Mikael Sandberg, Chairman, VX Fiber
The IT landscape is fast evolving through various technologies, from big data, AI, connectivity and security, to driverless cars and more sophisticated cloud storage – which make up the smart cities of the future in the UK and beyond. The common theme that unites all these developments is full-fibre infrastructure, and the connectivity needed for all these applications to work.
Full-fibre internet is the answer the IT landscape needs to truly evolve, and for smart cities to really take off. Fibre is set to be a huge priority for the UK as it looks to 2020, particularly with political parties competing over their policies to help achieve full-fibre rollout, from Jeremy Corbyn’s proposals to nationalise BT OpenReach, and Sajid Javid’s suggestion to put an additional £5 billion for connectivity upgrades in the UK, as outlined at the Conservative Party conference earlier this year.
However, we are at a tipping point, with the UK currently at 8% of full-fibre coverage, and only 1% connected nationwide. This is put into perspective when compared to countries such as Spain, Portugal, Lithuania and Romania; which are all achieving over 90% fibre coverage. Not only that, Sweden, which has approximately 70% full fibre coverage (50% connected), has been put on a plan to be able to reach 100% – but its government has predicted this won’t be possible until 2025. We predict that the IT and tech landscape – and beyond – will start to become more aware of the value of investing in fibre; it is not just high-speed internet, but also an investment in property, family and business. Indeed, with high capacity tech such as mobile and cloud gaming playing a more integral role than ever before in our everyday lives, we really need to be able to support ongoing technological innovation.
One key example emerging from developments in trends such as AI and IoT, is driverless cars. In a similar way to how we need to make people aware of the realities of why we need fibre, we also need to look at the complex, and to some a bit dull, processes behind the more glamorous innovations being talked about in the broader tech landscape.
For driverless cars to become a reality, we need to continue to collect a huge amount of data from the environments around us to be able to support the development of applications needed. Not only that, AI and algorithms are being developed in parallel to data being collected, proving that the final autonomous vehicle isn’t as close to being part of everyday reality as some people may think.
2020 is set to be the transition year to these (currently) abstract ideas developing into a finalised product – we’ll see more 5G trials and areas of AI being applied in limited application, although it’s likely that we won’t see any major autonomous vehicle trials on roads in the UK just yet, despite gathering momentum. So, although we’ll see more investment in data and AI, it’s essential that this lies in conjunction with the development of fibre networks. While people do tend to jump to the exciting end-product of the concept of a self-driving car, we need to focus on the infrastructure needed to support its development.
This is why 2020 needs to be the year that we should put momentum behind driving awareness of the urgent need for full-fibre infrastructure to advance the UK tech landscape. With internet speeds having tripled between 2013 and 2018, and the number of homes able to connect to an ultrafast line having hit 54 per cent, up from 36 per cent in 2017, it’s clear that this is certainly within our grasp.