2020 technology trends for the built environment

With the New Year upon us, it’s always a useful time to look ahead, and consider how the following 12 months might shape the built environment industries we work in, the challenges and opportunities faced by our customers, and the technologies we work with.

Here at Curve, much of our recent work has been focused on the provision of full fibre infrastructure and the development of converged networks and wireless connectivity at individual sites.

With buildings – and construction projects themselves – likely to get even smarter in 2020, let’s look at these areas in turn.

Wireless connectivity

The next-generation standard in WiFi technology is WiFi 6. Previously known as 802.11ax, until the WiFi Alliance wisely gave it a somewhat catchier name, the standard supersedes WiFi 5, on which most current devices and routers run. As the Alliance explains, WiFi 6 offers higher data rates, increased capacity, greater performance in environments with many connected devices, and improved power efficiency.

It’s that third point that we’re particularly interested in. Whilst WiFi 6 has a much higher theoretical speed limit than its predecessor – 9.6Gbps as opposed to 3.5Gbps – those top speeds are unlikely to ever be encountered by most consumers. Indeed, most consumers won’t need those top speeds, at least with current devices and demands. However, performance improvements when multiple connected devices are running on the same WiFi network will be noticed – because in an era of smart buildings and Internet of Things (IoT) technology – the number of connected devices in the average home or office environment is going through the roof. Thanks to WiFi 6, the possibilities for genuinely smart buildings will expand dramatically in 2020.

WiFi 6 was introduced by the Alliance in September and will be rolled out in earnest in 2020. A number of WiFi 6 routers and access points, including those from Ruckus, are already available, for businesses who wish to dip their toes in these high-performance waters.

Full fibre rollouts

Despite the recent election and the continued spotlight on Brexit, full fibre broadband roll-out will have its fair share of attention over the coming twelve months. The Conservative manifesto reiterated its pledge to bring ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband to the entire UK by 2025, with £5 billion allocated to the final 20% of hard-to-reach areas.

It is clear that full fibre broadband has transitioned from being a niche concern and has become a genuinely public one. And rightly so. In today’s interconnected world, high-performance broadband is no longer a nice-to-have – it is part of critical national infrastructure.

Nevertheless, its presence in the recent UK election underlined the cost and complexity involved in rolling out full fibre broadband across the entire country. This is why Curve IT is so passionate about innovation when it comes to superfast broadband delivery. From working with local authorities to implement a ‘dig once’ philosophy – whereby new full fibre roll outs are combined with other construction and infrastructure projects, such as utilities installations and new road layouts to reduce expenditure – to encouraging broadband projects driven by regional public and private sector co-ops, we believe that a creative and flexible approach is needed to advance the connectivity cause in 2020.

Smart buildings

Smart buildings gained much greater traction throughout 2019, as the public became increasingly familiar with devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, and homes across the country were encouraged to install smart meters. This journey will pick up speed in 2020, thanks in part to WiFi 6, as outlined above.

But it is on the commercial side of buildings that connected technology is likely to have a truly dramatic impact in the next twelve months. Consider major office buildings which can deploy smart lighting and heating systems in order to save energy. Or build-to-rent projects which can deliver truly integrated, seamless connectivity for their residents, from the lobby to the top floor and even into other buildings managed by the same company. We expect to see possibilities like this considered much earlier on in the construction process in 2020, as property developers and construction managers realise the benefits that can be wrought by having a ‘smart buildings’ approach that utilises a converged network approach from day one.

A technology first approach

How to summarise all of these predictions? Thanks to enhancements to wireless technology, we expect approaches to building connectivity to become increasingly embedded in project planning in 2020. Superfast broadband and smart building systems will move away from being considered ‘add-ons’ at the end of the construction or upgrade project, and increasingly be ‘baked in’ from the start. Smart technology infrastructure for the built environment in 2020 will no longer be an optional extra – it will be integral.