Mikael Sandberg, executive chairman, VX Fiber, discusses the proposal for new building regulations to ensure new builds are fitted with gigabit broadband and what this means for housebuilders

High-speed internet connectivity is no longer a luxury. It’s an essential utility. The average UK adult spends over 3.5 hours online each day, and according to a survey, half of UK adults say they ‘rely’ on this connection for the likes of banking, shopping and their social life. More than half admitted they couldn’t imagine going a whole day without being online. So, whether a residential development is a new housing estate on the outskirts of town or an inner-city development of flats it needs to be made full-fibre ready. This will ensure it meets the digital connectivity needs of occupants now and in the future.

Yet, around one in ten new-build homes are still being built without gigabit connections. In its drive for ubiquitous gigabit connectivity, the UK government has recognised this as a gap it will need to plug. Especially if they are to reach their coverage target of ‘at least 85%’ of UK premises by 2025 and the nationwide 2030 target.

What are the benefits of gigabit broadband?

One such step is the recent proposal for new building regulations to ensure that new builds have next-generation gigabit broadband installed as standard practice. The changes to the law will mean Developers will be legally required to build gigabit broadband into new homes in England and make it a priority as part of building work. They will also need to bring broadband operators on board to consider gigabit broadband installation when construction plans are submitted to local councils. These measures will give more people access to future-proof internet connections and reduce the need for costly and disruptive work to retrospectively refit homes.

The benefits for residents are obvious. They won’t have to worry about being locked into a property for the next decade, which will result in frozen Zoom calls from the home office or buffering Netflix finds on Friday evenings. For the government, it’s a significant step in levelling up the UK and bouncing back from the economic impact of Covid-19 as the nationwide rollout of world-class broadband accelerates.

How can housebuilders deploy Fibre-to-the-Premises?

But for Developers and Housebuilders, they would be forgiven for feeling slightly hard done by. The Government is providing funding support and network operators are making it cheaper and easier for Developers to deploy Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP). But, many still claim that deploying such broadband services can become prohibitively expensive, particularly in remote rural areas, due to the lack of any gigabit-capable networks nearby.

The solution is for Housebuilders and Developers to partner with a digital infrastructure specialist. A digital infrastructure specialist will work closely with a Developer and/or Housebuilder to create a bespoke network that can be tailored to specific needs or circumstances. Partnering early with a trusted specialist can simplify the process by ensuring connectivity and technology infrastructure is part of the design, planning, and construction process. Consider these key areas as a starting point:

Connectivity must be built-in from the start

Whilst installing networks will be just one of many priorities, it’s essential to secure a digital infrastructure specialist early on, to ensure a new-build development can be efficiently furnished with gigabit connectivity. Initial conversations can inform a strategy that ensures the house design evaluates network requirements and can include additional connectivity considerations. It could prevent costly problems down the road as well.

There are many ways to provide connectivity to future tenants. For example, Developers can create and run their own network or allow tenants to bring in their own suppliers. VX Fiber, for example, uses an open access model to operate the full-fibre infrastructure and engage third-party Service Providers to provide services to the homeowner or tenant.

What is “Open Access”?

“Open Access” typically means the access granted to multiple Service Providers on a wholesale basis over one physical network infrastructure. This enables Service Providers to reach the subscriber without the need to deploy a new fibre access network themselves. Developers are then free to monetise the resulting service for the benefit of their owners and tenants. All products and services are made available to subscribers through a web portal via carefully selected Service Provider partners, making it easy to sell, provision and maintain the network with minimal system administration.

In this option, physical duct and fibre are utilised as a real estate asset, but Developers don’t need to learn how to be Service Providers. Every option will take a differing amount of time, investment and learning. It’s worth discussing this with a specialist or putting in the research on which option will be best placed for the specific development.

There are a lot of parties involved in deploying and implementing full-fibre networks, and in many cases, several stakeholders need to be on board. After meeting with the digital infrastructure specialist, it is important to develop a plan that includes the route decided and how the Housebuilder will deliver on it.

New building regulations will require Developers to submit a ‘connectivity plan’

In fact, the new building regulations will require the Developer to submit a ‘connectivity plan’ with full planning applications, initial notices or amendment notices provided to the local authority. Having a clear vision that can be easily conveyed to all stakeholders ensures the process runs smoothly.

Homeowners can no longer afford for technology to be great only when it works. The public needs homes with technology that always works, and Housebuilders need the proper technical support to deliver those homes. Even though the task may appear daunting, the key to success is not to hesitate when it comes to finding the right digital infrastructure partner.

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