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City Fibre: smarter, faster, greener

What role can full fibre play in delivering a sustainable future? A starring role, says Rebecca Stephens, City Manager at Peterborough at City Fibre

Almost on a daily basis we are being confronted with the unfolding climate crisis. Our planet has reached a tipping point that requires action and change. Whatever your views, most of us agree that with conscious change and new ways of thinking, living and working, we can minimise our impact on the environment and address many of the challenges heading our way.

Technological advancement has often been blamed for some of the damage caused to the environment, but now – in the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) – we need to shape the evolution of technology to benefit the planet. At CityFibre, we believe technology plays an absolutely fundamental role – both in changing our own habits and how our communities operate. Harnessing the power of technology may hold the key to solving this challenge whether it’s at home, at work or across communities like Peterborough. Yet how do we combine disparate forms of technology together into a patchwork of truly effective solutions?

The infrastructure beneath our feet
Smart technology is an exponentially growing market. Some of you may have a device in your home that you talk to, and almost all of you will have a connected device that today is only rarely ever used as an actual phone. However, these smart or connected devices are only as good as the networks they run on. If you think about this from a sustainable point of view, various sensors can now be deployed to monitor air pollution near dense traffic areas. On its own that information is useful, but largely, it cannot be used to do anything about the pollution. Now imagine those sensors are linked directly to a road traffic system which can alter the flow of traffic depending on what the sensors are telling it.

Marrying two disparate pieces of technology can suddenly create a seamless union that helps to tackle a very real problem. If you take this to the nth degree, you could have an entire city, and the devices within it, working in unison to make the environment better. That is the basic premise of Smart Cities, something that has been around for many years now, but has only recently started to take off. The reason it has taken time to get off the ground is that having this symphony of devices speaking to each other takes a lot of data. If you think of networks as single-track roads, these roads have been struggling with the constant stream of motorway traffic (data) being put through them. Because of this, the UK is now committed to using full fibre networks – and Peterborough is one of the first in the country to undergo this digital transformation thanks to CityFibre’s £30million investment in a Fibre-to-the- Premises network rollout that will mean nearly every home and business in the city can access Gigabit-speed internet connectivity.

These networks, built from fibre optic cables carry data on pulses of light – a bit like turning the singletrack roads intoamulti-lane highway. At CityFibre we are working to create that network capable of handling the huge amount of data we are expecting to come from smart city initiatives. Essentially we’re futureproofing Peterborough. Accessing 1Gb or 1000Mb today seems a lot, especially when you consider there are people not far from here who struggle to get 2Mb, but this is a network capable of delivering 10Gb per home in the future. And that future will be here sooner than we think. Full fibre networks have a host of practical environmental benefits. At the moment the UK is reliant on a copper network in need of near-constant maintenance. Full fibre networks are passive. They don’t require constant power to operate, so the energy consumption is dramatically lower than that of a copper network. Secondly, optical fibres are only slightly thicker than a human hair – a fraction of the size and weight of copper wiring.

This makes it possible to deploy using ‘microtrenching’, which is cheaper, quicker and less environmentally destructive. This is thanks to the small, shallow incision it makes in roads and pavements, and the machine itself, which is much smaller than your average diesel-guzzling digger! Finally, the passive, robust nature of fibre and its track record for fewer faults means it needs significantly less maintenance over time and less re-excavation.

Technology as a solution
We are at a very early stage of what technology can do. With full fibre, we can guarantee the network bandwidth, speeds and reliability required to deliver connected environmental solutions, which should give national and local government the confidence to deploy these devices and sensors. This is a topic we explored recently with sustainability consultancy Carbon Smart in a study published on Earth Day which covered the long-term environmental benefits of full fibre networks. In summary, it found that ubiquitous high speed, high capacity full fibre broadband could help drive a reduction in global carbon emissions by up to a fifth by underpinning low carbon solutions across transport, energy, computing, construction, building management, health and education.

For instance, it found that increased teleworking in the UK could deliver the equivalent of taking 2.5million cars off the road long term, and if large businesses were to support this shift by switching to reliable, high-capacity shared data networks, they could reduce their overall emissions by 50 per cent. These impressive stats can be put down to lower fuel consumption and a reduced office footprint, which will also save businesses hard-earned cash. The study also highlighted that the adoption of smart solutions in buildings, such as temperature and motion sensors that automate lighting and climate controls, could potentially reduce global emissions by 16.5 per cent per annum. Similarly, in the home, replacing physical GP visits with telemedicine appointments could achieve a 40 to 70-fold reduction in CO2 emissions, on top of those already being saved as a result of the 53 million smart meters being fitted to aid efficient energy use. And, in our communities, autonomous cars could reduce congestion and emissions, like today’s data-led traffic management systems that use trends to improve traffic flow during rush hour. Each of these technologies requires the transfer of significant volumes of data – volumes that only full fibre optic networks can carry reliably now, and in the future.

Progress in Peterborough
While all this sounds good on paper, it’s reassuring to know that this kind of technology is being used today. At CityFibre, we are putting this smart technology to the test with our partners, such as Cross Keys Homes in Peterborough. Using next generation sensor technology, our trial deployed sensors to monitor health, safety and environmental factors. Detecting excess condensation at an early stage, reducing the need for treatment or repair, identifying wasted heat in communal areas and stairwells, realising power savings on aircon units, and early warning alerts for low water levels all resulted in environmental benefits and a reduced carbon footprint – not to mention other benefits like improved comfort and reduced disruption for tenants, reduced risk of data and security breaches, fire safety improvements, staffing efficiencies, and cost saving. Imagine what the impact could be if every building had such capabilities?

Supporting green ambition
Central to CityFibre’s rollout programme is the fact that each build is delivered in full collaboration with the communities we’re investing in. In Peterborough we are working with a wide range of groups from residents and local businesses to the local authority and community organisations. For this reason, we share Peterborough’s drive to reduce its environmental impact and realise its Environment Capital ambitions. The citywide Environment Action Plan is broken down into 10 areas including ‘zero carbon emissions’ and ‘sustainable transport’ – both areas we are helping to address by delivering citywide enabling infrastructure. There are dozens of organisations, businesses, schools and community groups that are pioneering initiatives to make our city cleaner and greener. We’re just at the start of exploring what technology can do to make communities more sustainable. With a whole raft of innovation taking place in the smart city market, who knows how far away we could be from a game-changing innovation. What is for sure is that in order to harness the potential this technology has, it will need the solid foundations of a full fibre network to flourish

Enabling the Environment Capital
What is full fibre?
The environmental, social, economic and technological benefits of a full fibre infrastructure support Peterborough’s ambitions of ‘Creating the UK’s Environment Capital’ and will feed the city’s Environment Action Plan. Alongside successes such as Circular Peterborough, Investors in the Environment, Forest for Peterborough, the Eco Charter for schools, community fridges, the Green Wheel and the environmental charity PECT (Peterborough Environment City Trust), CityFibre’s full fibre rollout will enable a step-change in the way we live, work and play – enabling more sustainable and environmental solutions.

From schoolgirl climate change warrior Greta Thunberg igniting an international movement to Peterborough City Council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency, the search for solutions and demand for action is getting ever more urgent. Again, Peterborough is leading the way. PECT interim CEO Stuart Dawks says: ‘Here at PECT, we are keen to support innovative solutions for a more sustainable future.

Tackling climate change requires an infrastructure fit for purpose, and we welcome CityFibre’s role in supporting the environmental ambitions of Peterborough, alongside the long-term environmental benefits that their technology can help bring.’ Council cabinet member Marco Cereste adds: ‘The council’s continued focus on how we tackle climate change and develop a strategy in line with a target of net zero emissions by 2030 needs all partners across the city to play their part. ‘Full fibre is the only form of digital infrastructure capable of delivering the speed, capacity, reliability and symmetry required to support smart city technology, so the progress CityFibre is making in digitally transforming our city and enabling sustainable solutions is extremely encouraging. From re-directing congested traffic to giving people the freedom to work from home to improved business efficiencies, the advantages will make a real difference for all our residents.’

What is full fibre?
CityFibre aims to deliver best in class, full fibre infrastructure, creating what we call Gigabit Cities. Today, less than eight per cent of UK premises benefit from full fibre connectivity, where high speed, high capacity, resilient fibre optic cables take services all the way from the exchange directly into the premises. The remaining 92 per cent still depend on copper, either in full or in part. This hybrid approach is known as Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) and can cause a crippling bottleneck on connection speeds and upload capabilities. Because of the benefits it can bring, the Government wants the entire country to be covered by full fibre by 2025. CityFibre has fully funded plans to bring full fibre to five million homes and businesses by this date as part of its contribution to the overall effort.

Transformative technology
A unique partnership bringing together people, partners and expertise is showcasing just one of the ways a full fibre network can bring environmental benefits to Peterborough. CityFibre has partnered with Peterborough’s largest social housing landlord, Cross Keys Homes (CKH), to explore how a network of sensors deployed throughout its estate could monitor health, safety and environmental factors as well as deliver cost savings and a reduced carbon footprint. The trial at three residential locations across the city used a network of sensors transmitting real-time data back to a network of antennas, which in turn were connected to CityFibre’s full fibre network. It was made possible by support from Comms365, which was recognised with an industry award for its role in delivering the project.

Sensors were used to effectively monitor humidity and condensation to improve the comfort of tenants while reducing the need for damp treatment or repair. Environmental sensors were also used to address wasted heat in communal areas, contributing to reduced carbon emissions and lower energy bills. Noise sensors also delivered further benefit by monitoring unauthorised activity in vacant properties, while parking sensors alerted staff to illegal parking in front of emergency exits. This real-time data enabled CKH employees to act promptly, improving tenant safety and security. Additional sensors were used to monitor levels in water tanks and detect fire risks such open fire doors, allowing for swift action. Claire Higgins, Chief Executive at CKH, says: ‘At the beginning of the trial we could never have anticipated just how many uses and benefits the IoT technology would uncover.

We have been able to identify new ways to ensure our homes are comfortable, safe and green, which in turn has led to significant cost and efficiency savings. The potential for this technology to transform operations for other housing providers and different public services is immense.’ Clayton Nash, CityFibre’s Group Head of Product, adds: ‘This has been a fantastic opportunity to evaluate the potential for our new full fibre networks to support the Internet of Things use-cases of the future. We don’t know how our lives will be transformed by the IoT, but we do know that this future will be built on a backbone of full fibre infrastructure.’

To find out more about the Gigabit City project in Peterborough visit cityfibre.com/gigabit-cities  

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