’ll have to walk back to campus to get a signal strong and steady enough to take the test or complete the assignment. Few things are more frustrating than your internet fading and kicking you out of a secure session.

So, as a property developer, what options do you have to provide the quality of service expected by these student tenants?  When everyone in your apartment complex is frustrated by the speed or quality of the internet connection, there is only one thing to do: provide a faster, better connection.  Student tenants should be able to depend on this; In fact, internet speed has become the most important technological amenity for students as well as third most important amenity for any demographic according to Multifamily Executive Magazine.  Students are doubling internet usage every two years.

J Turner Research polled students and found that 86% use the internet for more than three hours per day. They also found that students connect to the internet with more than three devices, which means it may often seem that more people are living at your apartment complex than actually do!  Just like cell phone service is expected, internet speed is becoming the same way. It is leading students to “shop around” for internet connections when looking for an apartment, because it’s now a required amenity -- much like a dishwasher or cable TV.

Understanding the necessity of this service is the first step, but a close second step is understanding the variety of cost-effective options available to you as a leading property developer.  Options such as FTTATM -- “Fiber to the Apartment” -- can greatly increase occupancy and retention by providing a level of service that meets the residents’ expectations.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Best Buy Walk Through with a Tech Expert

As an employee of leading low-voltage design and multifamily technology company Infinisys, Elisa Smith knows a thing or two about the technology demands of college students.  The firm’s work in designing technology systems for student housing has been nationally recognized.

So, it should be no surprise that her recent trip to Best Buy to purchase a new WiFi adaptor for her son’s computer was a little more than just a quick “back-to-school” shopping trip.  She used her knowledge of the space to bring back some thoughts for Infinisys’ clients.

“I thought that there would be a lot of bells and whistles because of the students preparing to go back to school,” Elisa said.  “However, all I saw in regard to that were a lot of pre-packaged deals — with laptops paired with software and accessories to make buying more simplified.”

With technology becoming such an important part of students’ lifestyles and education, the retailers’ focus on bundling the products reinforces the current trend:  students are connected all of the time through multiple devices.

Students want small and adaptable.  That’s the way technology is heading, so tech savvy college students want something that they can bring with them wherever they go and it won’t take up too much room. 

“I have been hearing that a lot of people are seeing laptops as somewhat old fashioned, because they are big and bulky,” Elisa said. 

Basically, the tablet is quickly replacing the laptop as the standard for on-the-go productivity.  However, the sleek and aesthetically pleasing versions of these portable units can be expensive, which causes some people to hesitate before purchasing.  Students especially have to weigh their choices between functionality and cost.  But, the idea of lugging around a backpack filled with books and a laptop is not appealing to the modern student, which is why tablets have become popular. 

This increased connectivity – and portability – increases demands on student housing developers as tenants are expecting to be able to maintain those connections, through multiple devices, at all times.  As technology manufacturers and retailers continue to make the devices more and more affordable, this trend will only continue.  Developers need to focus on staying ahead of this trend by giving careful consideration to low-voltage design options that allow for growth and flexibility.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Security Considerations in Student Housing

By Richard Holtz

It is certainly not something that student housing developers and property managers want to think about, but the tragic events at Virginia Tech and similar institutions have demonstrated the need for effective security and emergency communications for everyone affiliated with the campus environment.

The lessons learned by public safety officials following the recent mass-shootings around the country provide valuable insight for developers and managers of student housing.  An article published recently by the Mass Notification and Emergency Communications website highlights some areas of focus for the multifamily industry.

The MNEC (Mass Notification Emergency Communications) industry brings together integrators, codes, technologies and customers. Over the last two years, NSCA (National Systems Contractors Association) has been committed to educating and engaging integrators in this emerging marketplace.   The organizations will work to educate end-users and government officials and further engage a wider scope of integrators and manufacturers in this critical public safety initiative.

The MNEC suggests that for multifamily developers, the first step in evaluating emergency response is to focus on communication.  When property owners plan and develop a proactive approach in this area, they can take logical and reasonable actions that can deliver significant value to tenants.  Understanding what means of communication authorities will be using in an emergency and being prepared to assist residents in receiving messages is vital.

Networked digital signage is an example of a critical tool that is easy to implement and maintain on student housing properties.  In an emergency, as information is often conflicting and chaotic, digital signage can be a key tool in quickly reaching large numbers of residents in high-traffic areas.

Blue Light Phone Systems offer developers another way to enhance emergency communications on their property.  These brightly lit stanchions, equipped with emergency telephones, cameras and broadcast speakers, can be strategically placed in potential problem areas around the property.  Emergency Blue Light Phones can prove invaluable as initial-report tools, alerting proper authorities quickly and directly.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is another safety feature that takes on added importance in a time of crisis, and it is essential that the cameras feeding these systems be of sufficient resolution.  Security cameras need to be part of a system that is able to capture high-resolution footage in order to take full advantage of capabilities.

Access Control systems with a common credential provide a safe environment and instill that sense of security that residents rely on.  The presence of access control will, not only deter potential threats, but improve residents’ comfort as well.  A secondary benefit is having a historical record of who went through an entryway.

While solutions for low-voltage technology often focus on cable television, phone and internet as amenities for tenants, that same infrastructure takes on a whole new level of importance when considering resident safety.  Be sure your technology vendors and consultants have taken these valuable lessons into consideration when assessing your needs.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Understanding the Needs of Gen-Y Renters

“Generation Y” has become the term commonly used to describe what is currently a very powerful and important marketing demographic.  Ad Age magazine is credited with coining the term in 1993 to identify the generation that was born in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

That generation now comprises a good bit of the very valuable 18-35 age demographic that marketers are always fighting for.  Whether it’s a young professional with new-found affluence or a college student who has very specific spending needs, multifamily housing developers need to understand that it’s important to appeal to the needs and wants of this group. 

It might seem simple enough to give them what they want, but it’s not. Gen Y-ers can be needy — especially when it comes to their technology.  This generation likes speed, access and reliability.  According to Multifamily Executive magazine the best way to do that is to provide them with four specific things that could make or break your property.

The first thing to consider is a strong mobile presence.  Be sure your web presence is optimized for mobile.  This generation does plenty of research on their smart phones and a good experience via mobile is vital.  Also, be mindful that this generation loves to blog and tweet about what they experience at your location. 

The second is to know that Gen Y-ers prefer “e-communications” (instant messages, email and texting) over phone conversations.  So, managers should consider accepting scans of documents instead of making residents deliver them to the office.  Having a secure option for submitting important paperwork is a convenience that can mean a lot to a busy student.

The third key technology consideration is online payment capability.  This generation of apartment dwellers does not carry a checkbook.  Remember how they like things speedy?  There is nothing speedy about a check.  Simple — and mobile — payment options are a win-win.

Finally, managers must have flexible office hours.  Students don’t function on a 9-5 schedule.  Instead, they should be able to contact you at any hour — online.
With these few simple steps, property owners will see success with this valuable demographic.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Future of Cable Might Not Include TV

Predicting that transmission of TV will move to the Internet eventually, Cablevision Systems's Chief Executive James Dolan says, "there could come a day" when his company stops offering television service, making broadband its primary offering. His comments may be the first public acknowledgment by a cable CEO of the possibility of such a shift, long speculated about by analysts.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Cameras for Safety in Multifamily Housing

Cameras are used to keep security up, but at a cost of privacy. 

Do students really want more cameras in Multifamily Housing? 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stop Looking for the One-Stop Shop

Would you want the company that built your marketing website to handle your accounting?

It might sound ridiculous, but it's not far from the current view of software vendors held by many in the apartment industry. Accounting software providers provide marketing websites, payment processing, email marketing and more. Online advertising sites (ILSs) provide blog content, social media tools and online reputation monitoring. The list goes on.

We expect our vendors to provide solutions to help us grow our apartment businesses.

Yet I think we ask too much of industry software vendors. And ultimately, it's our own apartment businesses that suffer because of it.

I once had a client tell me they couldn't consider best-of-breed solutions to manage their digital marketing. Staff turnover was high, so adding more tools to the training regimen would cost too much. Rather than going with the best email marketing tool available, they went with the inferior solution offered by their property management software. Why? Because they had convinced themselves that the one-stop shop was the way to go. (They've since changed their stance, and they now have an award-winning marketing team regularly looking for tools to help them do their jobs better.)

The notion of the one-stop solution is exactly the issue that keeps people from seeking better options. We've put too much on our onsite people, and we've trained ourselves that, when staff turnover is high, it's too hard to train people on multiple software systems. The one-stop solution is a "better fit" and there really isn't another option.

Stop sign

Building a Successful Platform

Now take a look at Saleforce.com. Or Apple's iOS. Or WordPress. Or MailChimp.

All have built incredibly successful businesses by not trying to do it all.

Instead, they've each focused on building a robust, flexible platform as the base for their core function (CRM, mobile computing, website management, and email marketing, respectively). But instead of bolting on anything that resembles a potential customer solution, all of these platforms have opened themselves up to other developers -- companies that are often much, much better at a given area of expertise. Instead of building everything in-house, they have vast resources available to their customers through apps, extensions, plug-ins and APIs. Want to get more out of your iPhone? Download an app. Need your website to do something specific? Add a plugin.

It's time for an approach like this to take hold in multifamily. We don't need one-stop solutions. We need software vendors perfecting their craft in specific areas, then openly sharing their data (your data, really) with complementary systems to provide you with effective tools to run your business.

Openness Will Take Time

This "open platform" approach won't happen overnight. (Property Solutions is taking the first steps toward a "platform as a service" with Entrata, which could be a good sign that we're heading in the right direction.)

Although it's a proven model in other industries, the open platform has yet to take hold in multifamily. Vendors are just starting to open their data (again, your data), and many of owners and property managers are just starting to look outside the industry for appropriate tools and solutions.

Even just recently, I saw the following comment in a LinkedIn discussion:
"I think the problem is as follows: Though there are many very strong providers providing comprehensive solutions, the market is so vast that users aren't aware of all the options available to them. The users; businesses have changed, too, so that when a small-scale solution might have worked when the company or property was smaller, there is a real need for a one-stop solution at a later stage of development. Platform as a Service (PaaS?) is a great concept, one of which I had not heard before."

Of course, none of us could possibly know about all the options available to us. If we're honest with ourselves, we also know that no vendor can truly provide comprehensive solutions. We need to start asking better questions, looking for the software tools and solution providers that will truly help us take our businesses to the next level -- some cater specifically to the apartment industry, others may not. I wouldn't expect the accounting team to handle my marketing, and I'm not sure you should, either.

The idea of open software systems is long overdue in multifamily. It's happening for small business and many other industries (check out The Small Business Web as an example). Kudos to PSI for taking the first steps toward an open future. Who's next?

Monday, March 18, 2013

How Is Today's Family Using Wireless Devices?

Residents have come to expect that their mobile devices will always be connected in their homes. In fact, more and more apartment companies are starting to address this more frequently in both new and existing projects.

How much is today's typical family on their wireless devices? CTIA, the Wireless Association, took a look at how families are using their smartphones and tablets -- this infographic shows some of the things they discovered:

Today's Wireless Family

How big of an issue is cellular coverage at your properties? If the coverage isn't up to par, are you doing anything to help improve the service for your residents?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

FCC Orders Cell Boosters to be Registered

Poor reception is the bane of many users of cell phones and smartphones. When you’re trying to talk or access the Net, few things are as frustrating as dropped call or a balky data connection.

There are devices that can help. For some time, consumers have been able to buy cell signal amplifiers that work on any carrier. They pick up weak signals and amplify them – both to your handset and back to the nearest tower. They’ve been largely available without restriction . . . until now.

On Wednesday, the FCC issued new rules that require owners of cell signal boosters to register the devices with their respective carriers. Those not willing to register the devices must turn them off.

The four major carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon – have promised the FCC they’ll create simple and “reasonable” systems for registering the devices, although those procedures aren’t yet in place. What hasn’t been indicated, though, is whether cellular customers will be charged for the privilege of improving their carriers’ weak signals.

Addition to the consumer requirements, the manufacturers of the devices will be required to put this warning labels on new cell boosters:

What’s most interesting about the ruling is that cell signal boosters must already meet stringent FCC anti-interference requirements in order to be sold at all. The ruling implies that the regulations aren’t doing their jobs.

Or, a cynic might argue this is merely the FCC throwing the carriers a revenue bone, should they opt to charge for booster use. Ars quoted Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation, who called the move “profoundly anti-consumer”:

. . . Besides charging monthly fees, Calabrese said carriers could strike exclusive deals with device makers to make sure they get a cut of each device sale.

That said, the FCC’s order does call for “a free, simple registration procedure” to encourage compliance. If the carriers charge for cell boosters on their networks, fewer people will voluntarily register.

Chances are, no one is going to come knocking on your door tomorrow if you have an unregistered device – unless it is indeed causing interference. But at some point, carriers and the FCC will begin enforcing this order and you’ll need to register with your carrier if you want to keep using it.