Fibre forward

How real fibre broadband helps shape our sustainable future.

In roughly the time between the peak of the Welsh coal industry in 1913 and the peak of global coal 100 years later, global average temperatures rose by 1.1 ℃ 1. The 195 countries that signed the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement committed to halt the continuing warming at 1.5 ℃. Humanity must reach Net Zero – reducing CO2 emissions to match nature’s capacity to recapture it – by 2050 at the latest if we’re to achieve that. We all have a part to play.

A greener digital future

The expansion of full fibre broadband in Wales allows our economy and communities to make positive changes for the challenges ahead. Like all new infrastructure, there will be a direct carbon cost. We’re doing everything we can to minimise that, to begin with:

Re-use of existing ducts and ‘telephone’ poles, to minimise the amount of new ground we have to break. As well as the OpenReach infrastructure we have an innovative agreement with the Welsh Government to re-use their infrastructure along Welsh trunk roads.

Minimise: where existing ducts are full or absent, we use innovative techniques such as microtrenching. A microtrench can be as little as 30mm wide, compared to 300mm for a traditional trench, which not only translates into less carbon emitted, but also shorter build times and less disruption.

Eicon yn dynodi uchelgais eco Ogi.

Build it once: the physical infrastructure of ducts, fibre, cabinets and inspection chambers is almost infinitely up-cyclable using technology upgrades at the network edge, and our supporting systems.

Resilience: And not just renewable but resilient too. Flooding during extreme weather events is increasingly in the news. Copper networks carry electrical signals and so are very vulnerable to flooding, while fibre is pretty much immune2.

The transformations that full fibre makes possible allow much, much greater carbon savings across society. Some of that carbon accounting can be complex – but here’s a simple example, very close to home.

As we grow the full fibre network we can shrink the old copper-based telephone and broadband network. The new network will consume 80% less power and carbon. And the millions of miles of old copper cable can be recovered and upcycled – for instance in new energy grids, laptops, tablets and phones – for a fraction of the carbon and environmental costs of mining and smelting new copper3.

Smarter living

The most benefit of full fibre for the environment will be realised by all of us that use the network. Here are some examples.

Reduction of commuting and business travel: The pandemic showed us how we can do much less of both. Transport emits 122 million tonnes of CO2 annually. The Welsh Government has set a goal for 30% of us to regularly work at home (or near to home). If that was repeated at a UK level, and ‘regularly’ meant 3 days per week, then we could immediately save 6% of all travel emissions, or 7.5 million tonnes of CO2 annually. The pandemic also highlighted the postcode lottery of fast, reliable broadband. Flexible and remote working needs gigabit-capable real fibre broadband.

Plus there’s a bigger payback for Wales. The expansion of remote working will open up new opportunities for well paid jobs to anyone with the right skills, and not be restricted to a few lucky cities and regions. And remote workers spend their money in the communities where they live. Sustainability, opportunity, community, all in one.

Smarter Living: You probably have a smart speaker in your home. Maybe you also have smart room thermostats, smart power sockets and so on? The roll out of 5G wireless networks extends ‘smart’ beyond your home WiFi, to smart meters and smart grids (… low carbon energy), smart cities and smart transportation. 5G is wireless only to the base station, where it hops onto a fibre connection. And for every 4G base station, there will be 15 5G ones. Wireless needs ‘wires’ – hundreds of thousands of gigabit-capable fibre connections, infact.

Sustainable transportation: There are 33 million private passenger vehicles on the UK’s roads today, mostly powered by combustion engines, contributing around 24% of the UK’s direct carbon emissions. More journeys made on zero emission public, shared4 and active transport should take millions of those cars off our roads, so long as we can build better, more joined-up services. The switch to electric vehicles (EVs) is also incredibly important. Paired with low carbon energy, net zero terrestrial transport ought to be achievable well ahead of 2050.

A joined up transportation network can’t carry people and goods without moving their information too: connecting us to our rides, and those rides to smarter infrastructure, and each other. The future of transport needs full fibre networks as much as it needs clean energy.

There are more examples, but not the space to explore them here. We’ll be writing more about this in future blogs. For now, let’s round this out, in Wales.

Built in Wales, sustainably, for generations yet to come

Gigabit-capable, resilient broadband is absolutely fundamental in the shift to a greener economy, more opportunities and greater wellbeing for the people and communities of Wales. And we’re building it sustainably too.

In just a few months, we’ve brought gigabit-capable services within reach of almost 5000 extra homes. We’re moving as fast as we can to reach hundreds of thousands of additional homes and businesses over the next few years.

We’ll keep this blog updated as our own Net Zero strategy evolves, so check back for more details. We hope you’ll agree that we’re building back better, for Wales.

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1 Warming attributed entirely to human industrial and agricultural activity, in comparison to the ‘pre-industrial global average temperature’ calculated using data from the years 1850 to 1900.
2 During the flooding of the River Ouse, January 2016, Cityfibre’s full fibre network reported no outages, whereas copper networks suffered a series of high profile service interruptions.
3 One tonne of copper creates as much as 500 tonnes of CO2 and between 40 and 250 tonnes of toxic waste.
4 Including ride sharing, car sharing, shared eBikes and eScooters

The new network will consume 80% less power and carbon.