What’s the key to providing successful in-building wireless service? According to Jon J. Davis, vice president of business development for indoor networks at ExteNet Systems, it’s the involvement of all stakeholders. Davis manages two teams in ExteNet’s Chicago office, where they work with the real estate community and wireless carriers to lease the inventory ExteNet has under contract. “I think everyone knows we have master agreements in place with most of our customers,” Davis said.
— Jon J. Davis, vice president of business development for in-building solutions at ExteNet Systems
Speaking during the session “Marketing to the Enterprise” at the 2017 Wireless Infrastructure Show, Davis said ExteNet refers to itself as a distributed network systems provider. The company designs, builds and owns the networks, and it has a separate service for providing managed services on properties where the customer is willing to fund the system construction. He said ExteNet deploys robust networks that can address 4G, 5G and public safety communications technologies to ensure that the networks can handle growth.
In marketing its systems, ExteNet takes a consultative sales approach in which its representatives talk as much about what is going on in the industry as they do about the company. Davis said they explain the challenges for installing service in the building and what different stakeholders need to participate.
“We do it at multiple levels,” Davis said. “We’re involved with developers, architectural firms and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) firms. We try to educate all the way up the food chain to make sure everyone understands what we do and how we do it, and the benefits that ultimately go into the property once we get the network deployed.”
All too often, network providers design and build networks without having discussions with wireless service providers, Davis said. They end up with a network no one would ever plug into. He said building owners should work not only with network providers such as ExteNet, but also with integrators and others in the business who can devise the right solution. Davis said there is no perfect fit for any one vehicle — it’s different for health care facilities, for the hospitality business and for commercial real estate.
“The key is listening to the customers and understanding what their needs are,” Davis said. “I never like to tell a customer what he needs. I’d rather listen and come up with a solution set based on what we’re hearing. If you have the resources to be able to adapt and address that, I think that’s the key.”
Davis said he speaks with all types of executives from many vertical markets every week. He said many of the people he speaks with look at the wireless customer as their customer, too, not as Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile US or Sprint. In trying to lease tenant space, sell a condo and close a sale, they have to be able to provide wireless service. “That mentality is starting to encourage owners and managers to invest in the infrastructure to help soften some of the cost for the mobile network operators. But tremendous challenges remain for providing indoor enhancement for cellular in the coming years, and these will persist until building owners figure out a way for the carriers to automatically connect to a network.”
It’s possible to offer many kinds of solutions to customers, Davis said. But, he said, without carrier involvement — or if the property is not a marquee property that the carriers will connect with — the customer ultimately will end up with a dud.
When it comes to selling an in-building wireless system, Davis said sometimes a free system is hard to sell. “We can go in and talk about providing the capital and various services, and the owner receives a share of the revenue,” he said. “Then, where it becomes difficult is in the contract. We’re making a substantial investment, and in return, we want a contract with a 10-year term with two five-year renewals. Property owners sometimes balk at terms like that. They don’t like to sign leases that long.”
As a result, Davis said, “The pitch can be the easy part. It’s how you actually contract it that gets a bit more difficult.”
Don Bishop is the executive editor of AGL Magazine. He joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletin email newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and AGL Small Cell Magazine.
A frequent moderator and host for AGL Conferences, Don writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website.