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Monday, 17 January 2011

The FTTH Never-lution?

2011 is beginning to take on that feeling of dichotomy and mutual exclusivity which has hindered all of the Noughties (for me). On the one hand, we have communities building networks and lighting gigabit fibre to the home (or installing cabinets owned by themselves and not a telco, in preparation for FTTH), and on the other, we have local papers giving front page space to BT's FTTC (Fibre To the Copper), BET or satellite, not-true-broadband solutions.

This blog post can be read at

I refuse point blank to get excited by FTTC, and as far as I am concerned it is not an evolution, nor a revolution, it's a neverlution. Take that word apart yet further (Etomologists - take cover!) and you have "never" "solution".

I've watched a fairly substantial quantity of public money be spent on broadband solutions over the last decade (See my Samizdat and ABC blog posts for more if you are bored here). None of it IMHO has been spent with more than a passing glimpse at joined up thinking, few lessons have been learnt and then applied, and little understanding has been shown of the corporate psychology which dictates our plight as a non-broadband nation.

And so it seems that it is likely to continue. Except for those communities who are gifted with a broadband champion, or fall under the lucky pin, and those who JFDI, often against all odds. This JFDI approach is not, interestingly, mutually exclusive of telco involvement, which is, of course, where the term "FiWi Pie" came in.

And, as my term is persistently misused, to assist the neverlutionaries I thought I would explain it again before we get too far into the year and people get lost in the over-abundance of corporate press releases and (short-lived) council back-slapping that is likely to occur this year.

FiWi Pie came about because it was obvious, back in about 2004, that whilst wireless was a great solution, it was proving impossible to put together a business case or find a backer for that most obvious choice even then - fibre. So, use wireless to get fibre closer to the village, market town etc. Simples. Hence FiWi as in Fibre ---> Wireless.

Then, when you break down the needs for a network, you realise that what you need is involvement, co-operation and co-ordination by all the parties required to build said network. Whether that is backhaul, first mile solutions appropriate to topology, demand or economics, tech support, billing, local ownership, a wayleave specialist, or someone willing and insured to climb a pole or on a roof - you need a TEAM.

And in order to make this network sustainable, that team needs paying. i.e. that team needs to share the PIE that comes from running a sustainable network. Or you end up suffering from volunteer fatigue.

So you get FiWi Pie: Fibre as an affordable backhaul solution (as close as you can bring it under 'market conditions'), wireless to distribute it where fibre is not possible, and a hard core business plan to keep and expand that solution over the next 20-50 years.

But in 2011, what we are looking at if we are not careful is one player who wants to eat all of the pies. Whilst leaving a substantial proportion of the population hungry.

Which will lead to another decade of head-banging, blame games, and a country left way behind the information and knowledge revolution.

The first sign of the real problems that lack of true broadband is bringing to UK PLC will probably occur during the Olympics, when the vast majority of the population who do not have tickets or live near a venue or a publicly accessible video stream will struggle to be involved except through trad media. But luckily our meeja will be so busy pulling Team GB apart (and hence the Coalition - spot the logic) for our failure to produce enough gold medallists, that this failure to make the technology available to all will probably go as unnoticed as most other important news seems to when publicists are given the opportunity to lose press releases under the 'celebrity stardust'.

Meanwhile, the brain drain will continue, the country will fail to recover as small businesses (who could rescue this country probably single-handedly) will have fallen by the wayside or never been formed in the first place, and our kids will travel to furrin places and wonder what on earth they have been technologically lumbered with at home......Ah, the joys of being British!

If this country wants to make a go of it, my suggestion would be, to BT, that it is time to:

  • find the recipes for the necessary pies

  • make the pies together

  • and then share out the pies for the well-being of all

Or we are likely, (less than) 10 years from now, to be working out how to make up the short-fall in our economy. And we will be reliving today.

There are people in 2011 who have finally given up arguing that ADSL is a suitable solution, and have shifted their allegiances to FTTC. In a few years time, undoubtedly you will be arguing the same points as you have for ADSL:

BT is the only investor (rot), FTTC is a perfect solution for the customers of today (rot), there is no business case for FTTH (rot), no-one needs more than 2/10/40Mbps (rot), asymmetry is all people need (rot), rural fibre is not viable (rot), we should be happy that we have broadband when many countries don't have sustainable agriculture or clean water or health services (have you been out in Britain recently?????)

And my final prediction is that if you let the duopoly at all the pies, this country will be as skinny as me!


chris said...

I would love to be as skinny as you hun, but I get your drift. If we don't share the pie this country is gonna fall down a grid and be totally out of the digital revolution.
Copper is never gonna keep us plump and prosperous. We just have to hope that councils see through the telco hype and support JFDI and local initiatives to make a fiwipie for everyone. Not just urban areas. Start at the notspots and work in. Like a tree needs sustenance from the earth, so this country needs its rural areas to be connected too, and with fit for purpose fibre not coppercrap.

Somerset said...

So how do we get FTTP installed? Can someone explain why FTTC at 60M should not be installed. HD video will be fine, what are the real issues?

A 60M connection could give 500Gbytes/day. What's the explanation to councils that we actually need 1G connections for 8tera bytes/day.