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Thursday, 24 September 2009

What should the UK be in terms of data transport?

I am reproducing Erol Ziya's article from the ABC site because I hope it will stimulate next gen debate...

(First published approx 4-5 years ago)

Light that Fibre! – effecting change in the UK

by Erol Ziya
ABC’s core objective is to effect change. So far we have not effected as much change as I would have liked. From my past experience of effecting change, with the campaign for unmetered telecomms (CUT), to effect meaningful change, you need to find a single core issue that you can line up as much support behind as possible. With CUT we were able to combine the support of major corporations like AOL and Intel with a grassroots user voice, all focused clearly on a single issue. This is what I believe ABC now needs to do.

What’s the issue?

For me the simple clear cut issue, that almost everyone should be able to line up behind, is the cost of moving around data within the UK. It is now middle mile costs (moving data from a local aggregation point to say Telehouse or some other point) that are the core problem. Historically there has been much talk and focus on the issue of the first/last mile, and rightly so.

There are now new exciting ways to deal with local distribution, from community based wifi solutions to commercial LLU solutions. In both terms of technical advancements (wifi, low-cost mini DSLAMs and others) and in terms of regulation (LLU and others) there has been much improvement in first / last mile options. However all of these options, community and commercial, are now being hampered by the cost of getting data from a local aggregation point outwards and onwards. I believe that this does not need to be the case.

Look at the massive amounts of unused fibre in the ground within the UK (some estimates are as high as 98% of all the fibre in the ground in the UK is just unlit and unused) and if you look at the cost of ‘middle mile’ connectivity in other countries, then the only reasonable conclusion is it could be and should be cheaper in the UK. To the argument that it cost billions to put this fibre in, I would simply say it’s better to get something from this investment than the nothing that is currently being accrued from it.

What’s the target?

The UK government, via the Broadband Stakeholders Group, is currently in the process of defining the targets for Broadband Britain 2010. I think the single target that, if achieved, would place the UK in forefront of the digital revolution, is to aim to make the UK the cheapest place in the world within which to move data. If we could achieve this one single target (and given the amount of network resource already in the ground in the UK I believe we can) then we would see an explosion of usage and uses for modern digital networks that would lead the world.

We need to create a ‘wired commons’ throughout the UK. We need to take the benefit accrued by ISPs, through the non profit Linx Exchange organisation, of near zero cost interchange of data and extend this benefit down to every local aggregation point in the UK and ultimately every user in the UK. We need to aggregate every piece of data in the UK onto a single unified dumb IP transport system.

What’s the how?

How could we do this? This objective will not be easy to achieve and it will need much thought and discussion from people far cleverer than me. In the hope of starting this process of debate here are some thoughts of mine:

We need to create a dumb IP overlay network

This network should initially extend to every DSL enabled BT telephony exchange in the UK.
It should offer at least 10Mbps ethernet connections to anyone who wants to connect to them that should be able to route traffic to any other point in the UK.
It should be based on a single flat fee for end users. The revenue from these end users connections should then be divided out to those that carry the traffic.
This idea has serious benefits and can make money. As an infrastructure provider the more traffic you carry on this ‘UK IP overlay network’ the greater the proportion of end user fees you would accrue. Any ‘data transport’ company or entity should be able to interconnect into this network at any point. Whenever there is a choice of routes the data will always route to the carrier that has the most unused capacity at that time. Thus, the way to make more money, if you have infrastructure, would be to make it available.

The idea is to create a commercial incentive to deliver abundance (that already exists and is currently unused) as opposed to the existing drives to maintain a false scarcity.

What’s the who?

The government is the crucial ‘pump primer’ that could create the initial density to make an IP data commons in the UK a reality. If any and all government expenditure on Broadband networks in the UK was spent on generic dumb IP overlay network elements, that could be used by anyone and interconnected into by any carrier, instead of 1000’s and 1000’s of separate and ‘rationed out’ exclusive links, I believe the vision of a UK data commons could be achieved.

The benefits of aggregation belong as much to those that create the data being aggregated as those that carry the aggregated data. We must find ways to maximise these benefits of aggregation, by aggregating all data within the UK. We must find ways of delivering these benefits of aggregation to as many people as possible. Getting everyone behind this aim is the way to effect significant change.