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Thursday, 19 June 2008

A patchwork of solutions

In an ideal world, the UK would perhaps pursue a national, integrated FTTx network. However, that is unlikely as no-one currently can decide who would pay for it, let alone own it, what technology to use, where and when to start etc etc. It would seem we may well be back to the 'patchwork of solutions' of not only first generation broadband, but also first generation electricity and water supplies (where local communities took it into their own hands to provide the services required locally) in order to bring Britain up to speed...

Looking at the many different solutions employed elsewhere eg Skelleftea, Nuenen, Korea, Utah etc etc, there would seem to be no single, right model for FTTx deployment. Just as we have seen with centralisation of government services, once you move away from local deployment you can end up with a 'one size fits all' that doesn't actually fit anyone.

Whilst there may well be a 'one size fits all' solution-idea that will work in the UK germinating already, the truth is that, without the incumbent, or other major investor, likely to make the first leap into the £15bn hole in the ground that a single, national fibre infrastructure requires, the thinking in this editorial "islands of Fibre" may become the standard in 2008/9. As it has been before, historically and more recently.

As we have seen with community networks etc, this course deviates considerably from incumbent level and government thinking, which has allowed market failure (and the considerable social and economic effects of that) to happen before action is taken.

FTTx costs have been reducing massively over the last few years, and installing a local fibre network, whether that is to a hamlet, village, market town, housing development, or urban area is now within the reach of even the tightest purse strings.

We are seeing local councils seize the initiative to 'unbundle' themselves from the incumbent before the incumbent decides what course they will take eg in Bournemouth with H20, and inevitably there are discussions in other council chambers, parish councils, RDAs and even pubs, as communities decide on what fibre action is appropriate locally and how to proceed.

The success of "Dig where you live" type projects rings a bell within the living memory of many communities who provided their own water supplies etc prior to the creation of the national Water Board (1970s?).

Taking some level of control for what is now deemed as essential an utility as water or electricity, resonates within communities, especially rural ones, who have felt the effects of centralisation most acutely. This consumer empowerment seems to have evaded the understanding of telcos, and even government departments such as BERR and Defra, who fail to comprehend the changes that such localisation can have on a community. This is one area I explored in both JFDI Community Broadband network books, and the impact of such local involvement in FTTx networks has been clearly documented by others elsewhere.

Whether having diverse networks will provide the best long-term solution for FTTH Britain is difficult to tell, but as Malcolm Matson of the OPLAN Foundation regularly says,"Let many flowers bloom".

Photo by Pedrosimoes7

Lilypads do of course seem the most logical photo for this article, and for further reading one could place a few jigsaw pieces in front of you to build the picture up a little, (join the dots, as it were) such as:
Negroponte's famous article about frogs and lilypads
Freifunk's Fiwi Mesh Solution (AFAIK there is now fibre within the Freifunk network as well as mesh)
And, of course, no self-respecting telco blog would be complete without The Rise of the Stupid Network by Dave Isenberg.

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