July 06, 2009 - Comments Off on Digital Britain

Digital Britain

About 9 or so years ago I attended a conference in the USA where BT ‘proudly and confidently’ announced from the platform that they were not going to invest in installing another single km of fibre optic cable into the ground because ADSL (copper) technology was the way forward.

This was followed immediately by both France Telecom and AT&T who both ’confidently and proudly’ announced that copper technology was limited (dead!) and that they were only going to install Fibre in the future! What a sad indictment for a company who allowed Balance Sheet bean-counters to dominate technological visionaries within its Martlesham research facility; one of whom (I believe) ’invented’ the World Wide Web! Short sighted financially driven decision making that has now put a UK Blue-chip at risk (read on!)

Consider now that Lord Carter has recently published his (Government inspired) report on the future for a ‘Digital Britain’. My problem with the ‘objective’ is that we have a comms infrastructure inherited from BT that is (and has been for some long while) 3rd world technology; so how are we (UK Ltd) going to compete on the world stage?

Put simply, how can we get beyond this ‘copper crap’ that delivers unbalanced bi-directional speeds with at best kB performance in one direction, to the point where we at least catch up with our peers in other countries?? ……
The exponential journey that the internet is currently driving business on, requires AT LEAST the 8MB bi-directional speeds ‘talked’ about and probably at least 20MB, but this requires a massive investment in fibre optic infrastructure. Virgin have inherited the NTL/Telewest fibre network but this is very limited in its user avialability. What is needed, for UK Ltd to compete on the world stage is for the last/first mile, exchange to every home and business premise, to have fibre cable delivering REAL Broadband. The applications, demand and technologies already exist. Furthermore, someone, somewhere has to carry out appropriate oversight to ensure that we (UK) do not end up with a 3 tier comms infrastucture; ie that service providors are not allowed to cherry pick the ‘super-centres’ and allow rural areas to continue to rely on copper. OFCOM have not demonstrated to-date (to me at least) that they can apply such strategic insight to their role in regulatory oversight.

However, we are where we are and such a capability requires massive investment which must be applied within the next 10 years …. and time is running. Without such investment the risk to us all is that we will have to compete on the world stage with 3rd world technology and that probably implies that we would end up as a 3rd world country.

Unfortunately, Lord Carters report is full of rhetoric and new committee’s; discussing legislation and control, etc. …. very little if any focus on how we deliver and meet the demands of todays rapidly evolving business world.

Put this situation into the context that BT has just reported a £2.3B loss for the first quarter of 2009 AND are only forecasting to invest in providing fibre to a ‘massive’ 1M homes and it is easy to appreciate the size of the challenge and risk!

There are other local service providors who are investing, eg Hull, Bournemouth, Dundee, etc, some of them with local authority investment, but these are just small pockets of activity and will not deliver what is needed.  What is needed NOW is a consensus which builds a powerful lobby that has a voice loud enough to be listened to in the corridors of power such that CHANGE HAPPENS…….

If you are interested in this topic you might want to check out the following