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Tuesday 30 September 2008

Japan again

Read more! It really is more than time to read it and weep. It is time for many of the informed consultants, ex-telco workers, whistle blowers, and informed grassroots folk to really bust some of the telco myths about costs of FTTH. If the Japanese telcos can provide 100Mbps symmetrical FTTH for £30/month, then why can't we?

We know opex costs for FTTH are way lower than for ADSL, for starters. We know that the ROI on FTTH infrastructure investment is down to less than a decade (where telco returns used to be 15-20 years), we know that the cost of data is now approaching zero, we know that once FTTH is enabled, customers flock to it out of choice over ADSL, we know that energy bills etc are substantially reduced.

So, what is going on?? Why are the telcos being allowed to hold a nation such as the UK over a barrel with their dithering and, one could almost consider saying, "Lies, damned lies and statistics".

And it isn't just the telcos. There was a consensual holding of breath when DBERR spoke at the BSG conference about there being no evidence of need yet for British business and consumers. Did we really hear right? Are the DTI really saying that to such an informed audience? The breath-holding continued with Antony Walker's sop to the telcos about not doing it yet, but doing it right.

It is time for many flowers to bloom. There won't be one correct solution. There won't be one national network. There may well be new technologies in a few years which surpass what the early adopters put in. But as with all techie developments, when they first come out, there will inevitably be some issues, standards to develop, and higher costs to deploy. So, the early adopters have a chance to start educating the market, creating that 'desire' for something better, encouraging competition in the market place, innovating.

And those early adopters will undoubtedly show many of the large companies how it is to be done. With the current global financial dilemma, it will be those fleet of foot, able to blag and JV, think out of the box, and operate on a tight budget who will begin to install networks where the telcos are unable to tread because they are slow moving behemoths.

And because, one suspects, the telcos have spent so long spinning everyone a line about FTTH, in order to sweat the copper asset and protect their shareholders' interests, that they are starting to believe their own myths.

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Friday 26 September 2008

Jealous? We should be

Read more! Oh heck, this could ruin your weekend! NTT offers a daily cap of 30GB upload. Yes, you read that right, upload.

OK, so the news is several months old - which actually makes it worse for us UK users, but hell, that's a terabyte a month of data upload.

But then I guess if you have dished 100Mbps fibre pipes to your users, and bandwidth costs are approaching zero globally, it isn't very much at all.

It really is so tempting to relocate. I mean, let's be real: I could fly to Japan, upload 100 gig of files from a cybercafe, and be back before they uploaded here. How far behind are we falling??

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FiWi advances in EU

Read more! The EU have got behind a proposal to use the digital dividend for wireless and mobile broadband.

I spoke in support of this particular use of the spectrum in January last year at the Oxford Media Convention. The panel was made up of those proposing the use by HDTV (BBC and DigiTv), mobile TV (O2) and wireless broadband, in particular for rural areas (me).

It is heartening to see, after how the panel went - it was a tough debate for my cause! that the EU have now supported this proposal. I am not claiming full credit for it, by any means, but it is rather an obvious choice for best use, rather than using the spectrum for TV services which are already amply provided for in other frequencies.

I must dig out the technical information I had acquired beforehand from those who know about TV broadcast spectrum and its limitations, and perhaps repeat the arguments here now they are so timely. That information meant I could argue the case about the feasibility of it on the panel, although there were some in question time who queried some of my assumptions and took me beyond my technical know how. That debate would be interesting to start again now...and verify the whys and wherefores of feasibility.

Not sure about the Wimax bit though.....there are proven techs that may prove more capable.
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Hermes, CUT, and a history lesson

Read more! Just read the latest post from the Hermes Project about Caio, rural FTTH, and prices. Reminded me of something.........

The Access to Broadband Campaign (ABC), of which I was one of the 4 co-founders back in the very early Noughties, came into being after a series of BSG meetings. In those days, there were 3 of us who regularly attended at our own expense on behalf of consumers and communities.

- Erol Ziya (formerly of CUT)
- John Wilson (Arwain and involved with many in the wireless world)
- Myself. (Rural broadband campaigner and broadband event organiser)

This was way back when the BSG started in autumn 2000/ spring 2001 (as I recall), before all and sundry jumped on the broadband bandwagon to make themselves a living.

By then, all 3 of us had been campaigning individually for different consumer/community sectors for several years. Debriefings in cafes around Russell Square after these BSG meetings, where the consumer/community voices had been fighting to be heard or understood, led to setting up ABC so that everyone could hear from ALL the stakeholders and engage in the debates.

I sort of digress. ABC was fairly active and well documented. Anyone who came to any of our events remembers, I'm sure, us and the events clearly!! (They were the best around at the time, and still would be now if we held one - ask anyone! Ooh, now there's an idea....)

Hermes' mention of unmetered dial up reminded me that many, many of the people talking about NGA, FTTH etc have absolutely no recollection of how FRIACO came about, nor its relevance today.

The current telco publicly voiced turmoil about 'oooh, the expense, how will we get our money back, there is no demand' etc etc is the same which triggered the campaigning, arguments and grassroots activity that was necessary prior to CUT hitting the 10 o'clock news, getting AOL and other major ISPs on side and on board, and, amazingly, getting FRIACO adopted across the whole of EU.

FRIACO led, firstly, to huge, widespread, mass adoption of the internet, innovation, and a closing of the digital divide. But, most importantly, from a telco point of view, is that it increased the number of people subscribing to their services by factors that had been previously unimaginable. Yes, they made MONEY, BIG MONEY....

Who could ever have imagined back then in '99 that in less than a decade 16million people in the UK alone would be able to access the Internet over a connection at least 10 times as fast as dial up (on the whole, if you are lucky) at the same price as a dial up connection then?

For the consumer, however, it meant no more limits to how often you could log on, especially if you were poor. It started the access for all, internet savvy world we know now in Europe.

If you don't know what FRIACO is, or why it is at least as relevant now to the debate, I strongly urge you to read the CUT archive site

For those who hate following links, try this as a reminder.

Do you remember the days when you paid for dial up by minute? (And the only person who gave you grief for being on too much was the bank manager for getting HUGE phone bills). Well, FRIACO brought flat rate internet access ie you paid one price per month and you could do what you wanted online. To everyone who wanted it.

Ring a bell with all these discussions ongoing about pricing models etc in the Ofcom review, usage limits, telcos' press releases etc?

Please do not let us have to re-invent the wheel....the CUT arguments still stand today. The investment, exactly as it was made prior to WW1 in the telephone system, is required, and all the telcos are well aware that if they can maintain their monopoly hold on it, they will not just get ROI in the next few years, but OVER and OVER again.

It wouldn't take much to get the type of people who successfully brought FRIACO to the whole of EU motivated again to take this on for NGA, surely? And now there really is a whole next generation of them fed up with being unable to do what they choose, when they choose, how they choose, and as fast as they choose....check out many of the broadband forums.........

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Just a reminder - the endgame is FTTH. Tell everyone!

Read more! Promote the cause - true NGA = FTTH. Get a tshirt, mug, conference bag, mousemat etc.

Or just help me earn a few pennies to feed my twins. I am unwaged, a single mum, and committed to FTTH as much now as a decade ago, as much for my SME as my family. In case you didn't realise!

I am a true grassroots activist and consumer. I live in a deeply rural area - there are only around 400 other people in my parish, less in my village. Feel free to offer me a job/work too. I work all hours, am best value and well-networked! Unlike my broadband.
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Wednesday 24 September 2008

Ed Richards answers questions

Read more! The Telegraph offers readers the chance to ask questions of Ofcom's Chief the answers.

The questions posted about fibre optics, use of sewers, and FiWi are the ones that interest me, although I can understand the radio hams' frustration at the interference being caused by BT's homeplugs.

The answer to Kim Purkiss' question though exasperates me. Unless we reach some sort of comprehension of uso, the natural monopoly that is FTTH/NGA and mutuality, this country is going to lag behind yet further. 'Clear consumer demand' cannot be established unless a truly independent body with no hidden agendas seeks to do so. Allowiing telcos to dictate who gets what where is in no way in the consumers' interests, nor long-term in the interests of UK Plc. Allowing the telcos to cherry pick is only going to cause further digital divides in the future, stymie innovation and fill the fat cats pockets . Nuff said.

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Future Broadband Consultations underway

Read more! Two to get involved with right now. First up is Ofcom's Super-fast broadband consultation (open until 02.12.08), and secondly is the EU Review on fibre NGA networks(open until 14/11/08)

Ofcom's attempts to engage consumers by allowing commentary on each paragraph of the summary is interestingly different, although spot the issue the public is concerned with right now in the paragraphs about the use of technologies such as Phorm. Hopefully, other paragraphs will also receive public attention for issues of equal import such as dealing with the new digital divide, regulation to prevent monopolies, open access and so on.

The EU review also covers some of the issues surrounding the creation of new monopolies, as well as the issues around sharing access to ducts, poles, and fibres, including in the fibre local loop. The guidance from the EU is already late for some countries, such as Sweden, and one hopes that the framework will not conflict with the work that Ofcom is also doing on the subject.

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making FiWi happen: Google espouse white spaces

Read more! When arguing for the use of the digital dividend for affordable wireless broadband on the panel last year at the Oxford new media event (as against for HDTV or mobile use) some of the attendees questioned whether such a thing would be possible. Nice to see Google advocating it too but in a more ubiquitous way - of course!This is precisely the level of tech and thinking that could help make FiWi happen deep into rural areas in the UK. And use some of the unused spectrum.

I seem to remember that not too many years ago, James Stephens of came back from an event in Copenhagen talking about how use of the white noise spectrum could extend wifi networks' capacity substantially. This seems to me to be similar thinking and a potential solution to consider for FiWi.
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Sunday 21 September 2008

Funding rural FTTH in the UK

Read more! So Caio says the case for major public sector intervention is weak. If we are talking about straightforward subsidy or significant change to the regulatory regime (as he sets out), then I agree. From what I can see of the evolving market there is a sound business case for smaller community owned fibre networks. With the right conditions, the right technology choices, and the appropriate financial backing, I believe that these local fibre networks can be successful sustainable businesses. Neunen is an interesting case in this respect. As I understand it the goal was never to be profitable, merely sustainable, and yet several years into the project and OnsNet appears to be making a healthy operating profit, and servicing its debts. From my perspective as someone seeking to promote such a network I have to say I'm a little confused about the debate over this issue.

It looks like the same old tired public vs. private arguments are being rehashed. We still don't seem to have advanced our thinking beyond this stale black/white dead-end. And yet plenty of campaigners and promoters are actively talking about cooperative and mutual solutions, which can deliver both the public sector ethos and the private sector entrepreneurial spirit in one and the same package. And as for funding, no-one is really expecting major subsidy from the public purse, are they? If we are clever, and perhaps a little lucky, we may be able to leverage some public sector funding, just as the private sector does, but it seems pretty unlikely that government - at any level - is going to pour the millions in that are needed to build networks of even fairly modest scale.

No, what is really needed in order to generate real progress in this emerging community fibre sector is, in my humble opinion, access to large chunks of patient risk capital. Capital that is a little socially minded, but which still requires a fair return. BT and others question the business case in rural and other areas of lower population density. But that's because BT needs to give its investors a return in a few short years, so it is driven by its shareholders to focus on the low hanging fruit of the large urban population centres.

And yet the recent Taylor report on rural housing tells us that economic growth based on remote working ICTs in rural areas is roughly double that which is seen in urban centres, and this despite the poorer performance of ADSL in those rural areas. Ofcom's Consumer Panel says that rural communities should be at the head of the queue for FTTH, and there is increasing evidence to show that the benefits of NGA would be most strongly felt in those rural communities. The arguments in favour are compelling, but how to make it happen when BT and its ilk are driven by the short termism that is inherent in the City.

It's an interesting conundrum, and opens up some equally interesting possibilities. There has been plenty of talk about social enterprise in the last five years or so, and government seems very keen (as do Cameron's Tories). Is this not the single biggest opportunity for social enterprise to transform the UK telecoms market? We are nearing a tipping point in telecoms - not just in the UK but across the whole of Europe and beyond. A very real opportunity exists to end the de facto monopoly and at the same time create a substantial community owned telecoms utility player. It is surely a challenge and will demand some real vision on the part of those individuals and organisations that could prove pivotal.

But the prize is enormous: an end to the drip-feed asset sweating approach that over the years has drained billions and billions of pounds out of local communities and economies and into the hands of BT's City investors. The potential of delivering true Fibre to the Home to rural communities whose sustainable long term future - in the face of increasing transport costs - increasingly depends on the availability of high bandwidth low cost connectivity. The impact would be huge, and hugely positive. But who is out there that might be willing to invest the sums required over the length of time needed?

In part, the capital could come from the communities themselves. Community share issues have been effective in raising large sums for community owned wind farms. The Industrial and Provident Society legislation - currently being upgraded - provides an ideal vehicle for this approach. In some fibre rollouts, end users are buying their connection, using savings, or perhaps securing funding against the value of their home (which will of course be enhanced by having a fibre connection). Public sector involvement might be in part about aggregating their planned investment and/or usage costs over several years in order to provide a larger chunk of finance at the outset. And the CDFIs (Community Development Finance Institutions) of which there are many, need to be looking actively at the lending opportunities in this space.

On a perhaps more outlandish angle, and given the game-changing nature of this tipping point, such an investment might prove attractive to a player who is known for their leftfield approach, for their slightly philanthropic bent, and for their substantial minority share of the UK broadband market. Virgin territory?
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Thursday 18 September 2008

BT send big guns to Wales

Read more! ThinkBroadband reports on the trip to Wales by BT Chairman, Sir Michael Rake, to work on/with the Welsh Assembly on the matter of fibre.

Sadly, and fairly rarely for TB, the article includes two myths - a) that 1/2Mbps is sufficent for today's use and 2) that next generation broadband starts at 50Mbps - try 100 or even 1000Mbps please.
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Tuesday 16 September 2008

How much evidence do we need? UK 24th

Read more! Yet another survey showing the UK well down the broadband league tables, this time commissioned by Cisco and carried out by Oxford and Oviedo universities, and putting US in 16th and UK at 24th.

As a consumer who knows the current tech is not good enough even for my usage, I am really beginning to wonder in light of Caio's Review saying the case for investment is weak, just how much evidence this country requires to get our act together on FTTH.

Caio has managed to tow the party line (the telcos' party that is), re-defining NGA to now include every technology which can or cannot deliver anything approaching true broadband. I know he is having a bad week but even so, this country needs true, quality broadband NOW and that review should not in any way be taken as the policy driver for UK broadband. It is limited in its vision, misunderstands the needs of the consumers and businesses who drive our economy, and fails utterly to escape from the restrictive telco thinking which has impaired our broadband and communications ability for far too long.
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Saturday 13 September 2008

Event: Broadband World Forum Europe

Read more! The Broadband World Forum conference and expo in Brussels, 29th Sept to 2nd Oct

If you are going, please blog from the event! Some potentially fantastic sessions looking at the schedule.....
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Caio Review

Read more! Unless you have been under a rock for the last week (or in the wilds of Scotland, as I was), you can hardly have failed to have caught the publication of Francesco Caio's review of Barriers to Investment in NGA, and the news and blogosphere commentary on it. There is too much to comment upon in a single post, but suffice to say, it bears reading. However, there are a couple of points that spring to mind as part of the 'rural lobby' that Caio mentions in the report.

Firstly, apparently no-one lives further than 5.1km from an exchange in the UK. Rot! Our whole village is situated more than that from the exchange, as are many, many others, who therefore have no chance of benefitting from ADSL2+, and who should have been more deeply considered in the report when dismiising the need for FTTH investment at this point in time. We are, it seems, now a minority group (the digitally excluded) and our problems must be addressed by government et al, with the same enthusiasm that other minority groups are.

Secondly, the lack of demand shown in some of the graphs for video etc fails entirely to take into account that many of us "just don't bother" with video/films because our connections are incapable of downloading films in under a couple of days. Upload the videos from the recent trip to Scotland once home? Not a chance, and as for trying to put the photos and videos onto Flickr over a wireless network in Oban...pah.

Third point: wireless has to be an integral part of the first phase (at least) of NGA, hence the adoption of the term FiWi showing the need for wireless. (See previous posts on the matter) However, the poverty of existing wireless infrastructure (mobile coverage in rural Scotland this last week was patchy to say the least) and even technologies such as HSDPA, 3G and so on, are not going to bring the bandwidth that consumers need now.

And, finally, that old bug bear again: consumers were not properly included, as ever, in the Caio review, judging by the list of organisations/individuals contacted. Ask us what we need true broadband for and we will tell you. (No sign of the Federation of Small Businesses, CLA, Teleworkers Association, CMA for instance in the list on pp 73-75 - only "Industry" - very telling).

As a small business owner, looking at present, for instance, to use developers in India for several purposes, I am unable to upload the training videos which will bring them up to speed fast enough to start offering additional products and services this year to clients. I cannot video conference with my next door neighbour, let alone India or London. This means unnecessary trips to meetings because I have no choice but to do that, and that has an environmental and economic impact - personally, for my business and for the country. I cannot pay tax on money that I have not earned because it has been spent on train tickets, flights, and so on, but that would have gone to the Treasury if I had been able to work more efficiently on a decent connection. This is so blindingly obvious that I wonder it is not mentioned more often.

As a family, my teenagers are unable to do many of the things their peers and friends can, be they in London or rural Jutland in Denmark. This is not just frustrating, but also affects their progress in school, which will inevitably affect their career choices and the contribution they are able to make in future to the economy. It is also highly likely that we will see a drain of talent to other nations where the standard of living, choices etc are higher, particularly from this generation of kids brought up in an ever smaller world, who see and hear about services and choices available to their friends in other countries.

And as an aside: BSG have also decided to almost double their figure for 100% UK FTTH, despite having been fairly adamant for years that the cost would be around the £15Bn mark. One feels somewhat aggrieved that this sudden doubling of the costs means that the telcos will now play the FTTC card over and over again, and sweat the copper asset for yet more years to come, thereby doing the population out of the chance to get a decent infrastructure. One can only ask if there is a hidden agenda about this sudden rise, and the answer is a tad worrying....more later when I have calmed down a little!
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Telco sues town for putting in FTTH

Read more! Only in America? The town of Monticello in Minnesota, having held a referendum on fibre to the home, then proceeded to spend tax payers' money on achieving exactly that purpose. As soon as they start digging, along come TDS to Arstecnica's view of events here...TDS' reasons for the lawuit? We are trying to save the taxpayers from wasting money...hmmm. Read more!

Thursday 4 September 2008

FTTH advice for property developers

Read more! What do you ask your FTTH provider if you are looking to turn a new housing estate into an Intelligent Community? This article offers good advice to anyone considering the FTTH route in new-build, and reminds me of why we planned The End Game Conference back in 2005, came up with the break out sessions we did, and invited so many property developers!!

Although the climate for property development is a tad grim here in the UK at the mo, it may be that those property developers who seek to innovate in the homes that they do build can corner the market, increase the value of those homes they build, even in a declining property market, and establish a reputation when the market does recover for experience in the field of next gen homes.

For planning authorities, it is precisely the adoption of such policies that will put their regions in the lead for business investment, and becoming desirable areas in which to live when the economy recovers.

However, we are still seeing a failure by the planning authorities to force developers to build 21st century houses, whether this is environmental (eg insisting that every new home MUST have solar panels, wind generators, methane digesters and so on), or in telecommunications (FTTH, gigabit ethernet wired homes/business premises etc).

This situation needs to change, rapidly, if the UK is to have the basic first mile and first inch infrastructure to deliver FTTH and compete in the global knowledge economy. Much of the failure stems from general 'ignorance' in the UK still about the importance of FTTH, and hence the vital need to start including it in the planning, design, and build of new homes and business premises. This is not so difficult to change with an education and evangelism policy, although that education needs to be aimed as much at those governing the country as those intended to consume the FTTH!

There is however already a comprehensive ICT toolkit available to all property developers and planning authorities in the UK, which does offer assistance in uncovering the answers to the questions UK property developers and planners will need to resolve in order to build next gen homes.

Technology may have moved on, but one of the joys behind the Toolkit was that it didn't propose actual technologies, and therefore it hasn't aged unduly and become dated. Well done to those at EMDA who funded this ICT Toolkit (I think Alan Srbljanin was a key thinker), and if you build houses and business units (or even self-build), or are a planner, it is well worth a look.

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"Worst is first" FTTH call from Ofcom

Read more! Anna Bradley (Ofcom Consumer Panel) reiterates what she said, with Ashley Highfield (BBC) and others, at the BSG conference.

The broadband have-nots should leapfrog everyone else in getting FTTH / NGA.

Hearty applause from me, and undoubtedly many, many others who have struggled to be heard for so long. We have been saying this for over a decade now, since long before broadband became a household word, ADSL trigger levels and so on. Our Notspot report in 2005 also generated more than enough evidence to show this was required, economically for rural business and public sector service provision, and socially.

As a consumer of this pathetic service our dear regulator and incumbent(s) are apparently legitimately allowed to call "broadband" (to many consumers' disgust), I hope we will now see advances towards resolving a problem of national import, and which is having dire social and economic impact.

If anyone has any doubts about this 'worst is first' theory (with compliments to Sagentia for coining the term), I strongly urge you to pick up the JFDI Community Broadband books. I didn't write them alone. They are the words and experiences of communities who put their own first gen broadband in place, where the telcos refused to tread for precisely the same reasons they are citing now for not doing FTTH / NGA, and clearly illustrate why FTTH / NGA is required in rural areas FIRST.

NOT FTTC, let's make that clear. FTTC is NOT, and never will be, NGA.

The copper in rural areas is, in many cases, aged, appalling or aluminium. For FTTH / NGA purposes, it is entirely obsolete, useless, and better value sold on the open market, as Peter Cochrane first suggested way back when. The first hint of rain and our supposed broadband connections can and do dither at less than dial up speeds. There are many who don't even have this privilege though - I can introduce you to hundreds, if not thousands of them, who haunt my inbox.

There should be no concessions made to keep the copper in the first mile, whatsoever.

Whatever the cost to whomsoever does the copper replacement for rural FTTH, it is as nothing to the benefits to be reaped bringing "health, wealth and learning" opportunities across the digital divide. And hence the economic benefit to UK PLC.

Those of us behind Community FTTH, 5TTH and FiWi Pie are within an ace of making announcements about sustainable "Worst is First" broadband development and opportunities. Thank you, Anna. Your timing is impeccable!

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Wednesday 3 September 2008

INEC Declaration on Open Networks

Read more! Greece will be the first country where the INEC declaration on Open Networks will be signed by ALL local communities during the Broadband Cities event Oct 20th - 22nd, 2008 in Trikkala, Greece.

The document provides a framework of reference for providing best networks to the maximum number of users in signatory communities. A large number of communities around the world have signed the Declaration, but this will be the first time that all communtiies within a nation sign together.
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FTTH Council Public Call for Papers

Read more! FTTH Council Europe has issued, for the first time, a public call for papers for the next conference in Copenhagen, February 2009. The deadline for abstracts is 26th September.

The conference will focus on "building a sustainable future" and there are several areas of this undoubtedly of great interest in the current climate (both economically and physically.)

The key topics at the conference are:
* FTTH & Sustainable Development
* Revenues from Current - and Future Services
* FTTH and the Investor Community
* Regulation & Policy
* Case Studies: Successful FTTH-networks in the spotlight
* Technology & Innovation
* How to implement FTTH-Networks
* FTTH Market

Price Waterhouse Coopers have produced a report on behalf of the FTTH Council about the environmental impact of FTTH which makes interesting reading. You can read a brochure about FTTH environmental impact and the report here.
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Tuesday 2 September 2008

(Mouse) Killer apps

Read more! It has been a long time since I have seen an application that makes me think, "This could be the type of killer app that breaks the (copper) network and demonstrates that the so-called 'non-existent demand' for bandwidth is a fallacy", but I think I may just have found one.

I came across Youtube in its very early days and its use of video (high bandwidth reqs) and the symmetry of the app - I'll upload, you watch and vice versa, was the last such app. Nowadays, Youtube is a name everyone knows, but Mousehunt may not be.

I don't think MH in its current state threatens bandwidth caps or the core network. Any more than Youtube or Iplayer does yet really - I still can't watch a Youtube video or a BBC programme without jerks, buffering, and total frustration because of the poverty of the UK rural broadband network and the greed of its operators - but MH has all the ingredients to do so in the next 12 months or so if its developers keep to the successful recipe they have discovered.

MouseHunt is a Facebook application. Now before everyone switches off - you ignore social networks at your peril in business and government in 2008 - it is what it embodies that matters.

To explain though, MH is a simple online game. Basically, you build a mousetrap, buy some cheese and set off to the help the King of Gnawnia rid his kingdom of mice. As you catch more mice, you win points and gold, can upgrade your trap, buy different types of cheese, and move to different regions of the Kingdom, winning points to progress up through the levels of novice, apprentice, journeyman, master etc, which opens additional doors to new mice and hunting areas, and some horrendous puns, such as the Mousoleum - full of zombie mice, mummy mice, etc.

It is a waiting game though. You can only hunt mice every 15 minutes, and no more. It also takes time to achieve a new level of expertise - one week, two, depends on your skill and luck at catching mouses! So, to kill time, hunters loiter in the forums, run competitions to share gold, talk, help each other out, make friends to help them hunt more often, set up FB groups, and much more. The community that this has built is really quite staggering.

MH was launched in March/April this year, and after a mere 4 months, there are 10000+ hunters online at any one time. 39% of the people who run this application log on EVERY day. The forums are very busy, and with the developers encouraging suggestions of improvements and new ideas, you can watch a creative, engaged community at work for the greater good (politicans, civil servants and industry execs - take note. Grassroots activity is not to be sniffed at or ignored).

Additionally, it shows how a real-life community ought to work, (something we see far too little of these days) looking after each other, co-operating, and helping out others in a less fortunate position. I watched a scammer almost torn to pieces in the forums yesterday for ripping someone off for SuperBrie + the ultimate cheese. He returned it with a huge apology! There's people power /justice for you.

The inclusion of games within social networks is nothing new, but building a devastatingly simple yet addictive game which attracts a wide variety of different people, from around the world, who play as much for the social engagement as for the game itself, signals to me the rise of a new breed of app, and in this case, it could well be a killer. And not just of mice!

MH 2.0 is about to be launched, and it will be interesting to see whether anyone has seen the value of MH and decided to JV with Hitgrab. For instance adding video conferencing tools within it to allow hunters to communicate between their Hunt group - total strangers who help you hunt, who then become friends. (This time last week, I knew no-one in Louisiana but now I am concerned about several strangers and their families because of Gustav). Not just that, but there are Facebook groups dedicated to MH - for instance, the Non Violent Removal of Mice Charity (NVMRC), who want less deathly mousetraps, and others.

Tie in a Youtube application to MH and people will upload animations of mice (the graphics are superb, yet simple), vlogs and much more. Add video based clues to the game, and you start to see how 10k users at any time could start to munch through bandwidth. Especially if groups of them are also playing virtual musical chairs around their webcams to win 5000 gold pieces on the forums.

I think MH has the potential to be one of the first of a breed of online social networking games with mass appeal; that don't rely on gaming ability or obsession to get anywhere; and that need bandwidth thrown at the community of users. However, if the developers get ahead of the ability of their users to connect and engage, it will lose some of its appeal, as it will fragment the existing community between haves and have nots (just like the real world then!)

But it is precisely this type of app that highlights the need for decent bandwidth in the first mile. And underscores the failure by many to understand that users need bandwidth for fun, interactive stuff more than anything, whether that is retail therapy, uploading wedding videos, or playing games. How many e-gov websites can boast 10,000 simultaneous users? We (the consumers) really are not that interested in government stuff, however important politics may be in our daily lives, it is nowhere near as important as being part of an enthusiastic community of fellow mousehunters or sharing our funny clips from our mobile phones!

We vote for people to run the country so we don't need to worry about it; we expect the services our taxes pay for to work for us (ditto the civil service); and we want our government to protect us from self-serving commercial interests who otherwise dictate what we can and cannot do. And not just online. And then, we can do the interesting stuff that makes us the people we are.

If MH becomes the success it has the potential to achieve, we will see add-ons appearing with third parties benefiting from its success; a cross-app economy where players trade prizes from other apps for cheese etc (this is already happening); cheese traded for hard cash (as has been seen with gold farming in Second Life and many of the MMPOGs); and an increase in bandwidth usage by its players. Take note, you read it here first!

(Whilst writing this, courtesy of the help of my hunt group, which inclues an Open University lecturer, a marine biologist, and who knows what other occupations, I have caught a 1lb 3oz Bionic Mouse and several smaller brown and white mice - long live the King!)

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