Tag Archives: digital

Sparks of Creativity as Energy and Digital Futures Collide

26 Feb

Digital technologies consume way too much energy and present an environmental and sustainability issue that demands a fresh design approach

Very few commentators link Energy and Digital policy topics. Even fewer policy developers understand how they are intertwined.

Each policy is on a single track but heading towards each other. Both engines of the economy urgently need collision avoidance. Knocking heads together now can circumvent an even greater mess.

Only now are the full consequences of strategic decisions made in separate silos decades ago becoming clear. Attributing blame and short-term attitudes for current and future shortcomings is, alas, too easy.   It doesn’t add up to a plan of where we go from here but first there’s a need for everyone to understand that we have a problem.

Basically the Internet will not scale – meaning that as demand increases, digital infrastructure performance will suffer and energy supply will become more fragile.

Regardless of which growth forecast you believe – and most insiders bet on a doubling of devices over the next decade – without radical overhaul, the predominant current and planned digital access technologies (how you get connected) will consume way too much energy. It is an environmental/sustainability issue that demands a fresh design approach to ensure resilience of these basic utilities.

The solutions are twofold – generate vastly more electricity or waste far less of it on inefficient forms of digital connectivity. No one is suggesting that we put the entire economy into hibernation.

The first option – generate vastly more – is decidedly unattractive and hugely risky in terms of the UK’s energy supply security. But current efforts to reduce demand need rethinking.

The second option – boost connection capacity but at the same time use far less energy – is technologically possible but demands a complete rethink by dominant suppliers – whether they are in fixed line or mobile markets or both.

Digital Management

It is simply not possible to envisage future energy sufficiency (Ref 1) to push signals down copper cables or send mobile signals over great distances – like more than 200 metres – given the sort of high frequency spectrum that is now available.

All mobile services are themselves ultimately dependent on fixed line connectivity to route to and from the wider Internet. Moreover, the implications of using higher frequency radio spectrum are that the much-vaunted low-power 5G designs will be dependent on fibre connections from millions of locations and will look like Wi-Fi on steroids – with demands way beyond the creaking copper connections of yester-year.

How many slightly overlapping 200 metre radius circles fit into the UK’s 65 million acres? That, of course, is a very hypothetical question – we live in a multi-channel landscape – but, as digital applications accelerate, the current lack of any mobile coverage on thousands of miles of UK roads illustrates the challenge.

Enthusiasts for maintaining use of legacy copper networks insist on pointing to technologies that seem to increase their capacity (if only in one direction) but these in turn exacerbate the energy challenges. Their application is misplaced. Sure, run fibre all the way to a building and then use the technology to push the signals a little way further inside the building – but even that local in-building distribution is inefficient compared to low power wireless technologies like WiFi.

Energy Management

At the same time, Energy Management systems have developed to render past infrastructures obsolescent. The top down view of energy – generators, the national grid, local distribution – is being turned on its head. Alternative energy sources – solar, wind, tidal, wave, ground heat pumps – are popping up all over the place.

Soon the complexity of managing demand will be further complicated by new local storage options. One thing that will not help lessen the load is the current and expensively failing UK Smart Meters project.

Collision Avoidance

So what if policy developers for both Energy and Digital better understood each other?

We don’t need to dwell on the past mistakes – but refocus minds on where they go from here.

For around the same investment cost as Smart Meters the Digital camp could reduce Energy demand by between 5-10% – depending on how quickly they buckle down to eliminating copper networks.  But, of course, much of that Smart Meter money has already been spent – some would say, wasted.

On the other hand the costs of fibre have been falling and the investment returns rising – a completely different investment scene to that prevailing 2 decades ago. The cost savings come from all aspects of network deployment.   That could easily be accelerated with liberalization of incumbents’ passive infrastructure – the ducts and poles,

And the net benefit of this silo-fusion?   Accelerated economic growth and greater energy supply security – massively faster connectivity and far fewer power failures.

If only it was that easy to knock government and industry heads together to avoid an unexpected collision. Maybe, in our newfound love of devolution, city mayors will be resolved to point out that the utility emperors are lacking decent underwear.

Brace, Brace.

_______________

Notes/References

  1. Telecoms & Exponential Growth- Cochrane TJV8 Pt4  (PDF download)   Cochrane P, Telecoms and Exponential Growth, ITP Journal Vol. 8/4 Oct/Dec 2014 reproduced with permission of the Institute for Telecoms Professionals www.theitp.org

This article was first published by Computer Weekly 26/Feb/2015

 

Germany Out-Qualifies UK in Future-Proofed Fibre League

17 Feb

QUESTION:

Which country’s Prime Minister is also the Minister for Communications and Media?

 The annual gathering of European fibre fans rarely produces surprises.

Every year I note few delegates from the UK. Every year I report that the UK is notably absent in the fibre penetration league tables. Every year the table gains extra lines. Now that Germany and Poland appear in the table, the UK’s absence is even more obvious. The entry qualification is at least 1% penetration of Fibre to the Home or Building – full fibre that is, not some halfway house still dependent on copper.

Table 1:  European_Globalranking_endsept2015 (PDF download)

BT and DT have long shared an enthusiasm for leveraging their existing copper assets – and the sudden appearance of Germany in this table does not imply some huge change of incumbent heart.

The shift more likely reflects the success of alternative operators and municipal networks –and, statistically, their greater willingness to provide data on their success. In contrast, the UK’s alternative networks have learned to avoid any great political visibility and BT has been reticent in admitting to its own success in FTTH in order not to shade its FTTC strategy.

The rapid FTTH/B growth of Spain and Portugal does however reflect decisions by the main players – a recognition that long-term infrastructure investment is best done once rather than in short-term projects with more-expensive retrofitting.

Many would argue that, with new copper technologies such as G.fast, there’s ample life left in old copper networks. Even the FTTH Council Europe recognizes its value when applied correctly. If the fibre reaches the building, then G.fast can boost internal distribution and avoid engineering visits to install new kit. So whilst FTTH Council Europe distances itself from stratospheric hype’n’hope performance claims, the manufacturers of clever kit for copper are not dismayed.

Critics will say that the patches of fibre brilliance only occur in small places – like Jersey, Andorra, Luxembourg, Cumbria, or Stockholm – but, unlike London, these are places that cannot afford to be complacent.

Luxembourg (this year’s host for the FTTH Europe conference) has been served by a diverse mix of broadband technologies. Now they can boast that over 50% of the Grand Duchy has future-proofed FTTH available – and is en route to being a fully Gigabit digital Duchy by 2020. This incumbent-led investment is, of course, merely the essential enabler of future economic growth, inward investment and social development.

As the Prime Minister (who also doubles as Minister for Communications and Media) says, “We want a smart Luxembourg within a smart Europe.”

[This article first appeared in Total Telecom  17/02/2016]

 

 

NextGen Digital Challenge 2016 – Open Call

22 Jan
NextGen Awards 2016
OPEN CALL FOR NOMINATIONS

Now in its 6th year, the NextGen Awards, celebrate digital endeavour and honour the achievements of great projects and their teams from across the UK and Ireland.

Nominations are now invited from across all economic sectors and from within all communities.

Nomination is free of charge and requires only the completion of a simple online registration form.

Entries will be assessed by a judging panel that is independent of any supplier interests. To allow scope for new initiatives, the 2016 Awards Categories will be finalised after the Open Call closes on 27 May.

Previous winners and shortlisted entries can be found here

The Open Call for Nominations closes on Friday 27 May.

Short-listed Finalists and Award Categories will be announced in June.

Finalists will be invited to prepare their submissions (A4 template provided) to the judging panel by the end of July.

NextGen Digital Challenge Awards
Awards will be presented at the prestigious NextGen Digital Challenge Awards Dinner and Ceremony on 13 October – hosted by the Earl of Erroll in the House of Lords, Palace of Westminster.

For more information visit here

NOMINATE NOW

Network Resilience: come hell or high water

13 Jan

Fiber optics

In a world that a generation ago would marvel at the fabled reliability of telephone services it’s a shock to realise that network resilience is now back on the agenda.  And, moreover, back on the agenda not just for major corporates with multiple interdependent production sites and call centres but for small businesses and ordinary households.

You might of course imagine that, if your home or business has just been hit by floods, that you have plenty more things to worry about than the loss of your broadband service.  Indeed, until the power fails, you might reckon you could just get by with a mobile phone.   But that would be to grossly underestimate the significance in all our lives of digital connectivity – very little in business works without it.

Every rain-laden cloud does however have a silver lining – and in this cold wet calamity that silver lining is a great lesson in network resilience.  Computer Weekly has today profiled the story of recent UK flooding – revealing a basic flaw in networks that are hybrids of fibre and copper.  Locating part of your electronics in street cabinets without scope for alternative power and with cooling vents open to the elements is not a good idea if one of those elements is water en masse.

In contrast, those networks designed specifically for the digital era by utilising fibre for the complete journey (FTTP) suffered few if any outages.   Economists may have argued that replacing copper would be a huge expense for little obvious gain.  Maybe they couldn’t figure the value of being future-proofed in terms of capacity and quality – surely, they’d say, how many really need a gigabit right now?  Having that capacity at marginal cost in 5 year’s time is way beyond their commercial horizons.  But now they need also figure the cost of flood damage repairs – and the impacts of service disruptions.

Good design (form) starts with understanding purpose (function) and in a digital economy it becomes even more important to understand that prevention is a but a fraction of the cost of repair.  So, come hell or high water, infrastructure planners and investors must now take note of the cost of cutting corners.

 

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

13721340

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.

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.

2015 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards: Sharing Economy

27 Aug

 

This is the last in our series of blogs for each of the awards categories in the 2015 Digital challenge.   Earlier in the year the Open Call for nominations signaled that the Sharing Economy deserved to be recognized as a significant new category.

NGShortlisthi-resSo, in this final Awards Blog we are delighted to introduce contenders with a wide range of approaches to collaborative endeavours.

The Sharing Economy is all about better use of resources – enabling folks to utilize spare capacity, share talent and expertise, and help individuals and communities to work in greater harmony.

The digital connection is that these projects are often made possible by greater online engagement with systems and platforms to connect resources to needs – and those resources may range from intangibles like expertise and data to tangible assets like a redundant Hard disk Drive or the driveway to your house.

The six 2015 Shortlisted Finalists for our Sharing Economy Trophy are:

Fairsay with eCampaigning Forum – sharing the talent for debating skills and social action.

Just Park – Pre-Book Parking – utilizing the value of your home driveway.

MyNeighbourhood – the Smart City and Sharing Communities initiative in Birmingham

Circular Data Solutions – Large-scale 100% recycling of redundant Hard Disc Drives whilst ensuring that no stored data can be inadvertently recovered or misused and full compliance with Data Privacy legislation.

Roomlala – a flat and room-share platform new to the UK and very popular in student communities where the property rental market needs greater flexibility.

Made Open Monmouthshire from Monmouthshire County Council & Made Open Communications – creating the conditions for communities and businesses to raise challenges, start projects and play a part in tackling the challenges that impact their place.

Research suggests that the emergence of Sharing Economy is a significant step in the long transition towards a more sustainable ‘circular economy’ where resources are not wasted but are re-used or re-purposed – designed to be ‘made to be made again’.

The independent judging panel will review all the shortlisted contenders during September. The winner will be announced at a dinner in the House of Lords following the NextGen 15 event on November 5th.

For details of event sponsorship opportunities contact Marit Hendriks

( marith@nextgenevents.co.uk ) or call David Brunnen on +44 (0) 7714 325 657