Connecting commercial premises – the need for high-speed internet.
The rollout of fibre-optic broadband continues apace for commercial properties across the UK, with previous copper networks fast becoming outmoded as demand for data-intensive technologies increases in the workplace. Paul Churm of REHAU explores.
With the vast majority of businesses expecting high-speed internet as standard, building professionals must be aware of the logistics behind cable infrastructure when constructing new premises.
It is no secret to say that the UK’s broadband network is under ever-increasing pressure due to rapidly increasing data demand. This, in turn has led to a simple truth – fast internet speeds are no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in business, where changing consumer behaviours and increasing online innovation has transformed the tools employees require to work effectively.
Indeed, this conclusion can be seen in a 2021 Statista report demonstrating that 82% of businesses used the internet for banking services, with 59% operating social media pages and accounts, and 58% housing customers’ personal information. Information like this shows how much the working world has changed from even a decade ago, with a fast internet connection now expected as standard for new building premises.
Ageing broadband infrastructure
Further exacerbating this situation is the fact that the UK’s current copper-based broadband cabling infrastructure will no longer be fit-for-purpose when it comes to meeting this rapidly rising data demand. This network was built with older technologies in mind, including cable television and landline phone connections – not new technologies requiring faster communication and ever-widening bandwidths to adequately function. Also, innovation in the smart device sector does not stand still, and new technologies are constantly being developed that will require ever-increasing amounts of data.
It is for this reason that BT Openreach is planning to retire its copper network by 2025, and announced in June a further 551 UK cities and towns would be added to its fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband internet service provider (ISP) network. This rollout programme, known as ‘Fibre First’, aims for an eventual peak of 75,000 premises connected to broadband per week, with 25 million premises covered by December 2026.
As a result, building professionals must be aware of the need to not only provide sufficient cable infrastructure during construction, but also ensure this infrastructure is futureproofed to accommodate high-speed internet solutions like fibre-optic broadband. Only then can they be assured of buildings that are fit for data-intensive applications the modern business requires, including video streaming, smart metering, and data collation and analysis.
Installation of fibre optic cable infrastructure in buildings can therefore be seen as a necessary expense for commercial building developers and specifiers looking to futureproof their investment. As well as this, ensuring easy access to a vital utility can help encourage further appreciation of a property’s value.
However, despite efforts by Openreach and various ISPs, logistical issues continue to hamper rollout. One such issue for commercial premises is the ‘last mile’ of broadband connections – a term referring to the final leg of a cable installation, from the distribution point to the premises.
Even though ISPs may install fibre optic cables to this point, which is normally a toby box next to the curb, using traditional copper cabling for the last mile can result in lower speeds. In fact, the greater the distance between the distribution point and the building connection, the smaller the bandwidth due to the high damping rate.
FTTP and FTTD
Consequently, no matter how high-performing the cabling is up to the distribution point, bandwidth will severely drop without appropriate fibre optic cable infrastructure. This includes compact micro ducts, which are used to house and install fibre cabling into the property, enabling FTTP.
Commercial premises have traditionally used a singular termination point known as an Optical Network Unit (ONU) in these FTTP arrangements. In this configuration, the original fibre optic cable is blown into the building from the toby box to the ONU via high-speed compressed air, travelling along external and internal ducting so it is caught on the other side. The cable and its signal are then spliced and linked to in-building devices and equipment via a passive optical splitter, connecting the premises up to the country’s broadband infrastructure.
Yet though this ‘blowing-in’ process sounds simple, there are multiple obstacles that can hamper its progress. This includes the need for two technicians – one at the toby box, the other in the building – to execute it. Ensuring building access to carry out the work, with construction working to tight deadlines with only small windows available to establish connections.
With this in mind, suppliers such as REHAU have been focusing on cable blowing-in boxes as a potential avenue for innovation. The development of an internally or externally-mounted box that could catch the cable when it enters the property would allow a single installer to quickly connect multiple homes from the distribution point, allowing for easier scheduling with existing homeowners.
FTTP and FTTD
As well as using this process for FTTP installations, it is also possible to build infrastructure that allows for end-to-end, in-house cabling arrangement known as fibre-to-the-desk (FTTD). The FTTD stage is already in place in many public administration offices, universities, computing centres and hospitals. Without the signal being split by an ONU but instead going straight to an individual work stations, already excellent broadband speeds can be further improved, with users able to access speeds of up to 10 Gbits/s and more.
Both options are made possible via internal micro ducts that act as cable protection and can be installed during the building process. Crucially, as these ducts are very small, they can be deployed into all areas within the premises without wasting significant areas for excessively large installation shafts. In turn, this results in more efficient and streamlined building design and construction, regardless of whether specifiers and developers opt for FTTD or FTTP.
Non-hazardous cable protection
Beyond opting for internal ducting that is able to accommodate the cable blowing-in processes, there are other factors building professionals must consider when installing cable infrastructure. For example, they must adhere to criteria set out by the International Electrotechnical Commission concerning the selection of wiring systems in low-voltage electrical installations.
According to this, electrical installation ducts must meet British Standard (BS) EN 61386, which stipulates that the system’s installation must not interfere with the building’s occupational and fire safety. Crucially, if the cables and lines are classified in accordance with this standard, no additional special measures are required during the installation, allowing building professionals to make potential cost and time savings.
Additionally, ensuring any indoor ducting does not present further hazards in the event of a fire is a vital concern to developers and specifiers. Non-adherent ducting may emit smoke and toxic or corrosive gases when exposed to heat that could place building occupants at risk. Because of this, construction professionals must look for low smoke free of halogen (LSOH) solutions when considering cable infrastructure.
REHAU’s RAUSPEED Inhouse micro ducts, for example; are suitable for indoor installation and offer maximum safety in the event of fire. They generate minimal smoke in the event of a fire when compared to standard PE ducts, in accordance with BS:EN 61034-2 regulations regarding smoke density.
They are also self-extinguishing to ensure no spread of fire through the pipes, as set out in BS EN 61386-1, and as they are halogen-free, the release of toxic gases when burning is minimised to a non-hazardous level. Alongside this, RAUSPEED is made of high-quality, durable material that offers reliable pressure resistance, resulting in a practical and safe ducting solution.
In conclusion; today’s increasingly linked-up world means that cabling infrastructure is a key issue in the design and building of any commercial premises. With this in mind, it is vital building professionals are aware of the cabling infrastructure concerns at play when constructing new premises.
This includes accommodating space for internal ducting into its design, and ensuring the safest possible LSOH solutions in accordance with regulations. By engaging expertise in the fibre optic technology space, developers and specifiers can enjoy peace-of-mind, knowing their building is fit for the future.
Paul Churm is Telecommunications Specialist at REHAU