At the speed of light

Przemysław Pawłowski, the managing director of StarNet Telecom, in an exclusive interview tells us about the revolutionary technology that will enable 5G internet to be used in properties thus making it much easier to manage telecommunications, as well as the challenges posed by cybersecurity and the law

Tomasz Cudowski, ‘Eurobuild CEE’: A few weeks ago, StarNet unveiled to the world the first Polish 5G network for commercial buildings using a Neutral Host In-Building (NHIB). And this presentation took around an hour, so I’m asking you to summarise in three sentences what this system is all about.

Przemysław Pawłowski, the managing director of StarNet Telecom: In a nutshell, it will redefine the telecommunication services in commercial buildings. This system centralises the infrastructure of each GSM operator through the use of BTS Hotels [Base Transceiver Station Hotels] – and this eliminates the need to set up base stations within a property. NHIB also cuts costs for operators, because the need to install and maintain the equipment in a building disappears. This is not just a technological breakthrough but also – and more importantly for landlords – a competitive advantage for the owner of the building and the tenants, since it provides a reliable connection, and this is nowadays an essential service in a business world dominated by technology.

For the average internet user, the term ‘5G’ can often sound ominous, but it seems that StarNet sees new opportunities and possibilities stemming from this technology.

The term ‘5G’ hardly rarely causes much alarm these days, which could be viewed as a victory of knowledge over all the populism, conspiracy theories and deliberate misinformation that has previously linked 5G with human health issues. The popularity of such fake news is, in a sense, understandable, because people are often afraid of the new and the unknown. Maybe these fears originated from the need for many more 5G aerials to be set up, but this should have been seen as an advantage rather than a threat. The power of these aerials will be much lower and, moreover, they will operate directionally – unlike contemporary base stations, which transmit across wide areas. The introduction of 5G could also be a boon for urban planning, because it’s much easier to fit these antennae into smaller spaces.

Ok, so let’s get down to the basics: what advantages will 5G bring to the owners and managers of commercial properties?

Let’s start with how the image of these buildings can be modernised with the addition of advanced technology. Having a 5G service in a building can provide an important competitive advantage in the commercial real estate market in terms of attracting new tenants who are looking for modern telecommunication systems. Moreover, having access to quick and reliable 5G internet could convince tenants to stay for longer, thus guaranteeing a higher retention rate, which is the dream of every property owner. And let’s not forget about how this can enhance the value of the property, since one that’s equipped with a 5G system is simply more attractive to potential purchasers. Introducing 5G is a move towards modern solutions that could in future become the standard for buildings of this type, similar to the revolution that took place over ten years ago when copper wires were replaced by optic fibres as the standard. We also have to talk about ESG. The introduction of 5G can improve the energy efficiency of a commercial building, such as when events are organised. The equipment can be directed to concentrate on certain parts of the building, which reduces the consumption of energy. Using a 5G network also speeds up the transformation of traditional buildings into smart buildings. The connectivity of this standard makes it easier to control a building, which can be used to reduce its operating costs.

Ok, so what are the advantages of 5G for tenants?

Firstly, it provides a quick and reliable internet system, which is essential for every sector of modern-day business. That is, the rapid upload and download of data, more efficient work and communications, and reduced transfer delays, which also allows these connections to be used as backup services. Even though LTE [the standard that preceded 4G – editor’s note] was very rarely used for telecommunications, 5G is very good at this and in time it should be better than the microwave transmission lines that tenants currently use. Quick and reliable 5G internet can also open up new business opportunities, making it possible to develop advanced apps and services based on this technology. The significant reduction in the delay with a 5G network supports such real-time applications as VR and remote control, while the increased capacity of the network is important to companies that are increasingly using IoT equipment and require scalable infrastructure, such as different types of apps. At the moment, the capabilities of this technology surpass the systems that we are currently familiar with. This all means that once 5G is introduced, we should see significant advances in many fields, such as telemedicine and automated vehicles.

Let’s get back to the Neutral Host In-Building – why do you see a future for this particular system?

Maybe it isn’t obvious, but modern buildings block GSM signals from the outside like a Faraday cage. It’s because of this that installations are placed inside to amplify GSM signals. Of course, sometimes buildings are located close to a GSM base station so that they don’t require amplification. However, this year 5G has been introduced to Poland at a frequency of 3.6 GHz. Unfortunately, this frequency has ten times less penetration – the wavelength is shorter and bounces off the underlying construction of a building. As a result, a 5G signal needs more amplification than is needed for current bandwidths. The switch to 5G is therefore going to result in costly modernisations of operating equipment as well as investment by landlords in installing cable networks. But as a result of this, because the basic idea of a neutral host inside a building is to transmit signals from a BTS hotel (which is a point jointly used by all GSM operators), it will be possible to provide 5G services to tenants without having to modernise current operator base stations or the wiring for the entire building.

So what about older office building and networks that are already operating? I can already hear building managers and IT specialists grinding their teeth…

NHIB doesn’t disrupt how other networks operate and so for them is an ideal addition, as it can be used as another network on top of them. As a result, 5G can even be made available in older buildings in which GSM amplification systems were installed a few years ago that did not account for the development of this new frequency. By using this new technology, they will be able to compete for even the most technologically demanding tenants. One huge advantage of this system is the mobility of all the available technology and, as a result, it can be used to boost mobile phone signals and ensure communications in a new building where GSM operators still have no base stations and which tenants have already started to move into. A base station is an expensive investment for any operator, so the one-time cost of its installation and maintenance is not paid off for operators over the term of a lease with a tenant. However, a Neutral Host In-Building makes it possible for mobile phone operators to broaden the range of their networks and increase the number of their clients by making their infrastructure available in locations where signal amplification was not previously possible due to the high costs incurred by the operator. It’s worth pointing out that this technology enables amplification in specific areas of the building, so by sharing resources, operators can effectively manage their infrastructure and minimise their investment costs. I would still add that although this model works well in the West, its success and long-term acceptance depend on successfully testing it out. Currently, we are working on a pilot programme together with our technology partner Vector Tech Solutions, with whom we are adapting the technology to the specific needs and specifications in Poland, specifically to the requirements of mobile phone operators.

What are the biggest challenges – apart from introducing 5G – that commercial property managers face in regard to telecommunications infrastructure?

Maintaining high infrastructure standards in a building has always been a huge challenge over the long term; however, due to the changing legal regulations and the development of new digital technology, this has taken on more importance. In this regard, it’s important to manage the entire organisation of telecommunication services in a property by creating procedures and standards that reconcile the expectations of all of its tenants with the requirements of the building’s operators and the ability of telecommunication operators to meet them. To effectively manage this process, we should start by ensuring consistent telecommunications infrastructure within the property that all telecommunication operators who want to provide services to the tenants can use. Of course, such infrastructure has to be continuously maintained and every change to the system’s resources needs to be properly documented. Telecommunication changes over the life cycle of a building can be so big that the unchecked development of many networks could cause huge problems in the future. If you allow every operator that provides services to the building to lay their own cables, you will have no control over this after just a couple of years. Tenants will often change their operators over the course of their leases, and in the event of their leases coming to an end, the operator is not going to remove its cabling, since the costs of uninstalling it are similar to those of putting it in. In the end, no one will know which cables are being used or who they belong to. Due to this, you have to account for all the different cabling standards and the way it was installed by the operator. How the documentation is done is also important. If we have a number of projects on the table drawn up by different contractors all using different standards, dealing with this is clearly going to take a lot of time.

Is cybercrime a major problem for those using telecommunications infrastructure? What should be done when such issues occur and how can the consequences be mitigated?

In the face of ever more advanced cyber-attacks, you have to employ a complex security strategy to both avoid such incidents and react quickly when they do occur. Such solutions as advanced system monitoring and identifying threats, as well as automated reaction procedures, allow you to protect your telecommunications infrastructure effectively against attacks and minimise the impacts of possible incidents. In effect, the combination of optimisation and security are key features in the provision of stable and effective telecommunications infrastructure. In the digital age, a continual improvement and adaptation to the changing market conditions and the increasing demands of users is fundamental for the modern management of telecom infrastructure.

Is the current legislation keeping up with the development and implementation of modern telecom systems? And how important for owners and property managers was the ‘Mega-Bill’?

The bill to support telecommunication networks and services of May 7th 2010, which is commonly known as the ‘Mega-Bill’, is a key legal act regulating the access of telecommunication companies to properties. It places obligations on building owners, tenants, usufruct holders and managers in regard to telecommunication companies. Moreover, these obligations have to be fulfilled in the short period of time defined by the act, with non-compliance punishable by hefty fines of up to 3 pct of a company’s annual revenue of all of its previous operations or up to 300 pct of the manager’s salary. It’s also worth pointing out that the Mega-Bill promotes the sharing of telecommunications infrastructure and obligates telecommunications companies to take into account the alternate uses of buildings, including their technical and aesthetic aspects – especially when it comes to commercial properties. This small section of the bill, which is nonetheless very important, is intended as the basis for managing the telecom services in properties, making it possible to demand that telecoms companies maintain standards that ensure the high level of their tech systems over the long term.

How are the planned changes to the law likely to change the market?

Polish legislators have been working for many years on a new bill known as the PKE (Electronics Communication Law) to bring Polish law in line with those legal directives of the European Parliament and the European Council known as the European Electronic Communications Code. The PKE is to replace the 2004 telecommunication act and will significantly amend the Mega-Bill. The impact of the planned legislative changes on the property market is as yet uncertain, so it’s hard to predict how it will change the market in the future. Nonetheless, I expect the new legislation will bring both challenges and new opportunities to everyone in the real estate market – certainly, because of the huge risk that this will place on owners and property managers, interpreting and understanding these regulations (including those of UKE, the Office of Electronic Communications of the Polish government) will become crucial.

I’d like to finish off with a more personal question: how does a telecommunications expert recharge his batteries?

I’m sure that it will come as little surprise to anyone that I love communing with nature and my favourite ways to relax are walking the dog and horse riding, which I devote all my spare time to. I’ve also been planning my summer holidays. I’m going to drive around Italy and visit some beautiful historic places and maybe a few vineyards.

A starring role in the telecom business

Przemysław Pawłowski, the current managing director of StarNet Telecom, has been working in telecommunications for almost 20 years, where he has developed practical knowledge and skills in both operations and strategy. He currently manages all aspects of the company’s business, including coordinating sales activities and developing its range of products. Przemysław is also the co-founder and CEO of tech startup Space Technology Integrator. He graduated from the Warsaw School of Economics in management and has completed a postgraduate course in sales management.