Tag Archives: networks

FISP Calls for Greater Connectivity Ambition – London, a Gigabit City?

30 Mar

hi=-tech buildingFollowing a survey that exposes the extent of digital discontent amongst Londoners, the Foundation for Information Society Policy issued a challenge to London’s mayoral candidates to tackle infrastructure issues.

FISP suggests that a public-owned agency could be based on the successful model of Transport for London – the UK’s most successful Municipal Enterprise.   The new agency (codenamed Digital for Londoners) would be charged with transformation of London to a Gigabit City by 2020.

The FISP proposal targets more than raising London’s standing as a major connected city and its economic competitiveness – the proposal is designed ‘to enhance the lives of Londoners (and their children) and all who work in the UK capital‘.

For full details visit http://www.fisp.org.uk/dfl/

 

Managements Sans Frontières

15 Mar

thinking_heads smallWith great respect to the brilliant medical charity, their title springs to mind as I try to make sense of a minor deluge of academic reports and real world experiences.   Boundary issues abound – and not just in the contexts of Humpty Trumpty’s Great Wall of Machico or the UK’s Brexysteria.

Deep down we all like the comfort of borders but so often spend our lives trying to break down barriers. Parents observe that unruly/spirited teenagers need some boundaries. Accountants would be lost for numbers without tidy columns.  Regulators regularize.  Centralist governments prefer broad-based averages.  Mass marketers shriek Sun-like headlines. But devolutionists see city-states as empowering even as citizens complain of postcode lotteries.  And businesses everywhere seek differentiation by ‘redefining’ markets.  In the 1970’s Tom Paxton would sing ‘The Thought Stays Free’ and, like wireless signals, ideas do not respect borders.

So the Work Foundation report (Working Anywhere) says 2017 will be another peak – the last gasp of working 9 to 5 (that will no longer be ‘the way to make a living’) as the daily trek is commuted to life outside of an office for the average commuter.   They will, of course, still have boundaries. They will still log in to their networks (their presence measured) and no-one yet is predicting the end of corporate monthly reports – not least because bean counters hunger for beans to count and managers imagine they are managing.

There are boundaries we willingly choose to adopt (like marriage) and there are those we (mostly) tolerate for a peaceable society – like speed restrictions. Then there are the envelopes we’d like to stretch – or rip apart. The constantly changing balances between wrapping things up and encouraging creative agility is not something that can be bolted down. Great enterprise leaders know that rules are ‘made to be broken’ (sometimes) and urge their law-abiding followers to ‘think differently’ – ‘outside of the box’.

At this time it is difficult to comment on EU affairs without offending (for myriad reasons) all 784 (28 squared) sides to immigration debates but it is surely blindingly obvious that people will always wish to move and economies need to import and retain talent. With extreme provocations the future tides of humanity will, like the weather, be increasingly difficult to anticipate and, as Canute demonstrated at the shore, unconstrained.   National identity is increasingly a curious notion – especially for the English where ‘ish’, sort of, defies the absolute.

Travel is said to broaden the mind and, in these networked days, virtual travel is a great substitute for the physical effort of getting from A to B – which is partly why the Work Foundation predicts the decline of inflexible working.  But traveling (physically or intellectually) has great inequalities. Academia has huge capacity for stating the blindingly obvious – but sometime it needs to be said.  Pointing out that the  Further_We_Travel_the_Faster_We_Go is not some supposedly great insight designed to justify investment in the UK’s HS2 project but anyone contrasting the time and effort needed to get to London with the effort of travelling within the place will get the point.   But the real point, surely, is about journeys of the mind; ideas. The more outlandish they are the greater the chance they’ll make a real difference. The further you reach the faster you’ll get there – compared to some gradual, incremental, barely-noticeable, short-term, thoroughly non-alarming, improvement process.

We (being very English) often frown on ambition. Centuries of terribly polite censure have curbed our creativity but digitally-networked borderless freedoms cannot now be denied.  Empowerment (the need for it) has wrong-footed those once-great institutions that presume they know best. Who needs all that bandwidth?   What for, exactly? The defence of their comfortable market borders gets in the way of ideas flow – the brick walls can but delay their decay.

So why not? Why not demand a Gigabit? Why stick at home when your partner’s work is far away. Go with him and let the global network handle your usual work-flow. Why return home and only then shop for food when it could have been pre-ordered online from your hotel bed on the far side of the world? It needs only the very real experience of a three-way Skype call with callers in Hampshire, a colleague now in Argentina and a customer in his car somewhere on the M6 to prove the point that, increasingly, borders are meaning less.

Can we manage without borders? In work, in life and in politics we have little or no choice. Ring-fenced isolationism will not (cannot) relieve any of us from responsibility. The best that management can muster is to invest time and effort in avoidance of unexpected consequences and not inadvertently trigger catastrophic outcomes – like civil wars. A bit of forward planning might help. Will the economic decline of London be stalled by a fully-fibred future? Are we, in Europe, ready for a great American exodus if Trump triumphs?

So, yes we need some borders and others we need to relax. A single market across Europe is brilliant. Greater devolution of central authority to Manchester can be empowering – if you trust in the mayor’s capacity to manage.  Localism with expansive freedoms will always contend with the average central reductionist.  Maybe, one day, someone, most probably some uncouth little chap, most probably from some distant place via an online device and twitter, will point out that some wee emperor is nae wearing any clues – and the whole world will once again collapse in a sea of irreverent laughter and/or tears.   Dougal will shake his head, sorrowfully, and say ‘what a way to run a country’ and the credits will roll – leastways for one last time.

Managements Sans Frontières?  We should follow where the angels have dared to tread – beyond the borders of your mind.   If you stretch the imagination it rarely goes back to its original shape.

 

 

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]

 

 

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.

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

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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.

2015 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards: Urban Networks

17 Aug

[This is part 5 of an 8-part series reviewing the 2015 shortlist – Ed]

Since 2011 the history of the Urban Networks Award illustrates two things: how new connectivity providers have entered the market and how far customer expectations have grown.

NGShortlisthi-resThe 2014 winner was Virtual 1 for their wholesale London network and sharing joint second place were City Fibre and ITS Solutions

This year’ shortlist again highlights connectivity for businesses – where (relative to households) the demands for future proofing are more intense and where shifts in costs (downwards) and revenues (upwards) are transforming investment models.

The five 2015 Shortlisted Finalists are:

CityFibre back again with Peterborough: Gigabit City – a project that has a ‘business first’ plan.

Metronet (UK) Limited – with a wide range of advanced hybrid wired and wireless Internet services for businesses.

MS3 Networks Limited with Fibre to the Business in Hull

Venus with Superconnected Busworks, London

Genesis Technical Systems with faster ‘superfast’ broadband for WarwickNet and its business customers

All the shortlisted contenders will be reviewed by the independent judging panel during September. The winners 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 )