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Retailers would benefit from converged networks in malls

The architectural and engineering world are increasingly specifying converged networks for new developments, sometimes referred to under the umbrella of Connected (Commercial) Real Estate (C(C)RE). As knowledge and experience in utilising facilities in these intelligent buildings grows, so too does confidence, leading to adoption of technological advances in previously untapped market sectors.
One such area of potential is the multiple retail sector, namely shopping centres and malls. Historically, individual tenants have sourced and provided services such as telephony, internet connectivity, internal shop security and access control themselves. This often leads to inefficiencies due to duplication of materials and security risks from multiple contractor deployment in the building.

Case study shows 75% improvement

A recent case study in the US, using the same technology available in South Africa, demonstrates one clear benefit to tenants in a San Diego retail centre. Here tenants receive high speed wired and wireless connectivity when utilising the buildings network. This realizes an estimated saving of 75% on the data and line rental rates they would otherwise incur via individual contracts with service providers (SPs). In turn the building owner/manager can derive income for providing this service, recovering both capital and operational costs for managing the network.

Further benefits from creating an Internet Protocol (IP) based retail environment include opportunities for connected mall advertising. Here one would install passive LCD screens strategically around the shopping mall environment, linked to an external or internal content manager, providing opportunity for retailers to reach beyond their static shop location and inform shoppers of daily specials, refurbishment status or other relevant news.

Essential for power management

"A converged network is a single integrated IT network and structured cabling system, which supports numerous building automation applications and services. In addition to IT applications, such a network is vital for synchronizing automation of the various building systems, such as power and lighting, ventilation, access and security," explains Bradley Hemphill, MD of Electrical Engineering Solutions (EES).

"The use of a single integrated network replaces the use of numerous separate networks or applications for each of the systems. In many instances the separate networks have been operating on non-compatible platforms."

Therefore, with the direct benefits to retail tenants from shop services, one could also generate savings by adding all the other discrete systems, like lighting control, power management, ventilation and air-conditioning, onto the network. These savings would benefit both retailers and building owners.

As less cabling is required in a converged network than in a traditional installation of independent networks, the amount of materials used and waste generated is reduced, lowering the immediate impact on the environment. All this goes towards demonstrating commitment to green issues, ultimately leading to better ethics around responsible management and sustainability.

"Another advantage of a converged network in a retail environment is that add-on costs for providing services to tenants are marginal, as the base-infrastructure and equipment already forms part of the original investment," continues Hemphill.

Although larger floor area chain-store retailers, such as some of the fashion and clothing outlets will likely prefer to leverage on their national data SP and network Service Level Agreement, (SLA), they could still benefit from mall advertising and in-store wireless continuity, amongst other things.

South African pilot project

EES is currently engaged in upgrading technology in an existing retail centre, as a pilot converged network project, for a multiple retail site owner/managing enterprise.

"As increasing numbers of stakeholders gain awareness of the advantages of applying a single managed network to all the traditional technical services, now recognised in industry as a converged network, the demand for professionals to apply their knowledge in this area will increase. A greater appreciation of design value in the retail centre development sector, and hence a growing demand for it, is expected," he concludes.
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Read more: Bradley Hemphill, EES