Assessing the MDU opportunity


According to the US Census Bureau, out of 127 million households, were close to 35 million households living in MDUs (multi dwelling unit) of more than 2 units in 2016. Those numbers translate into over 17 million units spread over a little more than 800,000 buildings. Estimates vary but let’s say 20% of these units are connected to fibre while the rest get broadband through either coax cable or variations of xDSL and a little percentage with wireless.

However, as we wrote in a previous blog, broadband internet service in the U.S. has been plagued by uncompetitive practices. Large, nationwide internet service providers (ISPs) have built monopolies that prohibit innovation, drive down levels of service, and block competitors from entering the market. In their 2016 Broadband Progress Report, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found that only 38% of Americans have more than one choice of broadband provider, and only 10% of Americans have access to broadband speeds of up to 25 Mbps downlink/3 Mbps uplink. Many Americans lack access to broadband internet entirely, especially in rural areas: 39% of rural Americans, 4% of urban Americans, and 41% of Americans living on Tribal lands do not have access to broadband services. In light of these factors, the FCC concluded that “advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

Some organizations have attempted to provide a better broadband option to consumers, through the deployment of fiber-optic networks. For example, Google Fiber, announced in 2010, offers fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) high-speed broadband internet with downlink speeds of up to 1 Gbps. Verizon Fios is another FTTH fiber solution that offers high speed broadband, up to a “Fios Gigabit Connection” of 940 Mbps down/880 Mbps up. Such networks serve to raise consumer expectations of broadband internet, pressuring ISPs to improve service. The US Fiber Broadband Association reports that:

  • 2016 saw 4.2 million homes passed with fibre;
  • During 2004–2013, large telco’s (Verizon, AT&T, CenturyLink and Frontier) accounted for about 83% of the FTTH build, while other providers added just 17% of the annual additions. But in the last three years, the large telcos only accounted for about 52% of the build while the “other 1000” FTTH providers added 48% in aggregate.

However, deploying fiber networks is a slow and expensive process, with an installation cost estimated to be approximately $1000 per home. Accordingly, despite the high speeds available with fibre, time and cost expenses prohibit fibre as a practical broadband remedy.

The MDU market is not only large but provides better economics than access to single family units, especially for wireline providers who already provide broadband access to the building. Large MDUs that have tens or hundreds of residents require very large pipes. Those residents of affordable housing struggle the most to get broadband while student housing and other multifamily properties often lack appropriate infrastructure as well.

In the case of semi-public MDUs such as student housing, and other similar venues, residents need more than a fast pipe. They can benefit with properly managed Wi-Fi networks that are well with guest Wi-Fi easy to sell and implement.

In some emerging economies worldwide, the proportion of the population living in MDUs is extremely high, for example it is estimated that approximately 90 percent (90%) of Chinese urban households are in MDUs.

As a result, the MDU market is very important for both communication service providers as well as both wireline and wireless technology vendors including mmwave for last “portion” access and Wi-Fi for in-building distribution and managed services.

Maravedis will be looking more in-depth into the MDU market opportunity and is seeking comments, contributions and further engagement.


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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).


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