Hold or Flip, Twist or Quit: better connectivity hinges on investor confidence

26 Nov

There are pivotal periods of infrastructure evolution that are subsequently seen as revolutionary.

In the early 1980’s employers started grasping the notion of distributed computing.  Before those times computers were big expensive beasts.  In the late 70’s and early 1980’s there were diverse ‘mini’ and desktop ‘personal’ computer choices – with equally diverse Operating Systems.

hi=-tech buildingThe critical step into personal computing had little to do with technological progress – indeed some saw it as retrograde. It was almost entirely about legitimisation.  When IBM defined a PC Disk Operating System (later adopted by Microsoft) some feared it would bring chaos and confusion to their ordered world.  The worst of those unsettling fears didn’t materialize but the scope for ‘creative disruption’ was boosted.

Settling on a standard (albeit proprietary) backed by the global covenant of the IBM brand, created huge confidence for investors and businesses – legitimising what had previously been regarded as slightly suspect.  Moreover it exemplified the very best way to utilise brand strength in the global economy.  It must have puzzled many of IBM’s loyal employees at the time.  It probably qualified as an ‘unnatural corporate act’.  It certainly demanded inspired leadership from within their ranks.

The point of recalling this story is to contrast those heady times with today’s challenges for infrastructure investors.  Some, like Apple and Google, are not afraid to move on – never resting in pursuit of progress.  In the connectivity arena, however, some incumbents seem determined to keep the lid on progress for fear of corporate calamity and/or investor uncertainty.

In matters of online ‘eCommerce’ activity it is generally recognized that the UK has ‘got it’ big time.  That is to say the nation simply cannot get enough of it.  And therein lies the broadband rub.  Some cannot get broadband at all – even in the urban jungle of London – even at the old 2Mb/s floor.

From the mid-1960’s onwards the capacity of copper to cope with ever-faster data rates (whilst still being used for phone calls) has been remarkable.  But that technological stretch is now failing to keep up with demand.  In computing, IBM chose not to defy progress.  In broadband connectivity the big brands, not yet ready to admit the game is up, have built two defences.  Firstly they’ve adopted network designs that are difficult to unbundle.  Secondly, they’re leveraging their old networks by a very gradualist approach to fibre – unfortunately leaving sites at the end of long lines inadequately served.

Some attempt at legitimisation is evident – leastways from government. It may be reassuring for investors to know Ministers believe in getting better broadband.  Interestingly the PM’s recent ‘brave’ promise of a universal 10Mb/s broadband commitment is a massive challenge to incumbents and a great opportunity for future-proofed alternative networks with no legacy assets to preserve.  That message is fast getting across to local government leaders who’d rather see economic growth as an antidote to further austerity.

Pretty much everywhere the old question ‘how much capacity do they really need’ is derided. The question only existed because pre-fibre networks couldn’t cope.  There is now no doubt about market demand for properly future-proofed networks – but let’s not fret about past mistakes.  This is the time for fresh thinking.

Fiber optics

Fortunately, it’s also a time when all the old investment parameters are being reset.  The costs of doing the job properly have fallen.  The economic value of doing it properly has been recognised. The demand for doing it properly never greater.  The costs of borrowing never cheaper. Return on investment ever higher. The danger of living in the past never more evident.  Even the future for mobile services depends on kicking old addictions to legacy networks.  Astute investors are primed for the next wave.

To be fully effective, flipping would have been better taken at the flood but that moment has now passed and brand power is withered by dither and delay.  Establishing long-term expectations, national imperatives and investor confidence is complex but is now no longer the preserve of politicians or incumbents.

This then is a critical time for emergent leadership, investors and for the entire economy.

Regulators have previously understood their role in remediation of past market failures.  In the absence of any credible long-term policy objectives from government is it possible that the market regulator can choose to be more forward looking?

Investors routinely ask ‘Is this all I’m ever going to get?’   Can ‘market failure’ now, similarly, be understood (by the regulator) as inclusive of an apparent lack of imagination and any adequate sense of direction?   If so, how could that forward-looking viewpoint be used to legitimize and incentivize new competitive investment?

In Ofcom (and their Digital Strategic Review) we must trust.  The nation expects.

Digital Challenge Awards 2015 – the winners

12 Nov

For seven great project teams November 5th will be remembered as the night when the UK’s top digital awards were presented in the House of Lords. At the culmination of a year-long programme to identify the digital stars of 2015, guests and anxious contenders gathered for a dinner hosted by The Earl of Erroll to celebrate great examples of digital progress.

This is the 5th year for the Digital Challenge Awards programme that recognises great projects and teams who are striving to deliver online success. The accolades were awarded across seven categories of digital endeavour.

And the winners were

Capturing the [broadband] Moment

12 Nov

Historical significance is rarely bestowed quickly – it usually takes time and needs a broader view than can be mustered by those clustered close to events.  ‘The way I look at it’ is but one perspective.  Embedding these moments in the wider consciousness demands penny-dropping realisations in a multitude of currencies.

Fiber optics

And so it is here in the UK at this time of applied broadband brainpower.  In the context of the last two decades we have never seen so many folk, taking so much notice, competing for attention and demanding action – as if their lives depended on it.  The time and energy devoted to debates over broadband infrastructure investment has reached an all-time high.

For decades reluctant broadband providers have argued about how much capacity is enough, whether or not connectivity is a basic utility (like water or electricity) and issues of customer choice.  The penny has been flipped.  It’s landed on the side of utility and choice, and all debate about capacity is rendered pointless by future-proofed fibre (sans copper) all the way to your door.

Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom. If the current competition for grabbing attention was translated to competitive choices in broadband connectivity speeds the resultant boost to economic and social development would be astounding.  That translation, alas, will now take time to be delivered but that first motivational step is happening right here, right now.

This is not to diminish the value of calls for action over the last 2 or 3 decades.  Shouting from the sidelines has been an important precursor – the build-up to the big match – but now the game is attracting serious players and massive support from the stands.  ‘Getting it’ has never been more ‘got’ – leastways, across the lands beyond Whitehall.

It is in the nature of events that bashing your head against brick walls leaves you dazed and unsteady when the wall crumbles and umpteen folks leapfrog over the rubble with a cheery ‘thanks mate’ as they rush ahead.

Why now? Why are the cracks opening? Who pulled those levers? Was it the exemplar of B4RN or the broadband poverty of Rotherhithe?  Was it the looming need for fibre connectivity to millions of 5G microcells, the pressure for passive infrastructure access and dark fibre, or just intolerance of marketing hype?

Ofcom might claim credit for kicking off their Digital Strategic Review. The government, of course, will point to their partial responses to backbench rumblings – prompted by energized electorates – but still short of long-term leadership.  Many big businesses have played their part along with the nascent industry of ‘alternative’ network providers.  Did last week’s call to set a date for switching off analogue telephony provide a hefty push?

Even BT and Virgin Media, thankfully, have contributed in a way by delivering solutions that, while far from fit for future purpose, are just about sufficient for many folks to ‘get it’ – to sense the possibilities.  But more than all the expert seminars, think-tanks, focus groups, ‘stakeholders’, engineers, economists and journalists, lies the will of the people and the needs of commerce.

Now is not the time for accolades – now is the time for maintaining momentum. Hidden amongst the current plethora of events, conferences, exhibitions and seminars across all sectors of the economy, the brief introductory note in last week’s NextGen15 brochure captured the zeitgeist: ‘. . . . we celebrate the end of an era.  The UK agenda is finally turning towards the future – less emphasis on minimal ‘Get By Broadband’ and far more focus on Future Proofing.’

The costs of fibre deployment are falling and value is surging.  As long-run OPEX savings trump short-term CAPEX, the legacy investment parameters are turned to dust.  And who could read the winning projects in this year’s Digital Challenge Awards and not appreciate the extent of digital endeavour?

It is not too early to call.  The walls are indeed tumbling down.  Go write a note to leave for the grandchildren.  Their future connectivity, mobiled, wifi’d or fixed, will be fibred sans copper. You were here.  You saw the cracks.  You heard the rumbling.  The rest is history.


Smart, Not so Smart, or Downright Dim? The prospects for UK places and their communities

21 Oct

As we get closer to NextGen15 (November 5th, London) and the debate on whether the UK is on track to meet our future digital needs, the


Groupe Intellex paper on Smart Cities/Intelligent Communities (The Prospects for UK Places – PDF Download) has been published by Computer Weekly – an appropriate journal for technological enthusiasts who, we believe, need to see their innovations in a broader context.

In this paper we drill down from the heights of ‘Intelligent Communities, through Smart Technologies. Urban Operating Systems, Open Data and Analytics to the bedrock of future-proofed broadband – only to find an even deeper layer:  the local leadership that is needed to enable all these developments to happen.

At NextGen15 we will debate with Richard Hooper (BSG), Barney Lane (Colt), Anna Krzyżanowska (European Commission), Edgar Aker (FTTH Council Europe), Dr Julia Glidden (21c), and many others with direct UK field experience of deploying future-proofed broadband networks – and all under the guidance of moderator Richard Jones (VentureNext) whose own broadband ventures in many countries reveal deep insights.

Registration – discounted rates available for NextGen Partners/Members, Public and Third Sector delegates.

Europe is Bananas

18 Oct

No, this is not a rant on behalf of Europeans who would rather not be European.

It is the conclusion of academic research aimed at finding a ‘New Method for Analyzing the Spatial Structure of Europe’. The banana reference relates to the shape of economic activity when presented geographically.

In classic academic style the authors first review previous attempts to represent activity and improve on those models. Into the analytic mix go demographics, GDP and employment and, using a Newtonian analogy, the economies are weighed and their gravitational forces are measured. You’ll be familiar with the term ‘mass market’ but here the sums of those market economies have a calculated mass.

With ‘Blue Bananas’ we must, it seems, move on from the Red Octopus and Bunch of Grapes models although the new analysis confirms to some extent their long-standing validity.

And all this work will not be in vain if it illustrates the undeniable extent to which we in the UK are very firmly a part of Europe – indeed close to the epicenter.

spatial awareness

In this graphic, warmer colours indicate divergence; that is, movements in the opposite direction, which can be considered to indicate the most important gravitational fault lines. Areas indicated in green and its shades refer to the opposite, namely to concentration, to the movements in the same directions (convergence), which can be considered to be the most important gravitational centres.

The researchers confirm the “favourable position of the regions concerned and the unfavourable position in one region with other models – the Sunbelt zone, the French Banana, the German hump and the Pentagon theories – but”, apparently, “they cannot justify the existence of the Eastern European Boomerang”. “From the latest population, number of employees and GDP calculations we analysed the spatial structure of Europe. The results definitely verify the banana shape.”

Now for non-academics this may seem like a great deal of fun, and, no doubt, the current mass migrations will eventually shift the European centre of gravity. But for would-be isolationists the message is today as clear as that stated by the Dean of St Paul’s in 1624 – ‘every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’.


The research was undertaken by:

Professor György KOCZISZKY, PhD

E-mail: regkagye@uni-miskolc.hu

University of Miskolc, HU-3515, Miskolc, Hungary

Associate Professor Zoltán NAGY, PhD

E-mail: nagy.zoltan@uni-miskolc.hu

University of Miskolc, HU-3515, Miskolc, Hungary

Associate Professor Géza TÓTH, PhD

E-mail: geza.toth@ksh.hu

Hungarian Central Statistical Office, HU-1024, Budapest, Hungary

Lóránt DÁVID, PhD (corresponding author)

E-mail: david.lorant@ektf.hu

Eszterházy Károly College, HU-3300, Eger, Hungary


NextGen15 – Broadband Futures from a pan-EU perspective

18 Oct

What every local councilor should know (leastways those who have a remit for developing their local economy) is: Funding for Digital Infrastructure is Available.

NextGen logo smallHow can your local communities qualify, the scale of funding, the network design requirements, issues of State Aid and other rules will all be discussed at NextGen15 on November 5th where you can meet the Head of the Broadband Unit within DG CONNECT – a key part of the European Commission.

Anna Krzyzanowska will be presenting an update on European Commission initiatives in Broadband Policy, Regulation and Financing, and will be interviewed on stage by our event moderator Richard Jones.

Details of the latest agenda and delegate registration (including a discounted Public Sector rate) are now available at http://www.nextgenevents.co.uk/events/NextGen15/agenda

Among the many broadband and wider digital specialists, you will also hear from Richard Hooper (Chair of the Broadband Stakeholders Group – BSG), Barney Lane (Director of Regulatory Affairs, Colt Technology Services), Edgar Aker – President FTTH Council Europe and Julia Glidden – President 21c Consultancy.

At this time when Ofcom are just beginning a Strategic Review of Digital Communications, the scene is set for a major reappraisal of the UK’s broadband aspirations.

Are we on track to meet the UK’s future digital needs?

 What part will you play in finding the answer?

NextGen15 – 5th November 2015, Institute of Education, London.


NextGen 15 and the growth of online platforms

15 Oct

The Call from a subcommittee of the House of Lords was just too tempting.

Their Lordships’ inquiry into online platforms was prompted by the European Commission – a classic legislative HoLresponse to mutterings that surely ‘something must be done‘.

But looking at the questions posed, it became clear that the great success of online platforms might be largely due to the fact that nothing much has been done.

There may be a case for consumer protection in a world of uneven comprehension but there is certainly little justification for market protection by over-egging regulation.

And, moreover, jotting down some notes for their Lordships’ committee, it became clear just how good the UK is becoming at this sort of innovation.  We may not be home to the Googles, Twitters or Skypes but we have no shortage of great examples of online platform innovation.

So it was too tempting – how could we not respond?

The NextGen Digital Challenge Awards – this year being presented in their Lordships’ House on November 5th – provides just the evidence they need to encourage lawmakers to desist from further lawmaking that might stifle our innovators and entrepreneurs.

For readers addicted to following the ways of Westminster, the full Call from the Committee  ( online-platforms-call-for-evidence ) will need to be read alongside the Groupe Intellex response to HoL subcommittee on platforms Oct 15

Alternatively, and far more fun,  you could attend NextGen15 on November 5th and/or the Digital Challenge Awards Dinner in the Peers’ Dining Room of the House of Lords – but hurry – registration for the latter closes on Monday 19th October.


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