As super-fast internet becomes essential to modern building practices, the industry now needs the connectivity capabilities to meet data demand. PJ Farr, managing director of UK Connect, explains how the role of 4GLTE, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will enhance on site connectivity, making construction safer, smarter and more efficient
Over the last few years, the industry has undergone a wholesale digital transformation, implementing cutting-edge technology throughout every aspect of the construction journey.
Reliable and consistent internet connectivity has become essential to achieve this scenario. It’s the unsung hero with the power to improve safety, efficiency, data handling, communication and collaboration in one stroke.
Yet, despite its now critical role in the construction process, the industry is still plagued by sluggish wireless speeds, poor bandwidth and patchy coverage, particularly in remote areas.
Luckily, hope is on the horizon with the emergence of 5G and Wi-Fi 6, complemented by already established 4G LTE. These, the latest standards for broadband and wireless technology, are set to supercharge connection speeds and ultimately improve on-site operations.
Brink of a revolution
Fundamentally, 5G and Wi-Fi 6, complemented with 4G LTE represent a new era in on-site connectivity.
4G LTE, which stands for ‘fourth generation long-term evolution’ is the technology currently used to deliver mobile internet coverage. Whilst it achieves fast data transfer when signal permits, it can struggle with data heavy applications, particularly as bandwidth demands increase.
That’s where 5G comes in, as the evolutionary next step, it will significantly improve performance thanks to a huge bandwidth and increased efficiencies. Similarly, Wi-Fi 6, which delivers wireless broadband inside buildings or structures is also set to significantly improve performance.
As you’d expect from the latest upgrade, they are the fastest services currently available. For example, Wi-Fi 6 offers quicker streaming and upload speeds, up to 250% faster than its predecessor. It’s a game changer in terms of making business processes more efficient.
For 5G, the next 12 months promises some big improvements in coverage and potential connection speeds as the nationwide network is built to handle its rollout. With a reduction in latency (the time it takes between a wireless device receiving an instruction and the speed at which it is completed) it will be far more responsive. A much larger bandwidth will also mean that it can handle more data, so managing multiple devices will become much easier.
4G LTE, the precursor to 5G, will also see internet speeds improve over the next decade as the uptake of 5G becomes more common place and frequency bandwidth is freed up. This will offer essential flexibility as digital adoption continues to gather pace.
What’s exciting about 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 is they can work together, helping to deliver consistently high internet speeds for users, regardless of location. Essentially, these are all complementary technologies, with the former two seamlessly covering outdoor operations whilst the latter delivers lightning speeds indoors. Used in tandem, they will dramatically reduce user ‘lag’, delivering a seamless, uninterrupted service.
In turn, this significantly improves big data sharing which has become commonplace on the modern construction site. Suddenly large Revit files or annotated BIM Models can be downloaded instantaneously. This means updates to models or plans can be swift, improving build efficiency and accuracy.
Powering AI and IoT
Enhanced connectivity across sites will also improve device operating speeds. As AI and IoT (Internet of Things) devices play an increasingly important role in construction, machinery is becoming more data reliant than ever before.
To meet and maintain the bandwidth demands of multiple devices, and ensure they are running at full capacity, an appropriate capacity needs to be available.
With 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 establishing strong connectivity, these machines will be able to work at peak performance, further benefiting from a boosted signal strength to lower the amount of energy needed to power them.
It will also help effectively, and efficiently, manage the complicated job of delivering data to multiple devices at the same time, whilst guaranteeing a consistent connection across the board.
Keep it safe
Beyond this, better connectivity can also improve on-site safety. The combination of 4G LTE or 5G with Wi-Fi 6 will make it possible to achieve a greater degree of control, particularly over potential transport and machinery related risks.
As new technologies come into play, super-fast connectivity speeds will be imperative. New innovations coming online, such as AI-equipped transport that only permits motion once it’s safe to do so, and smart CCTV cameras that can recognise incorrect PPE use, will be hugely impaired by weak or intermittent signal
Thankfully, 4GLTE, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 complemented by a robust infrastructure, have the potential to meet the required increase in capacity as AI-backed technology proliferated on-site.
Clear communication between project teams is essential for a smooth construction journey.
By investing in technologies which can boost connection speeds, such as 4GLTE and the emerging 5G and Wi-Fi 6, communication becomes quicker and more reliable, improving workflow efficiency and reducing the risk of mistakes.
The use of apps on devices and phones which can help manage site duties are also now becoming increasingly commonplace.
With multiple workers relying on a reliable internet connection to get the job done, the importance of these new technologies cannot be understated. Updates need to be instant and the ability to send in-app photo documentation has become crucial, helping keep teams in the loop as the status of particular jobs.
The business benefits of 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 go beyond the construction journey itself. For contractors, equipping sites with the right connectivity solutions now could represent a new commercial opportunity further down the line.
It’s possible that networks used during the build phase may be retained to lease internet connections to occupants in the future. In turn, contractors can become the owner and manager of micro-networks in their own right.
One thing is for certain, those not considering the connectivity needs of tomorrow, of which 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will play a central role, are sure to be left behind as digital technology becomes an ever more essential requirement in modern construction.