Q. ASK4 was one of the first providers of broadband in the student accommodation sector – how do you feel the sector has changed since you started out?
A. Speed, Wi-Fi, number of devices and… speed! Students used to arrive at their accommodation, pay for the internet for the year, and pick up an Ethernet cable to plug their laptop into the port in their room. 2Mb/s was the base speed but they could upgrade to 10Mb/s or even to – a then an almost unheard of – lightning 25Mb/s! Academic year 2012–13 was really the first year that Wi-Fi went into new-builds en masse and that was a game changer. In three short years Wi-Fi has arrived and taken over. The average number of devices has risen to nearly four per user and the consumption of content has risen in tandem. As far as today’s users are concerned they want internet like they get at home… but better
Q. You work with a number of universities across the country and your customer base is growing still – do you have any further plans for expansion?
A. We added over 20,000 new beds to our service this September, taking our total number of users to over 130,000. We also provide full managed services directly to eight UK universities. Many universities still provide their own internet service via their IT departments, so there is huge potential for growth in that sector. ASK4 have been known more in the private space, probably because that’s where we started. While universities could provide internet services to their halls via JANET, the private sector required a partner for the internet. We have been providing to Liberty Living for example since 2003! We hope to work with more universities over the coming years and continue to develop products, such as Eduroam integration, for that space. That’s why we are delighted that Frances Stone, recently retired from her role as Director of Residential and Commercial Services at the University of Leicester and ex-Chair of CUBO, has come on board to work with us in our partnerships with universities.
Q. How is student accommodation changing? Do you think enough is being done to satisfy the demands of incoming students?
A. Change in this sector is driven by the need to satisfy evolving student requirements. It can be very tempting for an accommodation village to differentiate their offering by trying something different for the sake of it; by focusing on adding that extra 5% of ‘wow’ at the expense of the 95% we have all come to expect – but that doesn’t just happen. All the building blocks for great internet must remain in place – safety, security, speed, accessibility. We continually develop new products to enhance the student experience and accept the fact that today’s ‘wow’ will become tomorrow’s standard. We will continue to raise the bar and we see our clients doing the same.
‘Academic year 2012–13 was really the first year that Wi-Fi went into new-builds en masse and that was a game changer’
Q. Do you think that students are expecting more from their accommodation providers?
A. That is inevitable. Accommodation is unrecognisable from what used to be ‘student halls’. Certainly from my day in 1992! I spent my first year in Claude Gibb Halls in Northumbria; it was the newest stock around and had single beds in rooms off a corridor, a sink in each room and a couple of shared kitchens and shower rooms per floor. Hotmail accounts were new tech and there were machines in the university that were connected to the internet! The private sector hadn’t moved into the accommodation space yet, the internet was in its infancy. Today’s accommodation is a breed apart; rooms are clustered into shared apartments; coffee bars, gyms and sky lounges are commonplace and entrance lobbies have the look and security of West End hotels. I often argue that the internet has become the number one consideration for students because the universities and private providers have removed other factors from the student’s consideration. The secure, clean, smart, well-positioned and facilities boxes are pre-ticked these days.
Q. What is in store for ASK4 in the future?
A. To continue to evolve and grow in what is a fantastic marketplace and to keep ASK4 synonymous with quality and reliability. While there is still huge growth potential in the UK PBSA market, we are currently opening up European opportunities with PBSA sites in Spain, Germany and Ireland. The private rented sector also offers huge opportunity, where we are working with existing student clients building in this space and exciting new clients too.