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The smart home race is on

David Walker, head of property, Hyperoptic, highlights the importance of digital infrastructure to property developers and argues that connectivity increasingly gives a competitive edge.


According to GFK, the UK smart home market was worth £900 million (over €1.1 billion/$1 billion) in 2017 – up 19 per cent in value between 2016 and 2017, and up 35 per cent in volume – making it the fastest growing and second biggest market in the continent.


GFK looked at several device categories for its study but found that the fastest growing product is smart speakers, with ownership doubling between 2017 and 2018. A plethora of other products, however, spanning smart routers, smart TVs, smart meters, fitness and activity trackers, and connected set-top boxes, weren’t far behind.


Digital infrastructure adds value.


It means that property developers are currently in the midst of a digital arms race. In less buoyant markets, such as new builds, for example, providers are seeking to add the value that comes with a premium property to sell them quickly.


They are adopting one of two approaches: deploying advanced digital infrastructure, or a much more scaled-back approach so that buyers can customise. Examples of advanced digital infrastructure include iPads for door entry systems, smart locks and configurable lighting.


“Developers know that consumers have wised up the constraints that poor broadband puts on their lives”


Many of the more scaled-back developers are holding back because they have had their fingers burnt in the past. A classic example was when homes were equipped with iPhone docs which quickly became obsolete when Apple changed the charger port. This is just one example of why today’s developers are less likely to be tied into the technology offerings of one vendor.


It’s all about connectivity


Ultimately, the connectivity has to be there. Developers know that consumers have wised up to the constraints that poor broadband puts on their lives and will do anything that they can to avoid a property afflicted with it.


Indeed, research shows that home-buyers are increasingly swotting up on many factors in advance and that provision of hyperfast broadband is now on par of importance with local transport links, nice neighbours and garden space.


In the UK, over two-thirds of people (69 per cent) now check their broadband speed before moving home and most incredibly Brits confessed that they would spend 11 per cent more for a property with 100Mbps+ broadband.


“Today, just five per cent of UK premises can access the gold standard of fibre-to-the-premises broadband”


Today, the average home has ten connected devices, and this is predicted to rise to 15 by 2020. And this appetite for smart thermostats, smoke detectors, video doorbells, CCTV, smart assistants and the like shows no sign of letting up. The ‘smart’ revolution is of course everywhere.


At work, many offices have been ‘smart’ before the term was even invented – HVAC systems and IP CCTV systems have been automated for years. On the streets, analyst firm Gartner predicts that one in five vehicles will be internet connected by 2025 – paving the way for the next generation of telematics, automated driving, infotainment and mobility services.


What do all of these devices and services have in common? They work better when the underlying connectivity is faster and more reliable. Poor connectivity means time lag, particularly when multiple devices are being used at the same time. Those that depend on video capture and distribution (such as CCTV and infotainment) will particularly suffer and default to lower resolution, or worse not work at all.


The UK broadband lottery


In the UK, the provision of hyperfast broadband is still a lottery. There’s a myth that poor broadband is an urban/rural issue. It isn’t. Take, for example, the City of London only half of homes and business have access to so-called ‘superfast’ broadband running at a download speed of 24 Mbps or above.


Today, just five per cent of UK premises can access the gold standard of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband. The UK trails behind other developed nations and are currently 32nd out of 34 OECD countries for full fibre. Instead residents and business still find that, in many cases, they only have access to copper ADSL/+ broadband, which is severely limited.


"In the UK, the provision of hyperfast broadband is still a lottery. There’s a myth that poor broadband is an urban/rural issue. It isn’t"


The UK Government recognises that the roll-out of full fibre broadband is a national priority. Its target is for 15 million premises to have access to full fibre broadband by 2025, as outlined in its July’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review. But how do we get there and ensure the UK is not left behind in the smart building revolution?


Investing in partnerships between broadband providers and property developers.


Major game-changer


The biggest ‘game changer’ in recent times has been an understanding between broadband providers and property companies/developers as to what working in partnership can mean for those that work and live in their buildings (and the associated financial pay-off).


As with all good ideas, it’s simple to understand. The broadband provider will shoulder the substantial cost of laying fibre to the properties. In return, the broadband provider is then able to market its services to the residents and business – with packages ranging from 30Mbps to 1Gbps.


"With all stakeholders pulling together, it becomes a genuine ‘win win’ for all parties and paves the way for smart devices and services to flourish"


Given that they are offered the fastest broadband in the UK at a range of competitive prices from day one of moving in – often with a free trial – the take-up is high. Both the property company and the broadband provider work together on the necessary planning permissions and ensure that local authorities understand the scheme on offer and the benefit for the community.


With all stakeholders pulling together to achieve a common objective, it becomes a genuine ‘win-win’ for all parties and paves the way for smart devices and services to flourish.


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