The UK’s Infrastructure Woes Could Block IoT Growth

The IoT capitals of the future will need a robust infrastructure to sustain them. So far, despite its’ best efforts, the UK appears to be falling behind in the race to build the infrastructure they’ll need to compete. With Brexit looming over their plans, time may be running out.

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Illustration: © IoT For All

When it comes to enabling the future of the Internet of Things (IoT) and unleashing the potential of a world filled with countless always-connected smart devices, just about everybody is counting on the rollout of 5G cellular networks and the adoption of the WiFi 6 standard to shoulder the burden of carrying the coming explosion of data those devices will generate and rely on to function.

That’s part of the reason that so much of the discussion surrounding IoT applications of those two critical technologies centers on which one should be used for specific IoT applications. While that’s a worthwhile discussion to have at this point, it does overlook one critical fact: 5G and WiFi 6 do enable greater device density on data networks, but at the end of the day, they’re not going to be able to handle the load without the right supporting data infrastructure.

That’s a fact that some of the world’s most technologically advanced nations don’t seem to be taking all that seriously at the moment. In the United States, for example, only 25 percent of residences have access to FTTH internet service right now, rendering many of the capacity increases enabled by WiFi 6 moot. At the same time, a study by Deloitte also found that upwards of $150 million in new fiber infrastructure will be needed over the near term to provide backhaul for the nation’s new 5G networks.

Taken together, these factors indicate that the US isn’t anywhere close to ready for the IoT revolution, but believe it or not, there’s another major nation that’s even worse off, the United Kingdom. Here’s an overview of the current situation there and what to expect from an IoT development perspective.

IoT Readiness in the UK

If the situation in the US is enough to make IoT developers uneasy, the one in the UK should be enough to give them serious indigestion. As of mid-2018, a scant 4 percent of premises in the UK had the kind of full-fiber connections that will be necessary for major IoT deployments. The nation sits at the bottom of the European League in fiber connectivity, trailing every other advanced European Nation by significant margins. There’s also something of a crisis brewing for 5G network rollouts, with some providers resorting to piggyback deals on existing fiber networks due to a lack of dark fiber within major cities.

Plotting Improvements

Despite the dire situation, it’s not as though the UK’s government isn’t trying to address the problem. They’ve already conducted a study of the issue and have proposed a plan to expand fiber coverage to the entire nation by 2033. In the near term, they’re also starting a public awareness campaign to increase the adoption of superfast broadband services in places that do already have coverage, including new regulations that aim force providers to reveal information that consumers could use to compare broadband deals in their area with all of the relevant facts at hand.

The problem with all of the planning, however, is that most industry observers don’t expect any of the actual upgrades to materialize. Already, the Confederation of British Industry trade group has issued a warning that the current uproar over Brexit has slowed private fiber infrastructure investment and the prospect of a no-deal split with the European Union could halt it entirely. With such uncertainty in the air, it’s not very likely that the situation in the UK is going to get better anytime soon.

The Bottom Line

It’s going to be impossible for IoT professionals and developers to avoid doing business in a market as important as the UK. That being said, there’s a reason to believe that the kind of infrastructure that will be necessary to support wide-scale IoT deployments in the nation isn’t going to appear anytime soon, making the prospect of any serious investment in the British IoT space a risky bet right now. Although it is possible that the situation is going to improve once the specter of Brexit ceases looming over the nation, there’s no telling how long it’s going to take to make up for the lost time, infrastructure-wise.

That means the major takeaway for anyone in the IoT space is that the UK seems poised to relegate itself to second-tier status when it comes to IoT technology in the near term, and for the foreseeable future. In a nation where 58 percent of business leaders see IoT technology as vital to their businesses’ success, it’s a sad state of affairs that seems to be crying out for a real solution. For the sake of IoT’s growth there, let’s hope they find one.

Andrej is a dedicated writer and digital evangelist. He is pursuing an ongoing mission to share the benefits of his years of hard-won expertise with business leaders and marketing professionals everywhere. He is a contributor to a wide range of technology-focused publications, where he may be found discussing everything from neural networks and natural language processing to the latest in smart home IoT devices. If there's a new and exciting technology, there's a good chance Andrej is writing about it somewhere out there.