There’s a new wireless communication technology that promises to represent a paradigm shift in the smart home and security markets. No, I am not talking about the new Matter wireless standard, but the new Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.
To be specific, CBRS band is a portion of the cellular spectrum that was previously owned by the U.S. Department of Defense that was approved for commercial use by the FCC in January 2020. The approval determined that non-cellular companies like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile had the ability to use, for private purposes, cellular technology like LTE and 5G. The network provides 5G speeds and predictable latency compared to Wi-Fi, for example.
Among the first companies to take advantage of this new alternative is access control manufacturer LittleBird, which has partnered with Alef, a technology company that has created the first mobile Edge API Platform using CBRS cellular technology. The two companies recently signed a multi-million-dollar agreement that allows LittleBird to use Alef’s LTE/5G core services and APIs to enable a private mobile network, using the CBRS spectrum for LittleBird’s Smart Technologies application of residential properties across the U.S.
The companies’ offering targets multi-dwelling unit (MDU) communities and office applications, and it will enable integrators to quickly deploy reliable wireless communications for LittleBird’s door entry access control, gate operators, telephone entry and video intercoms without having to wait for the deployment of high-speed fiber infrastructure to individual units.
Alef radios are embedded in LittleBird solutions to enable them to use the CBRS spectrum. The Alef API enables LittleBird to create its own private network for MDU properties. CBRS technology also allows a system controller to communicate via Z-Wave to all the sensors in a condo or apartment.
“The sensors now have an alternative to fiber,” says Jim Jacobellis, senior vice president of technology partners and sales at Alef. “They were locked out of a lot of properties. The API approach allows them to unlock these properties. Let’s say the property doesn’t want to dig up the parking lot to put in security cameras. They now have a way to not only enable this LittleBird controller app, but add security cameras, or even cost effectively add Wi-Fi hotspots to the common areas, like by swimming pools.
This partnership removes the complexity of deploying a private mobile network and allows LittleBird to launch across multiple properties quickly and affordably. LittleBird will be able to control its smart home automation and smart access control devices across its property portfolio while connecting to Alef’s network to increase mobility to otherwise inaccessible locations. Utilizing Alef’s APIs to support a private mobile network gives LittleBird an alternative to traditional mobile network operators through a cost-effective, low latency network that expands reach across their many U.S. locations.
RMR Benefits for Integrators
LittleBird was launched four years ago with the focus on providing better technology for MDUs. The company manufactures video intercom, access control readers, telephone entry system hardware, and it builds software for multifamily communities. Using the LittleBird app, residents have “smart access control” for vehicle gates, pedestrian gates, and amenity spaces. The system controller also communicates via Z-Wave and other wireless protocols to various devices in the home, including smart home features such as door locks, thermostats, and light sensors. The system extends into resident engagement features like events management, amenity reservations, discussion boards, and announcements from property management staff.
Meanwhile, property managers use a web portal that enables them to interact with LittleBird.
“The ultimate goal of the application is getting residents to feel comfortable, put roots down, and feel like it’s a place that they want to stay. We want them to keep being happy citizens and pay rent long-term while turning ROI back to the owner-developer and making it more efficient for the property staff,” says Ryan Maguire, general manager at LittleBird.
Making the solution even more attractive, LittleBird shares recurring monthly revenue (RMR) with its channel partners.
“It’s a unique business model, because we actually have a contract directly with the customer as well,” says Maguire. “We’re supporting them in technical ways and feature development, and those kinds of things as well.
It gives the integrators the ability to make money on hardware and make money on RMR, and not have to staff up to support technical support for all the residents at that property. That has been among the biggest barriers for CE pros to entry int the recurring revenue business and why they haven’t focused on multifamily.
“There is so much opportunity for revenue for these businesses who haven’t yet discovered multifamily. There are giant six-figure projects on the front-end, and then a recurring model from there on. They need maintenance, they need service there forward for voice video data, and the surveillance, and the common area Wi-Fi, and audio/visual for the common areas. All the different things these companies can do and provide,” add Maguire.
Maguire says the system enhances the living conditions for the tenants who get to experience smart home amenities, unburdens the property manager from certain tasks, and offers a huge ROI for developers/owners.
“If they sell the property, the investment in LittleBird typically returns 10 to 30 times the investment. It’s a huge return. Most properties are cashflow-positive within two years after investing in LittleBird,” he notes.
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