Everybody – literally everybody – in the world of office property has heard of BREEAM, the sustainable buildings certification standard. But who has heard of WiredScore? For now, the answer is, not so many. But with 5G mobile connectivity on its way, the days when ignorance is excusable are fast receding. Fresh from its launch in Birmingham, and with a Leeds launch in prospect, WiredScore is on the warpath.
WiredScore is the international scheme that rates and provides transparency on the infrastructure, connectivity and technological capacity of office buildings. WiredScore was founded in New York in 2013, was given a kick start by an endorsement from Mayor Bloomberg, who wanted to improve the city’s technology infrastructure, and landed in London in 2015. Today it operates in Ireland, France, Germany and Canada as well as the UK and US.
WiredScore has rated around 70 million sq ft of UK office floorspace – about half the buildings (but most of the sq ft) in London.
As the figures suggest, WiredScore’s penetration into markets outside London and Manchester is fairly modest; a search of their website listed just four buildings certified in Glasgow, two in Bristol, two in Leeds.
There’s no doubt that, as connectivity becomes basic to the modern workspace, many occupiers yearn for the kind of assurance that WiredScore brings.
To co-ordinate with the Birmingham launch, WiredScore published research showing 97% of business leaders stressed the significance of connectivity when selecting office space, which was considered more essential than traditional factors such as price (94%) and location (92%), as well as more current concerns such as environmental friendliness (76%).
More worryingly, nearly two-thirds of Birmingham’s businesses (61%) encounter problems at least once a month, while 42% experience problems at least once a week, which has a profound impact on their ability to do business.
William Newton, President and European Managing Director at WiredScore, is the man charged with leading the campaign to expand the certification scheme and, in the process, sounding alarm bells about property’s readiness for 5G.
‘We have certainly seen, and continue to see, a shift towards the obligation being placed on landlords to provide strong connectivity in their buildings,’ he says. ‘In order to remain competitive, business leaders need the guarantee that their office space has the ability to meet their technological requirements with the right infrastructure in place. There is a tangible global demand for this service.’
As for 5G, future-proofing both businesses and buildings is going to be difficult, he says. Despite government announcements that 5G will be piloted in a number of locations, with London and Birmingham high on the list, the degree of market readiness is low.
‘Nobody knows exactly what 5G is yet,’ William explains. ‘Remember, this is not just one technology being rolled out, it is a bundle of technology. I have great faith that it will unlock huge potential, not just because it is high speed but because it is low latency (e.g. the signal is less likely to drop out). But it works on very short wave lengths over short distances, so it cannot penetrate walls or glass well. That means in London we’ll need 500,000 new transmitters for outside connections, and lots of repeaters inside buildings to maintain connectivity.’ In other words, if landlords and developers (and occupiers) are waiting for some big switch to be flicked, and 5G to rain down upon them, they are making a huge misunderstanding. For 5G to operate in most workplace environments it will mean landlords installing fibre connections and then propagating the signal (meaning distributing it) around each floor.
So what kind of fibre do you need, how many connections, which repeaters in which places? That is not clear either says William. ‘For now, the only thing that’s been agreed about 5G is what the logo looks like. The rest is being determined at a world congress late this year. So, for now, we’re in a holding pattern.’
Wise landlords and developers will be keeping their options open and leaving spaces for new infrastructure. ‘They could be setting aside basement space to propagate the 5G signal, so server rooms will probably still be needed even if occupiers keep all their data on the cloud rather than on servers. They also need to make sure the building’s risers are ready for fibre, with connections on each floor,’ William says.
Alas, not every landlord has got the message. ‘Some landlords have good 5G readiness, others aren’t so far ahead. Some really get it, others will wait until they get complaints for tenants,” William continues, with a sigh that says this is a familiar pattern.
The expansion of connectivity certification into more UK cities can only help. There could also be new approaches or new forms of certification and there will be other providers of the kind of reassurance that landlords and tenants are seeking.
‘We haven’t any firm plans yet for other markets, although we are looking at Leeds. It looks really exciting after Channel 4’s announcement of plans to relocate their HQ to the city. Leeds is really an unsung hero,’ says William.
‘We’re prepared to give the kind of leadership that is needed here, and we recognise that we have a public sector mission. We’ve already worked with the City of London on the new draft plan that requires new buildings to get certification, and they are doing it because it is very effective.’
WiredScore expects to certify another 30-40 million sq ft in the immediate future as landlords and developers seek the assurance that certification brings. By five years they expect to dominate most of the UK’s larger urban areas in much the same way they do London (where coverage is about 40%).
Does this matter? According to William, it does and for the most basic and powerful reason.
He explains: ‘Never forgot the issue of connectivity is about allowing humans to work, to help them work, because we live in a world where productivity depends on connectivity.’