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.
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.