Network Connectivity Implementation Considerations for Retailers / Restaurants

In this blog, we'll explain connectivity procurement and implementation considerations specific to restaurants and retailers when buying internet / WAN circuits

network connectivity retailer restaurant
Matt Pinto

May 2, 2024


For many retailers, the real estate adage “location, location, location” is more cautionary tale than cliche. When searching for an in-person location, research is critical. Is the location competitive? Is the cost of real estate justified? Can you build for the future as well as provide for your present needs? Do things like accessibility and parking align with your needs? Yet many retailers forget to factor in a staple of the digital age – the essential infrastructure, including internet connectivity. 

Wi-Fi dead spots or slow bandwidth options in your shiny new location aren't often considered. That’s why you need Lightyear. We can walk you through what you need to consider about connectivity if you’re opening a new location or expanding your current setup.

Internet Connectivity Needs for Business: The Basics

Let’s start with the basics, the things any business needs to make the most of its internet connectivity. 

  • Cost: What you pay for the services for which you sign up.

  • Reliability: How well the service provider operates at the location, and how consistent is their service, which greatly impacts revenue and productivity. Are you getting dedicated services backed by SLAs, or best effort services that could go down at any moment?

  • Bandwidth: The upload and download speed you can expect to see from your connection. 

  • Scalability: How easily you can grow and change your chosen infrastructure and services to meet your changing connectivity needs.

  • Diversity: How many “paths” you can establish for alternate internet in case of outages and service failures.

  • Redundancy: Closely linked to diversity, but focusing on the physical duplication of mission-critical infrastructure, again for outages and service failures. 

  • Regulatory Compliance: Such as meeting PCI-DSS safety regulations for payment card data.

Each of these factors plays a crucial role in shaping your connected experience and needs careful consideration – before you sign on the dotted line of any contract. In many pieces of content we’ve published on the Lightyear Blog, we’ve covered each of these individual topics extensively and recommend digging across relevant content for further detail.

Shopping for Internet Connectivity for Retailers: Unpacking the Jargon

On your quest for the best telecom experience, you will come across some jargon and terminology telecom operators and service providers use. These will come up throughout the implementation process, so let’s take a closer look. 

Minimum Point of Entry (MPOE)

The MPOE is the first place a service provider’s cabling physically enters a structure. Some properties call this the building’s main telephone closet. The MPOE can be placed wherever the structure’s builder or architect designs it to go. However, the most common MPOE location is on the first floor of the structure adjacent to the electrical closet. 

MPOE location can be trickier in older buildings, where needs like internet connectivity weren’t considered from the start, and the location may be non-ideal or provide its own issues, like Wi-Fi interference from older building materials or the need to run considerable cabling between your new store and the MPOE itself in shared units. So, while you have little control over the MPOE location in a building, you should still carefully evaluate it for any potential challenges to your procurement process.

Demarcation Point (demarc) 

The “demarc zone” has a lovely sci-fi ring to it, doesn’t it? However, it is another important location to know when implementing telecom solutions for retailers. The demarc is the point at which the service provider’s responsibility officially ends. Anything after the demarc is the customer’s responsibility.  

Demarcs are commonly located inside the MPOE, but, with a little negotiation, you may be able to adjust the demarc area to better suit your needs. Again, what is most important is you understand where it is, and who holds responsibility for the various elements of your overall connectivity solution. This will streamline implementation and future troubleshooting.

Intra-Facility Cabling (IFC) 

The acronym IFC typically refers to the critical cabling inside a building that is required for services to function. This is the cabling that would (for example) run from an internet service provider’s demarc in the MPOE to the customer’s firewall in their suite.

You could probably guess that from context, but what does it mean for your new infrastructure? IFCs are rarely the responsibility of the service provider. Whether the onus to maintain, replace, and upgrade IFC lies with you, or the building owner is a key question, and one you need to understand before you commit to any telecom solution.

The Extended Demarcation Point, or Extended Demarc

Remember how we mentioned demarc zones can sometimes be negotiated? Welcome to the world of the extended demarc. Before any kind of demarc extension (or IFCs, for that matter) can be discussed, you need to understand exactly where the MPOE is, and the distance between it and the requested demarc extension point. This will affect many parts of the installation cycle, including what type of cabling and infrastructure support is needed. 

There are two major types of extended demarks.

Service provider-extended demarcs are driven from the service providers’ side, where they opt to extend their demarc from the MPOE to a more convenient location. There are three common scenarios.

  • The customer will run a new IFC from the MPOE to their suite and the service provider will install a demarcation point in the customer’s suite.

  • The service provider will run a new IFC from the MPOE to the customer’s suite and install a demarcation point.

  • The service provider will use existing IFC to extend the demarc to the customer’s suite.

Naturally, there is also the customer-extended demarc. Here, once the service provider establishes their demarc area, the customer can extend it how they see fit, by whatever viable method they choose. You will, however, need to establish whether you have full permission to “tinker” with the service provider’s hardware and infrastructure before you simply assume you can do so.

Retail Special Scenarios: Malls and Airports

With those basics out of the way, let’s look at some additional considerations for retailers using rented or leased spaces inside airports and malls, where there is considerable shared space and infrastructure to navigate. 

Carrier Competition

Often, property management companies will award the exclusive rights at their properties to specific service providers. Even if multiple service providers have cabling that runs directly past the site you’re considering, the property management company must allow them onto or into the property to provide services to the property’s tenants. This may significantly throttle your service provider choices. 

Additionally, if the enterprise WAN for a specific service provider at the location runs on a specific network topology (like MPLS networks), it may be difficult or even impossible for another service provider to install different technology, especially if they have one of these exclusive rights agreements in place with an alternate provider. 

So, don’t be shy to ask about service providers in use at the site, and whether there are any exclusive carrier agreements in place. 

Intra-Facility Cabling

For retailers in airports, malls, and similar large, shared environments, getting the demarc installed or extended to a convenient location, like their suite, has its own challenges. These become even trickier for setups like kiosks, where space and options are limited. These challenges include the following.

  • Limited site hours and access, often outside of business hours, for cablers to do their work. These hours are limited to minimize disruption to other tenants and customers, but it doesn’t really help you get up and running.

  • Multiple carrier demarc points. In large airports, there are multiple buildings and terminals that carriers could use as their demarcation point. If the service provider installs the demarc in the wrong building or terminal for your location, it can lead to problems finding cabling or even a suitable path for cabling.

Navigating this issue will require you to work closely with the property manager, ensuring you locate and order services for the correct location.

Wireless Shielding

It’s time for some “modern problems” that need modern solutions.

The proliferation of access to in-store guest Wi-Fi created a significant challenge for retailers because there were suddenly too many Access Points and not enough Wi-Fi channels.  For example, the United States allocated 11 frequency channels to the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum, but only 3 of those are non-overlapping. The 5 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum has roughly 130 channels, but only 24 that do not overlap.  

What does that mean for retailers? The number of stores providing guest Wi-Fi, their proximity to each other, and the limited number of channels available without cross-interference with each other drove property managers to put shielding into the walls. This shielding serves a vital role – limiting the distance Wi-Fi signals travel outside of the retail stores using them.

However, that protection can be a double-edged sword. If you plan to use Wi-Fi solutions, whether customer-facing or simply for your staff, you need to do a full site survey and understand the local environment. For example, it is pretty routine for retailers to use wireless security and cameras, be it for counting foot traffic, inventory control, or direct security. If the walls aren’t shielded, you may find that there’s too much overlap (evident by how many SSIDs are visible when viewing wireless networks at the location) and that wireless devices like the cameras or wireless POS devices don’t function properly.

Additionally, cellular service-based backups can be significantly challenged by shielded walls. Sometimes to the point where they won’t work at all. So much for your carefully planned network redundancy and failover solutions, right? There are external antenna options with a few different wireless routers, but in most cases, the property management must approve the placement and type of antenna. We know of several instances of policies that prohibit this altogether. If you were planning on a wireless data backup connection, you need clarity on the matter.

What About Satellite Connections for Retail?

Satellite connectivity is a rapidly developing new arm of the connectivity stable that is becoming more viable for business use. Several legacy geostationary (GEO) satellite internet providers, and now also low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite providers, now offer business-focused services.

If you’re hoping to make a satellite connection part of your diversity and redundancy topology, however, you will run into similar issues to those of external cellular antennas which we mentioned above. In fact, many property managers won’t allow satellite antennas at all. Again, you need to do due diligence on the matter and check with management if this is a connectivity solution you prefer.

Naturally, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the challenges a retailer may face when procuring and implementing telecommunications services, especially in a mall or an airport environment. However, we hope we’ve given you some key pointers and food for thought to help you navigate the most common pitfalls. 

Need more hands-on help? The Lightyear Telecom Operating System can help you to make informed decisions and our helpful staff are available for consultation requests, too. Lightyear’s goal is to take as much of the guesswork out of the telecom procurement exercise and allow retailers to focus on the highly competitive environment in which they operate. If you’re ready to find your connectivity solutions the right way, why not reach out to the Lightyear team today? 

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