Feeding the Insatiable Need for Internet Speed

By Bendix Anderson – MutliFamilyExecutive.com

The Internet connection at University Village Apartments on Colvin Street in Syracuse, N.Y., seemed like it would be more than fast enough.

But by the time the property opened in 2009, the definition of “fast” had changed.

The students at University Village demanded connections that would let hundreds of them watch video clips and whole movies over the Internet at the same time. While students grilled property managers at town hall-style meetings, the developer rushed to have copper cables torn out and fiber-optic cables installed at the brand-new, Class-A property.

“We’ve got to provide it or risk not being 100 percent leased,” says Scott P. Casey, senior vice president of strategic business development for EdR, a REIT based in Memphis, Tenn.

Super-fast Internet connections are now the most important technological amenity developers and managers can provide at student housing properties.

Strike Up the Bandwidth
Fast Internet speeds have become something students depend on and expect—64 percent said they would consider relocating if Internet speeds were lower in their student housing than expected,according to data from J Turner Research.

“There is just this insatiable appetite for speed,” says Joseph Batdorf, president of J Turner Research.

Fast Internet is not only the most important technological amenity for students. It is also the third most important amenity of any kind for any demographic—a washing machine in the apartment, and a bathroom to one’s self, were the only amenities rated higher, according to J Turner Research.

“Students are doubling their usage every two years,” says Joe Coyle, president of University Student Living.

The race to speed up Internet connections began when students started to watch movies and television shows online. The need for speed has grown rapidly ever since.

All students polled by J Turner Research spent some significant amount of time using the Internet in their homes—86 percent say they spend more than 3 hours per day.

Multiple devices also make a difference—a quarter of students surveyed say that they connect to the Internet with more than three devices.

“Each kid is using three to five devices,” says EdR’s Casey. That multiplies the Internet needs at a property by several times. “A 500-bed property almost becomes like a 2,000-bed property.”

TVs and Smartphones
Some other forms of connectivity are no longer considered amenities, they are simply taken for granted. For example, students assume that they will be able to talk on their cell phones in their homes without dropping calls. In 2011, good cellular phone service rated as second most important amenity, after a large bedroom.

“It would be absolutely critical,” says Batdorf. “If they don’t have good cell phone reception, I think they’re dead. It’s like having a car with no AC in Houston.”

Bad cellular service would probably be exposed as soon as a student visits the community: Many prospective residents phone friends or family from the model apartment.

Students also still watch cable television and have begun to ask more high-definition television channels in their cable service. “Student are really demanding that, for the first time in years,” says EdR’s Casey.

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