Digital technology is now part of the fabric of almost every environment we encounter – from homes and high streets to public transport and offices. But one increasingly vital ingredient – fast, reliable and affordable Internet connectivity – is in short supply and threatens to hinder the full realisation of a building’s ‘smart’ potential.

Internet of things (IoT) technology has enabled buildings to become much more intuitive to the needs of their inhabitants and such environments are becoming increasingly attractive to residential and commercial tenants alike. Smart sensors, combined with intelligent software and analytics frameworks, enable building managers to increase comfort, reduce overheads, protect assets and keep inhabitants safe, all in real time. Systems that proactively monitor and manage climate, lighting and security are increasingly commonplace, with some – such as refrigeration and access management – becoming critical to the success of businesses themselves.

But the pressure is rising

As residents of the digital age, we now need – as a bare minimum – connectivity that is capable of supporting video conferencing, large file transfer and cloud-based applications. All without impacting other simultaneous users. Added to this is the ongoing transition away from local data-storage solutions, to secure, off-site back-up services and on-demand data access.

Demand for bandwidth to meet these needs continues to grow at pace. By 2020, global internet traffic volume is set to be 95 times that of 2005, and by 2022 the number of devices connected to the Internet will be more than three times the global population. Smart buildings and their data processing requirements are part of this mix, resulting in one big capacity-constrained data pressure-cooker that’s ready to explode.

Upgrade is essential

To ensure our buildings and services can develop their smart potential and drive efficiencies, we need a digital infrastructure that’s capable of delivering affordable, reliable and high capacity broadband at speeds of 1,000 Mbps and beyond, with no compromise. This means networks built with end to end fibre optic technology transmitting data in the form of light down glass cables for the entire connection into each premises.

It matters! Especially for smart buildings and those developing, managing and working in them because reliability and capacity are central to delivering seamless connectivity between devices, for capturing and processing data in the cloud and then transferring instructions and information back again – all in real time. Think hospitals, data centres, universities – their capacity needs are immense and sluggish speeds and outages can cause critical damage.

The UK lags behind almost all other OECD countries

Our service-based economy runs on the internet and the internet runs best on fibre, yet less than 8% of UK premises currently have access to a full fibre broadband connection. The remaining 92% have a choice between poor value, slow, unreliable broadband that still uses Victorian-age copper technology, or overpriced Ethernet ‘leased line’ services that are simply unaffordable for many businesses.

Only full fibre is fit for our digital future

Copper needs to be eradicated. It’s speed limiting, distance dependent, susceptible to poor weather and simply not fit to see us through the gigabit age. And yet our incumbent network operator continues to want to ‘sweat the asset’ – consulting on network upgrade plans that continue to utilise fibre and copper together, rather than invest wholeheartedly in our nation’s fibre-only future.

Some argue that 5G and fixed wireless technologies will ease the pressure. These are exciting technologies, but mobile masts (currently used to aggregate 4G mobile data back onto the main network) already need full fibre, and delivering next generation 5G capabilities at a price people will be willing and able to pay, will ultimately depend on fibre-connected 5G small cells positioned on almost every street in a city.

It’s a challenge that CityFibre is already geared up for

Our new Prime Minister has laid down the gauntlet for the UK telecoms industry to deliver full fibre connectivity to 100% of premises by 2025. The majority of our industry is under no illusion; this is a mammoth challenge and to achieve it, barriers need to be addressed and no one company can achieve it alone.

As the UK’s leading alternative provider of full fibre digital infrastructure CityFibre has already committed to invest £2.5 billion to rollout full fibre to 5 million premises (20% of the UK) by 2025. We currently have network in over 60 towns and cities. 26 of these have been announced as full-city deployments and more will follow. Our progress is worth tracking because, once in place, a connection secured on our network will be the last any truly-smart building will ever need.

In Clayton’s next blog he’ll explain what CityFibre is doing to help realise smart city visions and introduce the building-based IoT trial running over the company’s network in Peterborough. Clayton will be presenting about the trial, alongside IoT specialist, Comms365 at the Smart Buildings Show, 9-10 October at London Olympia.