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Jun 24, 2024
3 min

Delivering Managed Gigabit Wi-Fi to Older MDUs: Considerations for Service Providers

A building with managed gigabit Wi-Fi service icons surrounding it

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 25% of Americans reside in multi-dwelling units (MDUs). A significant number of these buildings were constructed before the adoption of modern building practices that typically include fiber optics or structured CAT5/6 cabling. Furthermore, approximately 22% of United Kingdom residents and 62.7% of Germans live in MDUs.

These “brownfield” buildings and their demographics represent both a challenge and an opportunity. This substantial segment of the population remains underserved yet possesses considerable potential for digital upgrades and profitability.

Strategic Imperatives

To effectively address the needs of residents in older MDUs, broadband service providers (BSPs) must consider several core requirements:

  • Property-wide managed Wi-Fi: Ensuring reliable, high-speed internet access that allows for secure, uninterrupted connectivity and roaming throughout the property.

  • Gigabit Ethernet backbone: This is crucial not just for internet connectivity but also to support smart building applications and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that enhance building management and tenant experiences.

  • Ease of operation: Leveraging tools like Calix Cloud® can significantly enhance operational efficiencies. This includes personalized in-unit broadband configurations, remote support capabilities, and seamless integration with existing property management software platforms—collectively encapsulated under the Calix SmartMDU™  offering.

Navigating the Complexities

The path to upgrading MDUs is fraught with specific challenges:

  • Building construction: Older buildings often feature thick concrete walls, asbestos hazards, and a need to preserve architectural integrity—all of which complicate physical upgrades. Oregon’s law makes it so cost-prohibitive that BSPs are increasingly looking to other methods and technologies to avoid making holes in walls.

  • Cost and time sensitivity: The financial outlay and time investment required to modernize older properties are high, influencing the choice of technology and approach.

  • Backhaul methodology: The decision between fiber, fixed wireless, or DOCSIS impacts not only current capabilities but also future scalability.

  • Future needs: BSPs must address the need for increased bandwidth and lower latency, essential for supporting popular applications like 4k streaming and multi-player gaming, and emergent smart building technologies like smart locks, surveillance cameras, and sensors.

Pathways for MDU Broadband Upgrades

  • Rewiring for fiber: This upgrade provides the most future-proof and scalable solution and can elevate a building’s overall value and marketability. However, while the process offers robust bandwidth, it is costly, disruptive, and often impractical in historical or structurally complex buildings.

  • Fixed wireless in-building distribution: While this is less intrusive than rewiring (unless a Distributed Antenna System [DAS] is required), signal penetration from a nearby 5G tower is often inconsistent, leading to poor coverage and slow speeds. Additionally, in MDUs with many residents, the limited capacity of 5G networks results in congestion.

  • Re-using existing copper or coaxial: An often-overlooked option, this approach minimizes disruption and cost while providing the required gigabit Ethernet infrastructure for managed Wi-Fi and smart building implementations. The Positron Access Multiplexer (GAM) allows service providers to reuse the legacy wiring (coaxial or copper), delivers fiber-like speeds, and is fully integrated with Calix AXOS®/SMx and is seamlessly managed under the Calix Cloud.


The task of delivering gigabit Wi-Fi to older MDUs isn’t just about technological deployment; it involves understanding the unique challenges posed by varied environments. Service providers must balance economic factors, deployment timelines, and tenant needs to effectively modernize these properties. By navigating these complexities, they can unlock substantial value and enhance resident satisfaction.

Reach out to Positron to explore how our innovative solutions can transform your service delivery in brownfield environments.

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