Seamless Wi-Fi for BTR is here: A Q&A with Hyperoptic’s Liam McAvoy

Introduction from Debra Yudolph, Partner at SAY

Our homes are our sanctuary and as a result of the pandemic, we have found ourselves demanding more of our homes and spending more time at home. There has never been a time when a well-designed and effortlessly functioning home has been more important because we are demanding so much more of them. Homes are now places where we work, study, exercise, virtually socialise and of course, eat, relax, and sleep!

These changes have made the need for fast efficient connectivity, even more, critical and this, in turn, has created additional demands on Build to Rent (BTR) schemes and their operators. As we established in our earlier research with Hyperoptic, connectivity is as critical as the other utilities such as water, electricity and gas but sometimes the way in which it is set up is not always easy for the operators to manage or provide the residents with a frictionless living experience.

Hyperoptic’s new BTR wi-fi solution has been developed in response to the industry’s need to improve the customers living experience. We sat down with Business Development, Managing Director, Liam McAvoy, to find out more about their new BTR offer.

SAY: Firstly, tell us more about why you have developed a new product specifically for the BTR market?

Liam: This new product really responds to feedback we had from BTR operators who wanted to be able to offer residents an incredible digital experience and hyperfast speeds across their developments. BTR has its own unique challenges that required a unique solution.

SAY: Without getting too technical, how does it work and why is it different from other scheme wide wi-fi solutions?

Liam: The system is powered by a series of site-wide access points that are installed across the development. This ensures that every inch of a scheme is covered and eliminates the wi-fi black spots that frustrated customers in the past.

SAY: Tell us a bit more about what the customer can expect when a scheme has the new BTR wi-fi solution.

Liam: It provides uninterrupted site-wide connectivity wherever they go – so that can be in their homes, working in the amenity space, working out in the gym and sitting in the garden. This is a huge improvement on the traditional wi-fi systems that had separate connections in the home to the communal areas.

Residents also have access to our resident’s portal that enables them to manage their personal connection and increase speed, to suit their lifestyle. Our top package is 11 times faster than the national average.

SAY: We’ve read a lot recently about concerns with remote working and cyber-attack incidences, particularly for those working in the financial sector. How have you addressed security concerns?

Liam: These are very legitimate concerns and we’ve always taken the security of our networks extremely seriously. All our networks are WPA2 encrypted, with network separation and a firewall. We also offer guest networks so there’s no need to share any wi-fi passwords with those outside your household.

SAY: Our clients are always striving for the five star “hotel type” experience. Does this help them achieve that?

Liam: Absolutely, this technology replicates the experience they would have in a high-end hotel where they can freely move around from space to space and maintain connectivity across all their devices. It also makes it really easy for them to use technology in the amenities and optimise those spaces, whether that be playing music as they entertain in the dining room, scrolling Instagram on the terrace or working in the lounge.

Our guest portal allows any visitors to access the network in just a couple of clicks which is great for viewings too.

SAY: That’s definitely going to make things easier for on-site teams.

Liam: Absolutely – seamless connectivity is just as important for on-site teams as it is to the residents. We hope that by providing seamless connectivity, we’re lightening the load on on-site teams.

A great example of this is that our system allows tenants to be onboarded onto the system prior to check-in. This means they’ll have connectivity from the day of move-in where typically they could be waiting days or even weeks for wi-fi installation. All this contributes to the vision of a hassle-free move – no need to stop working from home or enjoying evening Netflix due to a lack of wi-fi.

The management portal allows the team to manage connections, reset passwords and terminate users. However, most changes can be made by residents themselves through their dedicated portal.

SAY: And what if the resident or the on-site team needs additional support?

Liam: Should they need us, our customer service team is available 24/7!

SAY: Excellent! Can you explain a bit more about the footfall analytics feature?

Liam: Yes, so as tenants and guests are moving around the building, connected to the access points, our system gathers detailed usage and footfall data – all GDPR compliant of course. This gives an invaluable insight into how people are moving around and engaging with the building. For BTR developers, this can help inform the design of future buildings or, if the building is flexible, how they should adapt and update layouts and how a space is used.

SAY: The expectations for connectivity are definitely increasing and developers are going to be under more pressure to meet those high expectations – particularly amongst the market we traditionally see in BTR – young, tech-savvy working professionals.

Liam: Expectations are high but in general, people are unsatisfied with their broadband. Recent research we carried out found that 54% of property experts had noticed an increase in complaints about internet providers.

As people spend more time at home, rather than in their office, any frustrations around broadband speeds or access become amplified, and where there is one single broadband provider within a development, it is the operator who is going to be blamed for that.

We have an excellent track record in delivering not only speeds but a reliable connection – no matter what time of day or how many devices are connected.

SAY: And what about developers? We often find that the design and construction of the broadband network is quite a pain point for them.

Liam: Absolutely – it is complex and we want to be there to help developers every step of the way. Our engagement process can be broken down into four steps.

Firstly, during the preliminary phase, we’ll work with developers to understand their requirements, we’ll assign a dedicated Account Manager and provide a full site design at no cost. During the design phase we’ll present our plans for installation and once agreed, we’ll complete an on-site handover to one of our Area Delivery Managers. They’ll be the point of contact throughout the construction phase and will liaise with your contractors, providing all the technical support you need. Finally, we’ll move to the support phase, providing ongoing support and maintenance whenever it’s needed.

SAY: Let’s come back to costs quickly, what is the proposed operating model for the service?

Liam: We understand that each operator, investor and developer has different needs when it comes to their operating model and we wanted to be able to provide as much flexibility as possible.

The two key choices come between an operating contribution and an upfront contribution. With the operating contribution, we’ll cover the cost of installation with a higher OPEX contribution. This a good choice for those looking to reduce their risk. Alternatively, developers can choose to make a contribution to the installation costs with lower OPEX fees. There’s also an opportunity to generate revenue via resident upgrades which can be made in our resident portal.

SAY: This sounds like a truly unique resident experience that answers many of the BTR sectors challenges around connectivity, but is there an argument that it might be a little too much for some operators who are looking just looking to provide reliable in-home connectivity to their residents?

Liam: Absolutely, this is why we also provide a 100% service model that is 100% geared to BTR operators. We have offered a 100% service model to developers for a number of years – this is when we deal directly with the organisation and then they provide connectivity as part of their service charge. Many young renters find it much easier to budget when bills like utilities and broadband are included in their service charge.

SAY: And lastly, what has the market feedback been to this new service?

Liam: I will defer to Kieran Hobbs, Lead Development Director, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, who has shared some excellent feedback with us: “Our customers living experience is at the forefront of our design and operational planning and WiFi connectivity is a critical element of our customers living experience. Hyperoptic’s new BTR solution provides a seamless solution across all areas including amenity spaces, roof terraces and wellness areas significantly improving their connected living experience.”