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30 April 2021

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What does 5G mean for construction sites and how can it improve industry building methods?

PJ Farr, Managing Director of UK Connect, explains what 5G means for construction sites and how it can improve industry building methods. 

Poor connectivity has remained a thorn in the side of UK business and industry for some time, and remains one of the major barriers to full ‘digital adoption’. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the construction sector. Every site needs internet access these days, but getting a cabled connection can be fraught with difficulty and delay, and on some remote projects it is simply not viable. The alternative is typically to use mobile connection over the 4G network, but this option can offer slow speeds that make all but the most basic tasks, such as email, unusable.

On the brink of a revolution in connectivity

Over the next 12 months, we can expect to see major developments in the UK’s 5G network. With 5G connectivity, mobile devices can download data as quickly as 753 gigabytes per second1, much quicker than the average wired connection, which currently operates at a sluggish 35mps2. For those areas where 5G is not available, we will see 4G LTE speeds increase, with network coverage likely to improve over the next decade. And finally, to improve the connection between devices on-site, Wi-Fi 6 has now become available – which can deliver streaming and upload speeds some 250% faster than its predecessor.

Wi-Fi 6, 5G and 4G LTE are complementary technologieswhich will allow more UK construction sites to fully harness the advantages strong connectivity offers, from increased productivity and lower environmental impact to better on-site health and safety. 

Connecting in the ether

With the advancement of digital tools and the invention of new ones, connectivity is becoming a bigger issue. Large files, such as those for annotated BIM Models or Revit files need to be accessed instantaneously. The download speeds offered by 5G and 4G LTE make accessing and working with such files over mobile networks a possibility. This can help speed up the construction process, as changes and queries can be logged, acknowledged and addressed faster, preventing delays to work that could potentially impact programmes and ultimately costs.

What’s more, having the ability to download updates instantaneously each time a change to the model or plan is made, reduces the need for repetitive journeys to site. Not only does this increase efficiency, it also reduces carbon emissions from travel.

Realising the potential of AI

AI is starting to play a greater role within the contemporary construction site, helping to drive improvements in both safety and security. The ability to monitor on-site vehicle traffic and machinery use, gives site managers a greater degree of control.

AI-equipped transport that only permits motion once it’s safe and AI-backed CCTV cameras, that identify unauthorised site staff or workers not wearing correct PPE, are now in development. It is also improving energy efficiency with an ability to track and shut down machinery left unattended for a length of time or not in use.

This scenario will only be achievable with full-site connectivity, using the latest capabilities offered by 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 combined. This will be essential to manage the large number of data-heavy IoT (Internet of Things) devices necessary to deliver the full AI.

Futureproofing for Smarter Cities

Equipping sites with super-fast connectivity could even provide contractors with a new commercial opportunity. The networks put in place to aid the construction process could be retained with the contractor becoming the owner and manager of a micro-network in a finished building, leasing internet connection to the occupants. Having the right connectivity solutions in place during the build phase could make this goal achievable with minimal extra cost.

As adoption of 5G starts to pick up pace and, no doubt providers and policy makers start to incentivise the market, construction businesses should really be grasping the nettle. Soon companies may find themselves having to prove their ‘tech credentials’ before taking on contracted work. If that’s the case, ensuring full-site connectivity now rather later is the only solution.

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