NY real estate investor bets big on CBRS

New York City
The owners of 345 Park Avenue want to create multiple private wireless networks within the building. (Pixabay/Free-Photos)

345 Park Avenue is a Manhattan skyscraper that occupies a full city block, touching Park Avenue, 51st St., 52nd St., and Lexington Avenue. It also sits squarely at the intersection of several major drivers shaping the real estate industry: the demand for smart buildings, the need for in-building connectivity, the availability of cellular spectrum for the enterprise, and the carbon-neutral goals set by some of the most influential companies in the U.S.

Among the many organizations that have pledged to cut carbon emissions are the NFL, Blackstone, and KPMG LLP, all of which are headquartered at 345 Park Avenue. KPMG recently introduced KPMG Climate Accounting Infrastructure to help companies measure greenhouse gas emissions, track offsets and report on non-financial factors to investors, lenders, and tenants. The climate accounting infrastructure is powered by a smart building operating system called Nantum, developed by New York's Rudin Family of real estate investors, which owns 345 Park Avenue. Nantum is connectivity-agnostic, but at 345 Park it will be supported by a CBRS network inside the Rudin Family's flagship property.

CBRS can function as a central nervous system for a smart building, according to Rudin Management Company's COO and CTO John Gilbert. "Buildings have always had a heart -- engine room, boiler room, that's where the pumps and fans and motors are. Now we’ve created a brain with Nantum. Now the question is: what's the CNS that goes out through the building, grabs data and feedback, and brings it back to the brain to make sense of it? In my humble opinion that’s what CBRS will be, because now you have ubiquitous, wireless broadband connectivity," he said.

When the FCC made CBRS spectrum commercially available last year, Gilbert sprang into action. One of the first calls he made was to Crown Castle, which was already a fiber provider to 345 Park Avenue. Gilbert quickly connected with Paul Reddick, the infrastructure giant's VP for strategy, business and product development. Reddick came to Crown Castle from Google, where he worked for VP of wireless services Milo Medin and became an advocate of neutral host CBRS. 

"There is a whole market that needs coverage that wasn't addressable because the economics just don’t work. CBRS starts to open it up," said Reddick. "It's less expensive than it would be with DAS ... even better if it can be a shared expense across carriers, building owners and tenants. ... A lot of things have to go right to make that work, but that’s what we’re trying to make happen, starting with Rudin."

Crown and Rudin envision 345 Park Avenue with multiple private networks serving multiple tenants. So far, they have deployed CBRS radios in the concourse and the lobby. They've also installed an off-premise core network, which will be able to support radios throughout the 40-floor building, Reddick said. He declined to name the radio or core network vendors, but said that for both of these elements Crown places a premium on interoperability. He said the evolved packet core needs to be able to interact with the public carrier networks as well as multiple private networks within the building. Most EPCs for private networks connect to just one carrier network and one private network, so this is a tall order, and Crown Castle is deeply involved. "Crown is the investor, developer, designer, and deployer of those systems -- we are contracting those behind the scenes," Reddick said. He added that the off-premise location that hosts the core could also host enterprise applications down the road.

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For Crown Castle, the first step to monetizing the in-building CBRS network will be working with the carriers. "We wouldn't be doing this if there wasn't some interest there," said Reddick."The carriers are going to want to run traffic on it, they’re going to want to play with it, and then we will start to talk about commercial terms."

Reddick said that by the time people start working in office buildings again, most smartphones will support CBRS, but network policies won't automatically move phones to a CBRS network when one is available. So the first users of the network at 345 Park Avenue will be IoT devices and applications, many of which were previously running over a wired network.

For the Rudin Family, the IoT/smart building traffic is the end game. The family has been investing in connected buildings since the birth of the internet in the 1990's, and Gilbert said energy conservation is the number one way smart buildings save money for tenants. Gilbert said that one thing he's seen clearly during his 30 years of smart building development is a direct correlation between carbon emissions, electricity consumption, and the granularity of data collected. Now he believes the road to granular data is paved with CBRS.