Interview: Kevin Monaghan on helping landlords deliver on high-quality digital infrastructure
Project Gigabit, the government’s flagship £5 billion programme to enable hard-to-reach communities to access lightning-fast broadband, is gathering pace. But one of the key challenges is ensuring digital infrastructure can be installed in high-rise buildings and social housing portfolios. Launched amidst the pandemic, Complete Technology Group is working to address this challenge.
PropertyWire sat down with Kevin Monaghan, the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, to talk about the roadbumps involved in the UK’s fibre rollout, the support landlords and housing associations need on managing fibre installations, and more about Complete Technology Group’s business journey.
Please explain how Complete Technology Group came into being, and how the business has grown and evolved since its launch.
A few years ago, during the pandemic, our founder Andy Wells brought me, Eddie Minshull and Mark Burrows together to discuss an idea that would fundamentally change the way fibre broadband was being installed in multi-dwelling units (MDUs).
Our shared experience across the construction, technology, and telecommunications industries gave us clear insight into the fact that the way fibre is being installed and maintained across large blocks of flats is a huge headache for landlords and housing associations. Multiple telecommunications firms (broadband providers) are trying to install fibre into buildings with hundreds of residents. Ensuring these telcos can gain access and conduct safe, proper work is a challenge for landlords – a challenge that is piled on top of an already substantial list of other challenges they are facing: safety, sustainability, regulations, and tenant satisfaction, to name but a few.
Complete Technology Group (CTG) was created to help landlords manage the digitalisation of their buildings, mapping their entire building portfolio to identify where fibre is already present and where opportunities lie for future fibre adoption. From this, we can help landlords develop fibre rollout strategies for their portfolio, advising them on which buildings to prioritise and briefing them on the solutions available at each of their MDUs. It is a full end-to-end service that safely and efficiently ensures the full-fibre rollout does not leave MDUs behind.
What are the challenges that landlords and housing associations face when it comes to getting full fibre installed in MDUs?
Landlords and housing associations receive regular, ad hoc requests to access buildings every time a telco provider wants to install fibre infrastructure. This requires large-scale work on the structure of buildings. Because telcos are seeking to install their own, private cable networks, the amount of work and access in MDUs is, for many landlords, unmanageable.
Moreover, the massive scale of work – as more and more telcos seek to conduct the same process – can pose structural and fire safety risks to buildings and, ultimately, residents. In particular, building audits have become checkbox exercises that are overlooking the finer details.
Part of the challenge is that landlords have so much to comply with – dampness and mould, the energy crisis, and post-Grenfell building safety. When it comes to digital infrastructure, many do not have the time or technical expertise to understand what they must comply with, which are the best solutions, and how they can best protect themselves while delivering ultra-fast broadband access which is so integral in the modern age.
Are these issues likely to become more acute over the coming year or two?
Day-to-day life is becoming more and more dependent upon having a secure, fast and reliable network; individuals require it to access the web and social services, professionals need it to work from home and public services would fail to run without it.
Project Gigabit, the government’s flagship digital connectivity programme, rightly recognises that fibre optic networks are key to achieving this. Meanwhile, it has set targets for coverage across the country. As the fibre-optic rollout continues, many telcos are trying to rapidly expand their networks before competitors gain ground – the race is on.
This mounting pressure on telcos has been passed onto landlords, who face an increasing number of infrastructure projects for MDUs. As more and more technology solutions, which also utilise fibre networks, are offered to solve dampness and mould or temperature control, it’s becoming increasingly challenging for landlords and housing associations to have the requisite expertise to make informed decisions, not just to solve today’s problems but to future-proof the building for the next 20 or 30 years.
Amid a myriad of competing priorities, many landlords and housing associations are unsure what their obligations are and how such structural changes will impact the safety of buildings and residents. Support is undoubtedly needed. But that support must be structured and delivered in the right way, without placing additional cost or time burdens on landlords and housing associations.
How does CTG solve these challenges?
When a landlord or housing association chooses to partner with CTG, we can review their housing portfolio and collate different data sets, giving a clear overview of the status of digital connectivity in their buildings and fibre provision in the area.
In addition, we advise landlords on the fibre network solutions available, identifying options that reduce resident disruption and landlord administration while improving digital connection. Crucially, we do all this for free for the landlord.
Where appropriate, we can also offer landlords our own product solution, Complete Fibre, which is essentially a ‘plug-and-play’ fibre optic installation, minimising the amount of infrastructure work required to offer residents complete access to the fibre optic market. This enables telcos to sell their networks to residents simply by plugging one cable into the Complete Fibre ‘box’. It also means that landlords and residents face fewer installation projects and less disruption, as well as reducing the overall carbon impact. But most importantly, the safety and integrity of the building are preserved.
How important is it that MDUs have better digital infrastructure?
Massively important. On several fronts.
Firstly, in the modern age, digital connectivity is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a necessity; ensuring high-quality, secure and fast digital connection for everyone has to be a priority for landlords and telcos alike. Yet the complexity of MDU builds, with their multiple floors and units, increases the risk of residents getting left behind because the scale of the infrastructure project is often deemed ‘too challenging’.
Secondly, quality of life for residents. Residents are tired of having multiple works taking place in their homes. As well as this, the scale of wires tracing down MDUs is, in some cases, blocking window access and creating immovable eyesores in people’s homes.
Finally, landlords have regulatory demands that must be met. Digital inclusion cannot compromise safety. For them, having high-quality and simple digital infrastructure can mean the difference between threatening the fire safety of their buildings and future-proofing their buildings for the next few decades with seamless digital access.
This final point around future-proofing buildings is very important. Investing in better digital infrastructure for MDUs is not just about meeting tenants’ demands, but also allowing better management of the building in the years to come. Landlords can transform MDUs into smart buildings, enabling them to make better decisions when it comes to maintenance, the way spaces are used, energy consumption and what issues to remedy in future developments.
Going back to CTG, what have the biggest obstacles been in the company’s progression since launch?
Since we launched in 2020, we have had three major challenges to address.
Firstly, getting landlords to buy into our vision. As mentioned, at CTG, almost everything we do – from building audits to network advisory – is offered to landlords free of charge. Initially, many were suspicious, asking ‘what’s the catch’? We had to show them that there wasn’t one. This meant building relationships and investing time to really explain our proposition in detail.
Secondly, proving the value of our service. We are now in a position where we are working with over sixteen housing associations including A2Dominion, Orbit Housing, Sovereign, One Housing Group and Curo. In doing so, we are successfully demonstrating how we help landlords to meet regulatory standards and give them the knowledge to make informed digital infrastructure decisions.
Finally, to ensure telcos see the value of our proposition. Many of these companies are used to doing things the way they always have. But what we have demonstrated to telcos is that, with our support, we can help them gain access to MDUs – which are notoriously challenging for them to access for installation projects – while minimising the work required to set up their networks. We’ve done this while reducing safety risks and disruption to residents and landlords alike.
Where landlords have subsequently asked us to install our sister company Complete Fibre’s network product – the plug-and-play fibre network box that allows telcos to simply insert a cable to open access to their networks – some are concerned that they are losing ownership of the entire infrastructure. We have had to show them that we are not a competitor – Complete Fibre is not seeking to sell network access to residents.
Ideally, we can all work together to minimise disruption and hazard; the alternative is to allow the current situation to continue, which is not tenable for landlords or residents.
And what do the coming 12 months have in store for the business?
Many landlords have already brought into the vision and seen the results. Now, quite simply, our goal is to expand our reach – to work with a larger number of landlords, housing associations and telcos. We’ve done the hard part in demonstrating the value of our proposition and new landlords are signing up to work with us every month.
There is no question, the full-fibre rollout is happening at pace, and we must ensure no part of the UK, whether that is a region or MDU, is left behind. Landlords and housing associations face enough challenges already, so supporting them in this huge digital infrastructure revolution is our key purpose.
Kevin Monaghan (Chief Commercial Office) is responsible for ensuring our processes, technology and supply chain are optimised to deliver the best outcomes for CTG’s customers and stakeholders. With 30 years of leadership experience across the telecommunications, energy, and water sectors, he is consistently focussed on enhancing CTG’s commercial and operational performance. Kevin leads a team that drives excellent client relationships, nurtures new client opportunities, and embeds CTG as a disruptor in the digital infrastructure industry.