Tag Archives: Ofcom

Holding the Line: fibre futures overstated?

7 Mar

In one respect at least Ofcom’s recommendations from its Digital Communications Review announced last week quickened the pulse of investors in future-proofed fibre infrastructure.

Fiber optics

Serious analysts described the moves as “a huge boost in helping the nation catch up with other countries’ increasingly advanced broadband infrastructures”. In media interviews, Ofcom’s Chief Executive Sharon White was keen to point out that UK had already achieved 2.6% penetration for Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) as an indicator of progress.

That 2.6% figure contrasted markedly with the report just seven days earlier that the UK had once again failed to reach the threshold of 1% penetration for inclusion in the European league table of optically connected homes and buildings.

Close inspection of Ofcom’s report reveals that the data was not Ofcom’s own assessment but relied on estimates by consultancy Analysys Mason – and, in turn the consultancy’s data supports a 2% UK penetration achievement in availability (not actual connections) of FTTP – a figure that compares unfavourably with Denmark (over 30%), Spain (over 60%) or Japan (70%).

So, discounting the quoted 2.6% figure (which may simply have been ‘over enthusiasm’), the 2% availability figure, if customer take-up were then estimated at 25%, would explain the difference between last week’s Ofcom-induced excitement and the previous week’s FTTH Council Europe disappointment.

Does this matter?

Supporters of BT’s Fibre to the Cabinet strategy and their plans for G.Fast would say not. What matters, they’d say, are not massive headline download speeds but sufficient capacity with which we can get along – leastways for the time being.   Others, of course, profoundly disagree – pointing to demands for symmetry, lower latency, future-proofing and an altogether better use of the UK’s energy supply.

There is another reason why the presentation of statistics matters.  Regulators – particularly those who would claim to be evidence-led – should surely be expected to present their views in ways that can be fairly understood by their primary audience, the citizens, businesses and public sector agencies on which the economy depends.

Ofcom’s outputs last week were greeted with mixed reviews – a welcome for clear intent on competitive Duct and Pole Access and severe doubts on the practicality and efficacy of such measures.  It is now for Ofcom rapidly to pursue their recommendations with renewed vigour – if only to prove that they were not misguided in stopping short of full separation of BT and its Openreach honey-pot.

________

This article was first published by Total Telecom 07/03/2016

 

Collaborative Qualities: shifting focus from the poverty of QoS to the honesty of QoE

8 Dec

3d image Benchmarking issues concept word cloud background

Market behaviour is easier to regulate when those markets are narrowly defined. Service value and worth, however, can only be understood in the broader context of user application.

As the sharpest regulatory bodies are so inclined, and Ofcom’s approach to broadband is in no way an exception, the narrowing of definitions, with an intense laser-like focus on the perceived performance of specific components, stands in stark contrast to the more complex perceptions of customers.

It is entirely legitimate, indeed required, that market regulators should monitor dominant players and act to correct deviation from acceptable standards. Hence recent interventions in UK insurance markets to ensure proper disclosure of price increases. Ofcom is similarly right to be concerned about any sign of lax standards in line provisioning delays, complaint handling or repair times.

QoS Poverty versus QoE Honesty

The familiar ‘Quality of Service’ (QoS) measures that supposedly underpin contracts are often, however, reduced to a commitment to ‘best efforts’ with some compensation leeway for the most egregious failures. Those QoS measures are for most consumers (business, public sector or domestic) for most of time, fairly irrelevant. What matters more is their Quality of Experience (QoE) – but to a very large extent those experiences are way beyond the ability of component providers or their regulators to assess.

Take, for example, the consumption of on-line video. The QoE will be influenced by the functionalities of diverse access/viewing devices and the adequacy of delivery networks in a complex compound of components where the consumer is primarily interested in the overall outcome. It is pointless having an optimal home WiFi network if the capacity of the serving broadband line is inadequate to stream BBC iPlayer radio without lengthy buffering delays.

This contrast between the relative poverty of QoS metrics and a more meaningful, some would say honest, approach to QoE is hardly new. Tennis fans are enriched by on-screen metrics of player performance in much the same way as football fans appreciate ‘balanced scorecards’ that reveal much more about the run of play. Car drivers are not unaware of engine and system performance. Who has not sent an error report to the software creator when the laptop has unexpectedly frozen?   Smartphone users willingly volunteer their device and cellular network performance to independent assessors like Open Signal and make use of such data when considering a new purchase.

Self-reporting Collaborative Qualities

The ability of product design teams to embed self-monitoring functionality is gathering pace (1) . Soon your new television will know and report the Netflix versus YouTube download times, the speed of channel switching, the latency of interactive gaming, audio and video glitches, packet losses and network congestion? And, moreover, attribute component causality for failings.

But all of this rich, and very real, QoE measurement is, until such time as it is routinely collected and analyzed, beyond the purview of market regulators and even further beyond the providers of narrowly defined components – even when those providers are trying to sell bundled services that compound both content and connectivity.

Organisational Collaboration

This is not simply a challenge for broadband providers and their market regulators – though one undeniably exacerbated by an unwillingness to provide future-proofed fibre unconstrained by the limitations of legacy copper.

Businesses of any type in any sector are increasing required to be collaborative. But how can one judge their current and future capacity to collaborate? Conventional indicators of chronic business instability – for example cash-flow constraints – are difficult for prospective partners, suppliers and clients to research and evaluate. The relative lack of Corporate Open Data, in contrast to Public Sector Open Data, is very gradually being tackled – not least via recent studies that showed how more Open organisations have less difficulty in attracting investment. (2)

This shift is, however, still seen as counter-intuitive by older business managers (and their legal advisors) who hold outmoded views of aggressive competitive advantage that do not sit comfortably with this greater need for collaboration. Meanwhile market regulators, who take a narrow view of their remit, pass up opportunities to spur their market players and investors towards greater openness and honesty. This is a recipe for increased regulatory irrelevance.

No place to hide?

Enlightened product & service designers will increasingly enable citizens and organisations to find value and worth in the context of their own application environments and also enable them to become evermore vigilant in the pursuit of component supplier failings.

Will market regulators be able to adapt to a more holistic view of consumer expectations and national imperatives?

Will regulators demand something better than QoS?

Or will the need for regulation be displaced by openly available and undeniable performance evidence?

__________

Notes:

  1. For example of converged benchmarking see Huawei Converged service panel_v0_20150907
  1. Corporate Social Responsibility and Access to Finance by Beiting Cheng, Ioannis Ioannou, George Serafeim :: SSRN

 

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.

 

Ofcom: crowd-sourced data and mobile performance quality

16 Apr

A fair crowd gathered yesterday in London to hear Ofcom’s tentative views on improving consumer information in the mobile phone arena.

Representing the UK’s Communications Management Association I found the meeting experience, much like many a mobile call, variable.

Full story here

Ofcom considers crowd-sourced data on mobile service quality

9 Mar

If anyone knows the everyday reality of mobile network performance it is surely the user.

The mobile phone itself must be the most obvious source of data – even (or especially) when signals fail, calls drop out and texts are delayed.

Ofcom’s ‘Call for Input’ on this ‘Quality of Experience’  debate – what should or could be measured – raises the prospect of a prevarication-free zone where the development of an App to monitor the realities of coverage, throughput and call quality could gain regulatory blessing without being delayed by any Operators’ reluctance to be so exposed.

The debate may even be a sign that Ofcom is keen to champion the interests of the users rather more than bend to the interests of operators.

The consultation is open until 1st April.

Ofcom asks- is the Quality of Mobile not Strained?

Lightly Touched : Bank of England and Ofcom

3 May

(This editorial is reproduced here in full – ahead of its formal release on http://www.groupe-intellex.com. Editor)

In the Today Programme lecture last night Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, said, “with the benefit of hindsight we should have shouted from the rooftops that a system had been built in which banks were too important to fail, that banks had grown too quickly and borrowed too much, and that so called ‘light-touch’ regulation hadn’t prevented any of this.”

So what, you may well ask, has this anything to do with Ofcom and their regulation of digital connectivity markets?

In a sense there are, in Mervyn’s ‘mea culpa’ moment, important clues for the whole of the regulatory industry – whether Energy, Water, Health, Financial Services, Education, Environment or Digital and the entire gamut of the UK’s  arms length ‘independent’ supervisory bodies charged with the duty to protect citizen and consumer interests.

The Bank, apparently, didn’t grasp the scale of the looming financial crisis – and it still believes that there was ‘ no unsustainable boom’.  Coming on a day when a Parliamentary Select Committee criticised a media baron for ‘willful blindness’, this expert opinion stands as a giant warning of the dangers of a silo mentality.  The Punch and Judy show’s audience may holler ‘It’s behind you’ but the dedication to keeping the lid on things – or what big corporate interests call ‘a consistent and predictable regulatory environment’ – trumps all manner of disquietness.

Moreover, despite the semantics of Sir Mervyn’s ‘imbalances’, the Bank does not feel the need to take responsibility or say sorry for any failure.  It seems they didn’t have the tools, the powers or the political clout to deal with anything even if it had seen the need.  The best that his Bank could offer was in that ‘with the benefit of hindsight’ statement – and, let’s face it, is anyone in this regulatory industry recruited for their skill in shouting about anything?

Maybe this is where we can draw some sort of line between market regulation and political will-power.  We give these regulatory bodies all manner of remits and, almost inevitably, they are captured by the big guns of those who by nature resist regulation.  It is perhaps for the politicians to understand that they cannot absolve themselves from not giving their ‘arms length’ and enthusiastically light-touch regulators some clearer direction on national imperatives intelligently informed by the needs of citizens, communities and businesses.

So it is, with Ofcom, that the log-jam of spectrum licencing is standing in the way of better mobile services, that it doesn’t ‘shout from the roof-tops’ about the inadequacy of rural digital infrastructures, that it is perceived as being too close to those deemed ‘to big to fail’, that it confuses the needs of domestic consumers with those of enterprise and that it is not leading the way in reinforcing the message that dealing with the Digital Deficit is a vital pre-requisite for dealing with anything else.

In what other country would the need for smart electricity metering be interpreted as a need for another separate digital (wireless) infrastructure when any properly designed ‘fit for purpose’ connectivity utility could serve that purpose just as easily as the needs for personal health monitors and environmental controls. Or is that thought ‘out of bounds’?

In what other market are people expected to be content with a service (sold at a standard price) that is extremely variable in its performance – and often completely useless?

At least we can take comfort from Sir Mervyn King’s acceptance of the desirability of separating utility banking from the riskier investment banking.  If only Ofcom could understand that digital connectivity utilities (mobile and fixed) properly separated from other ‘over the top’ competitive services would, in our increasingly digital world, better serve citizens, communities and enterprise and enable progress on a wide range of government policy objectives in all other sectors.

____________

This editorial was written for members of the UK’s Communications Management Association (CMA) – a part of the BCS, the chartered society for ICT professionals.