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The Role Of Technology In Planning For The Future

We have never been more connected. The launch of 5G in Belfast at the end of May 2019, as part of the initial six-city pilot of the technology before UK wide roll-out, heralds a new era of digital connectivity speed and reliability.

To give the impact of 5G a bit of context consider this; more than a million users per square kilometre will be able to simultaneously use the network, compared to around 60,000 with 4G. Think of the impact when 4G took over from 3G and multiply it by 1,000; that is the level of the effect predicted by tech commentators. A revolution within the tech revolution; terms like exponential change, game-changing connectivity and life-altering applications are common in articles by TechCrunch, Wired and TNW (The Next Web).

The digital connectivity of commercial premises has been a key factor for tenants when considering new office space for some time now, and for landlords and developers, these boxes have to be ticked so their spaces are competitive and give their tenants the technological edge they require. Undoubtedly the market for commercial office premises is more occupier-led that at any time in history and occupiers now place connectivity firmly alongside location and cost.

However, as 5G is predicted to influence our connectivity ability further, in order to cater to the technological needs of potential occupiers city stakeholders must now look outside the office doors. Considering the wider environment to understand exactly what is required for seamless connectivity experience means incorporate solutions at the earliest possible stage, which in many cases is that of planning.

This was the topic of debate at Belfast’s premier tech conference last week. At Digital DNA we explored “Building a smart city: Future Planning” and looked at some of the challenges and opportunities of implementing technological improvements to Belfast’s infrastructure now, to prepare the city for the next technologies of the next decade. … and there were a lot of issues raised, in particular ensuring continued occupier demand and economic growth while also considering the safety, security and privacy of the city populous.

The debate was lively and proved to be a multi-faceted with one thing becoming clear; the term ‘Smart-City’ is a broad-brush term for a very intricate and complicated concept.

Smart buildings are already here and here to stay, with a good example in the city being Causeway Asset Management’s Chichester House; the first building in Belfast to obtain a platinum rating under the globally recognised WiredScore rating system.

As new developments and refurbishments of existing buildings are announced landlords will surely compete to meet the increasing technological demand of occupants. The importance of a ‘smart’ infrastructure to surround, support and connect the next wave of ‘Smart Buildings’ is essential to sell the whole city as a holistically ‘smart’ place, not just a collection of ‘smart’ pieces.

This means that as the Belfast Region City Deal rolls out, the investment of £850 million that is hoped to create up to 20,000 jobs and is predicted to focus on innovation and digital and physical infrastructure, it is crucial that we look at what is coming, and plan for the future while meeting the needs for the present.

Undoubtedly Belfast can become a leading digital city, we have the talent and in the city deal now we the opportunity. What will be most important now is making the right choices so we ensure our infrastructure and environmental planning is robust enough to cope but flexible enough to adapt to the increased demands that being a ‘smart’ city brings.

This article was written by Lisney MD Declan Flynn and first featured in The Irish News on Tuesday 25th June 2019


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