‘Liquid Bandwidth’: Bandwidth on Demand dawns despite lack of dynamic policy

21 Sep

lgliquidBack in 2004 Lord Currie (at that time Chairman of the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom) used the term Liquid Bandwidth to describe ‘Bandwidth on Demand’ in 2004.

More than a decade later it might actually become reality – though right now only for businesses and in the few households lucky enough to enjoy fully fibred connectivity – FTTP.

Whilst examples from other countries are becoming prolific, not many broadband providers in the UK have the technological capacity or the willingness to be so flexible. So CityFibre’s joint-venture with Sky and TalkTalk has got to be good news.

One of the many great features enjoyed by fully-fibred communities that we have visited over the years, is their flexibility when it comes to their customer’s changing requirements.

It was obvious in Chattanooga as they responded to competition from ADSL and FTTC providers. The FTTH provider can simply flick a switch and increase download & upload speeds immediately – and leave the prices alone.  The marginal cost is, well, marginal.  The original tariffs allowed customers to choose a level of affordability – and they often chose the FTTH service because they knew that they could get more capacity if/when they ever needed it. Now they also know they will get a better deal every time the network provider needs to be more competitive.

And similarly in Sweden – although the example seen there in 2011 was a shift towards ephemeral demand. A ‘standard’ symmetric 100 Mb/s service may simply not be adequate for some event, so why not have a 3-hour boost (at a small premium) to 1 Gb/s? It may be for a sporting occasion, a business convention or just for a gang of teenagers gathering at home for a multi-user games party.

But is this dynamic flexibility really needed?  Designers of multi-site business networks certainly think so.  Not all cities experience extreme seasonal requirements but in Edinburgh many customers of network manager Commsworld are Festival venues that in August require a dramatic increase in bandwidth.  By partnering with CityFibre, Commsworld is able to ‘flex’ bandwidth very quickly and, if a customer needs to shift from their normal 10Mb/s service to 10Gb/s for an event, it is not only possible but affordable.

The traditional approach to Wide Area Network design demands careful attention to traffic loadings, the geographical dispersion of systems assets and diverse routing for backup in case links are lost.  In an uncertain business environment the tendency is to over-provide – to buy more capacity to ensure that future loads can still be met.  But what if the enterprise merges with another and the entire network needs to be reconfigured?  Sometimes the costs and complexities of systems and network integration will negate the economic logic of mergers and acquisitions.   Sometime the delays of new circuit provision will destroy expected competitive advantages.  Moreover, this is not just a challenge for enterprises – the same challenges apply in public sector administration, health, education, policing and defence networks – the costs are huge and, many would say, unnecessary in a more fully digitised UK.

Some basic ideas are slow to take ahold. We should give credit to Ofcom’s forward-looking view in 2004 – and ask why it is only a decade and a half later that we realise just how much the inflexibility of old designs has cost our economy both in terms of growth and innovative enablement.

So here, for those who perhaps may have missed the 2004 moment (or forgotten it), I append the reported remarks of the then Chairman of Ofcom – made just two years after that organisation’s inception.

[For the avoidance of any confusion I should point out that the CMA referenced below is the ‘Communications Management Association’ (now subsumed into the BCS) and not the Competition and Markets Authority of which Lord Currie is now Chair.  As with any quotes dredged up from over a decade ago, readers should bear in mind the context – the remarks predated decisions by Virgin Media and BT to adopt FTTC strategies to leverage their legacy copper assets and, of course, long before the current carrier pursuit of Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).]


Liquid Bandwidth – Ofcom chief, Lord Currie, urges ‘Bandwidth on demand’

Wednesday, 18 February 2004

ADSL is not true broadband – only a mid-band convenience product” – he says at CMA’s annual conference.

Speaking at the 2004 CMA Conference in London, Lord Currie, Chairman of the UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, urged suppliers to introduce flexible broadband service options – “Liquid bandwidth“.

The Ofcom chief also dismissed 512k ADSL as a mid-band “convenience product” that was not “true broadband”.

Citing ‘Bandwidth on Demand’ (BoD) services, where users can change their service performance ‘on the fly’ in mid-session to better meet their immediate needs, Lord Currie was also sending a clear signal to suppliers that the era of flat-rate pricing could not be sustained.

Giving an example of bandwidth packaging in Norway he predicted, ” You [will] get and pay for the bandwidth you need when you need it on a dynamic basis.”


NextGen 15 the UK’s Trade Show and Workshop event for all engaged in digital infrastructure provision will be held on November 5th in central London – and followed by the NextGen Digital Challenge Awards dinner in the House of Lords.  For more details of the event, Keynote speakers, Exhibition opportunities and Delegate registration please visit the NextGen 15 website.


3 Responses to “‘Liquid Bandwidth’: Bandwidth on Demand dawns despite lack of dynamic policy”

  1. chrisconder September 21, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    What a shame ofcom didn’t continue to be a regulator and instead was infiltrated with old bt boys and girls. What a shame this country is held to ransom by a copper cable cabal. We all need fibre, moral and optic. Good luck at the event. I hope you get some altnets in as keynote speakers and not the usual oldboys talking heads you see at most conferences.

    • GroupeIntellex September 22, 2015 at 8:34 am #

      Thanks for your support Chris. Our challenge with NextGen 15 is getting Local Government and LEPs to send delegates – hence the post and, hopefully, a few more coming up to stretch the imagination and drive home a few points about the essentials for local economic growth. We do not see much point in deploring how we got here (mainstream media seem to be doing an increasingly good job on that)- far better we think to develop a ‘get well’ plan – which is why our exhibitors are very keen to show off their expertise and products and why we also have Edgar from FTTH Council Europe explaining how these things are being managed elsewhere. The agenda is still developing – all suggestions welcome.

      • chrisconder September 22, 2015 at 8:49 am #

        You could showcase this film from Ireland? http://siro.ie/home/ratheniska/ Its well made. They are doing it by running fibre along the electric poles. It matters not how it gets there, it just needs getting out there. Often a film can hold their limited attention better than a powerpoint. You have to goad these people to attend, otherwise they register but you see their name badges still on the table showing they didn’t bother turning up. If you do get them there then it has to be interesting otherwise they just doze off till home time. (which means after lunch). Fire them up in the morning and hopefully they will stay to learn how to do it in the afternoon. As for getting them there, mention due diligence to their bosses. They are certainly not showing due diligence if they believe fibre comes down old phone lines. Keep the faith.

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