Full fibre diet key to COVID recovery
The shape of our post-Covid economy may not yet be fully formed – but it could arrive at the speed of light.
The pandemic has decimated our economy and changed forever how we will work, but we will recover. Traditionally we would look at manufacturing, the oil and gas sector, and the traditional powerhouse of financial services. While each will undoubtedly play a part, we can’t simply count on them alone to balance our employment deficit.
Our path back towards full employment, increased affluence and greater equality of opportunity will be lit by creativity and innovation. In all sectors and in businesses large and small, this will be enabled by mile upon mile of fibre optic cable buried beneath our streets and pavements.
Fibre is a tiny piece of glass fibre that transmits data extremely fast in the form of light right into your home. However, traditional telephone networks only use the fibre from the national network to a cabinet in your street, with a slower copper cable used the rest of the way to your home.
By bridging this gap, providing full fibre for the entire network from source to destination – your home or business, would vastly increase the speed and reliability of any broadband service.
This full fibre network provides the essential infrastructure that underpins the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution currently taking place, which will marry our digital, biological and physical worlds. Anything less than a network of genuine end to end full fibre will come up short. Copper cable, at any point in the network, creates a digital bottleneck that risks choking access to innovation and progress.
Phrases like Gigabit Nation, Gigabit City and Smart Cities have been around for some time now, but the expectation is that the theory behind these concepts is soon to explode into reality. Remember, a city only becomes smart when we install fibre beneath the streets and pavements capable of dealing with massive amounts of data from millions of connected devices. It is only then that it can become a place where smarter applications and solutions can be used to mine, analyse and harness data to make much smarter decisions to benefit all its citizens.
Improvements to health and education; reduced congestion and pollution; quicker and more responsive social services; better managed and maintained public and social housing; increased investment and employment growth. All this and more is enabled by information travelling at the speed of light.
And who will utilise this powerful new tool? Who will deliver the creativity and innovation that will bring to life its almost limitless potential?
People will. Because at the end of the day as Apple founder Steve Jobs so memorably reminded us, technology means nothing without people. “What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them the tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”
Full fibre gives all of us the tools we need. So, what benefits might this revolution bring?
The list is pretty much limited only by our imagination and current state of knowledge, but some examples include:
- It is better for our health and for the NHS. The Nuffield Trust ran a trial for 3,100 patients diagnosed with chronic respiratory disease, heart failure or diabetes. It found that telehealth services delivered a 45% reduction in mortality, reduced emergency admissions by 20%, led to 14% fewer elective admissions and 14% fewer bed days. The trial found that overall costs of hospital care were almost £2000 lower among telehealth users.
- It’s better for our economy. According to Government research the UK is expected to gain £20 in net economic benefit for every £1 of public investment in digital infrastructure. In a city like Edinburgh, with hundreds of km of fibre already installed by us, that will translate to hundreds of millions of pounds of additional economic benefit over 15 years, and that means thousands of jobs.
- It’s better for our environment. Fibre uses less power and requires less maintenance. That’s on top of the enormous reduction in carbon it delivers through smarter transport, reduced commuting congestion and lower levels of pollution.
- It’s better for our homes and other buildings. Through harnessing real-time data and technology, housing associations, facilities managers and others can take a much smarter, more proactive approach to maintaining buildings and keeping them more accessible and healthier for all of us. For example, one housing association partner is using smart technology to work with its tenants to help prevent issues such as damp and incentivised this by creating a “computer game” with cash prizes provided through the savings being made.
- It’s better for learning. COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the vital role that e-learning will increasingly play in delivering education. And not just in crisis situations such as lockdown – increasingly universities and others are delivering courses to degree level remotely. And given the growing importance of digital skills in our economy, the demand is only going to grow.
- It’s better for our public services. Hard-pressed local authorities are looking at how they can more efficiently deliver essential services to those most in need. Through increased connectivity they can pursue smarter strategies, increasing access to services and information cheaper, and linking community centres, libraries, schools and a host of other locations.
- It’s better for home working. Again, the pandemic has demonstrated to workers and employers that presenteeism is a thing of the past. A recent study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) said that 32 per cent of people are expecting to continue working from home at least some of the time.
This summer the city of Stirling became CityFibre’s first completed Gigabit City project. As a result, Stirling’s residents and businesses now have a reliable, future-proof network, operating at Gigabit speeds and fit for generations to come. Over 7,000 schoolteachers and pupils will have access to the ultrafast network as Stirling Council connects key public sites, helping to transform learning for a digital age.
What’s more, analysis suggests that the enhanced digital connectivity will help create millions of pounds in local economic growth over the coming years. The completion of Stirling is timely.
Greg Mesch, Chief Executive of CityFibre, said: “There’s no doubt that the future will increasingly be characterised by faster digitisation of the economy, greater online delivery of public and social services, and more tech-enabled flexible working. It is only with Full Fibre infrastructure, with lightning-fast speeds and reliability, that we can adequately underpin this future. That is why the Government set the target to rollout Full Fibre to all by 2025.
“The good news is that rollout is ramping up. Pace is quickening across the industry and Full fibre continues to attract investor support for incumbents and for rapidly scaling players like CityFibre.
“The fruits of this investment are now starting to come through too, with the UK’s first full-fibre cities coming online, including CityFibre’s project in Stirling.
“And there’s much more to come, as the industry scales up to meet the challenge. For example, CityFibre alone is now recruiting the 10,000 workers we need to deliver Full Fibre to 8 million premises, our share of the 2025 target.”
And this work is very much needed. The UK lags behind most other developed countries, ranking 29th out of 30 OECD nations, meanwhile Japan and South Korea are at the top end of the scale. The focus on social, educational and digital inclusion has never been greater. The push is on, with CityFibre investing £400 million in Scotland alone. The prize would see the unlocking of around £5 billion in economic and other benefits.
Elaine Doherty, City Manager – Edinburgh