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Monday 21 December 2009

UK open FTTH is a no-brainer

Read more! Of course, when all of us grassroots people say it, over and over again, it gets no media coverage, but now an OECD report by James Enck has been published proving our point, so you never know - someone in government may listen. Don't hold your breath though.....

No, honestly, don't! The arguments are logical, sensible, economically sound, and include social capital gains... they have no chance of being accepted ;o)

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Friday 18 December 2009

US broadband stimulus grants announced

Read more! Today, the US Federal Govt began to announce the winners of the stimulus grants. "It's in America, not here, it's not relevant." I was told this today and nearly choked on my Red Bush tea. Let's start the panto season right here...oh yes, it is....

Whilst, on a geographic scale, the US projects may seem somewhat out of our league, as is the pot of gold, the problems faced are similar. Huge swathes of both rural and urban America who have little or nothing from their local 'incumbent' in the way of next generation access, or in some cases, first generation broadband. Incumbents and telcos dragging their heels in taking the investment plunge. Even though it is easy to see where the money will come from overall, it might not land in their coffers. Reluctance to do *anything* for the good of a wider community than their Board or shareholders. Sound familiar?

US communities are being given really amazing opportunities to put together astounding projects that will be ahead of the UK in climbing the learning 'mountain' of NGA - both middle and first mile. Not only that but there are lessons to be learnt by the UK in the process used to share out public monies.

For me, though the story that will probably prove most interesting, and may only ever be weeded out with difficulty over time, is how those communities who get overlooked (much like with our own National Lottery funding) resolve the problems for their communities. The disappointment will no doubt be tangible within communities who are banking on getting NGA soon. There may be a silver lining though....I'd love to lay a bet that although they will struggle to achieve what is required on several broken shoestrings, the lessons learnt by such communities will be 100 times more valuable to society than those who get the handouts. As long as they are heard.

I suspect it is those communities who will be the ones that many UK rural communities will need to look to for solutions. Because let's face it, £175M max each year is not going to solve the problems in rural Britain before those communities in the US who have missed out this time will have sought solutions. I don't see rural America sitting on its heels and not finding routes to deploy FTTH etc, with or without a State handout.

Any US community who misses out on the Broadband Stimulus grants, please get in touch. The rest will be written about, promoted, lauded etc and it will be far easier to track their progress. But those who have to be ingenious may well find better routes to the local market, more sustainable solutions, and benefit from those who dive in and make the inevitable mistakes. Save us re-inventing the wheel, if you can, please!! And good luck to all.

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Wednesday 16 December 2009

UK broadband fails the economy

Read more! Access to second class broadband can only damage the economy. If almost half of our online business, which as we all know is contributing more and more to the economy as other industry eg steel, manufacturing etc diminishes, is in rural areas, it is time to sort out our priorities for the economy. And for broadband.

According to a recent NFEA (National Federation of Enterprise Agencies) poll, 44 per cent of online businesses are based in rural areas.

The three areas where we need expansion, competitive businesses, innovation and regeneration - rural, SME and digital - we are failing. Badly. You can talk about putting in 2Mbps, creating funds, taxing landlines, developing new quangos etc all you like, but the time for action instead of talking is NOW.

We cannot afford to lose digital businesses, or stymie innovation further. The rural economy, and therefore the WHOLE economy, is blatantly suffering whilst the Westminster suits discuss policy objectives for 2012-2017 they may not even be around to deliver.

Start digging. In rural areas. THAT is the only solution for 2010 and economic recovery.

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Tuesday 15 December 2009

Verizon hits the 100Gbps mark in Europe

Read more! Verizon has just increased its fibre backbone between Paris and Frankfurt to 100Gbps to cope with business demands in the future. This post would seem to tie in nicely with the earlier post about Ofcom etc considering what is required in the UK for BtB products - um, not *that* much, apparently!

Whilst Verizon are not actually offering the full 100Gbps at present, mainly because no enterprise is demanding it, it would seem by this action that they expect for that time to come sooner rather than later. Shouldn't we be adopting a similar approach in the UK?
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Bedtime reading - 3 Ofcom NGA reports

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OfcomImage via Wikipedia

Ofcom have recently released three new reports for you to peruse over the Xmas hols.

The first - Competitive Models in GPON by Analysys Mason - looks at the financials surrounding GPON tech in the UK. The reasoning behind the report is that

Ofcom wishes to understand whether a regulated GPON unbundling requirement would prove effective in supporting competition on GPON fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks, such as those being proposed by BT.

The second - GPON Market Review by Analysys Mason - looks at the current GPON market, and includes case studies from several countries.

The third - BtB Interfaces by CSMG - looks at the importance of (future) Business to Business requirements and hence impact on competition, possible bottlenecks, cost restrictions, and Open Reach's Equivalence Management Platform (EMP).

That should keep you busy for a day or so. All comments more than welcome to stimulate the debate.

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Paris aims for FTTH by the Olympics

Read more! Unfortunately, Paris isn't hosting the Olympics, but there is a growing feeling in the UK, that insofar as telecoms are concerned across at the very least London, and definitely other areas of the country, the UK may well put on a very poor show compared to les French by the time the Olympics roll around.

Esme Vos reports on Muniwireless about the final resolution of the 'vertical build' problems in Paris that have been much in the news for the last year or two. And now the Mayor has stepped in with some neat plans to connect the poor. Oooh lala!

Meanwhile, the UK is nowhere close to even moving beyond thinking about 2Mbps asymmetrical as a potential universal service, let alone getting London or the UK 'up to speed' as Olympic host. For anyone heading off to the further flung parts of the country for individual sporting events, who will need unfettered access to the Net and speeds that are already considered normal elsewhere, our advice would be to bring your own satellite dish, or a well-loaded credit card.
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Monday 14 December 2009

Build it and they will come

Read more! As has been discovered with roads, the wider you make them to cope with existing traffic, the more traffic seems to use them. Now, the mobile operators are facing a similar problem which is also taxing the fixed network operators.

Having encouraged data usage over mobile phones, the mobile operators are now finding that the infrastructure is struggling to cope. The conundrum is that even if they expand their networks, data usage will continue to grow exponentially. However, they cannot keep charging for usage to keep pace with the returns required on this (continuing) investment because they have instituted 'all you can eat' data plans that consumers have become accustomed to.

The same is going to occur on fixed line networks, and is already occurring in countries, such as the UK, where the core infrastructure was never designed to handle the phenomenal (and growing) usage we are seeing.

So, what are the potential solutions to this quandary? AT&T are proposing "education of users" so that people limit the amount of data they use and take some responsibility for not overstretching the under-powered network teh telcos are providing. A second solution is to look at intelligent routing and caching - such as that apparently being discussed by BT and Google with Content Connect

There is a third option that seems to terrify operators, both mobile and fixed. Become a big, fat, dumb pipe. Forget all the other bells and whistles you are trying to flog, and just focus on one thing - providing a profitable fat pipe that does its job.

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Sunday 13 December 2009

Customer Owned Fibre

Read more! Useful coverage at the Economist in this week's TQ section of how in Scandinavia and the USA customers for telecoms services are taking ownership of their individual First Mile fibres and sharing ownership of the next hop through a mutual ownership model.

Whether and to what extent this approach will work in the UK remains to be seen.

There are arguments that say the UK market is less attuned to the kind of mutual self-help ownership seen in rural America for example, and less alike the rural small scale mutual utilities seen in eg. Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.

Ultimately the value in the fibre is in its use and the First Mile is for each customer's use, so it seems sensible to match that usage with ownership
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Thursday 10 December 2009

Broadband mapping - is this what UK needs?

Read more! US broadband mapping may have just become easier with the launch of Broadband Scout.

There is huge potential here for someone in the UK with similar data records to create a true broadband map of Britain by county, postcode etc. Luckily, I don't, or I would probably have a go at this, as this is the information the UK is most lacking. It is currently tied up, double wrapped, guarded jealously by corporates who keep pulling "commercial sensitivity" nonsense on people like me who request it. Whilst some people are doing a great job of trying to get your average Joe to report in their broadband connectivity, it is not sufficiently conclusive to make mapping broadband demand possible.

Hopefully, this will now change when someone who isn't involved in the telco world gets on with this job, and makes it available. As a commercial product, that's fine, as long as communities get reasonably priced access to the results for our areas so we can build sensible, sustainable networks without quite so much guesswork or time wasted with the telco smoke and mirrors palaver we constantly face.

And then, Mr Telco, instead of having zero customers buying your stupidly over-priced and non-competitive bandwidth products in places desperate for a community network and true broadband, you can sell lots of these products at reduced but still highly profitable prices to places where you won't have to deal with us ornery, expensive end users and consumers because the community network will be doing that.

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The killer app is not an app...

Read more! I know I'm not the first to say it, nor is this the first time I've said it. This is a post about video....

For many, the Internet as it stands is still inaccessible. Why? Because of literacy standards. Because it is still text based. Because it is still mainly in English, not Swahili or French or Spanish etc. Because it is 'scary'. Most people do not conduct their daily communications via text or through a keyboard - they speak, gesticulate, roll their eyes, react to body language and so on. Yet, this is still difficult for the average person to do using the current technology available to the masses.

Yes, we are moving towards more video content, but for the average person who is comfortable in their own skin but not on a keyboard, we still live in a world where much of our communication is not possible using a camera or a video link.

The infrastructure which would allow us to video conference etc is just not there in many parts of the world. Yes, there are mechanisms for doing so, and many manage to use video, albeit somewhat jerkily, to communicate with others, but it is not easy, nor even possible in some places. (Skype video here? Hmmm, not so it becomes a practice you would adopt as quickly as just going to a meeting and touching flesh with the people you need to talk to).

There are problems with coding and codecs. As memory etc has become more easily available, so coding has become looser, using the bits available, meeting tight deadlines etc instead of programming very tight, memory restricted, efficient code. Instead of being able to easily video conference with suitable quality of service, it has actually become harder as it uses more resources - eg bandwidth and processing power.

But where is the biggest problem? In the infrastructure that is required to carry full-motion, colour video so it feels as natural as a conversation. Whilst people keep rabbiting on about how 2Mbps is plenty, the reality is that it can't physically carry the necessary information to make video conferencing, or other forms of visual interaction, possible.

For instance, 2Mbps is not sufficient for telehealth, or education over video. By a very long chalk. It isn't sufficient for me to have a conversation 'as if I was there' with one of my kids when I am away on business. And whilst I may be able to communicate with them over text, email, on a voice chat, etc the lack of physical and visual signs that we all rely on as humans means that there are often important clues that we miss that make the interaction far less valuable than it could be. To both parties.

Video is the killer USE of the fat pipes. It will become the justification for them. Anyone who has failed to see this, and who still thinks that "content" means that stuff that Hollywood, the music industry, the BBC etc produce, is missing the way things are going. Interactivity will not mean pressing a button to vote for some trivial ex-celebrity. Interactivity will mean communicating with others, whether they are family, friends, peer groups, colleagues, the medical expert for our condition, a teacher, your MP, etc.

I remember standing next to Stephen Timms, watching a group of school children in Alston, competing with pupils from a school in the Midlands - and I say "with" because the teams were made up of pupils from both schools - to make a giant paper airplane over a video link. Up here in Cumbria, it is rare to see anyone who has different colour skin, or hear different accents in daily life, let alone talk to them, work as part of a team with them etc. The benefits and undoubtedly changed attitudes that resulted from that video session are numerous, and almost impossible to replicate without physically shipping kids around the UK. However, the kids couldn't continue their new 'friendships' from home, because the bandwidth required for 2 way video like this is just not available.

Imagine a physiotherapy session required by someone who is housebound due to their condition. At present, you need either a taxi or an ambulance to take you to hospital. That's an 80+ mile round trip for someone here. You then work with your physiotherapist to train your muscles back to life. This has to be done 'in person' because the physiotherapist needs to closely monitor your reactions to new exercises, to understand which muscles may require extra work, see your grimaces of pain and so on.

However, in many instances, this type of therapy could be conducted over a suitable video link. You could be in your home, not requiring the resources of an ambulance, taxi, nor to extend your carbon footprint to reach the hospital. Current and planned 'broadband' infrastructure is totally insufficient to make this possible without FTTH or fat pipes.

Let's go one step further. Project Natal gives some sense of how animation and great coding, including AI (artifical intelligence), could be used in future to deal with many issues, freeing up scarce human resources to carry out work which could not be carried out by an avatar.

Imagine that person who needs to be encouraged to carry out their physiotherapy every day, at home someone who is lonely, who is shy, who is agoraphobic, who needs to socialise but doesn't know anyone. Project Natal type programming could help to build confidence, listen to problems, bring people out of their shell, enable people to communicate about issues they struggle with. And so much more. Your imagination is the only limit on this one - get pondering!

But whilst you may want to do this on your XBox, there are times when this interactivity needs to be shared with a professional. Perhaps a GP who can see that the anti-depressant prescription is wrong for this person, or a psychologist, or a teacher or learning mentor with a difficult pupil. That requires a video link over the appropriate infrastructure to do that.

Once you start to think of all the possibilities for video, on a PEOPLE based level, not a monetary one, then you really begin to get how totally inadequate the current proposals for a USC, for 2Mbps, for asymmetric connectivity, and for Digital Britain really are.

Take away the shareholders, the policy tick boxes, the need to win seats, the use of public funds, and think purely about the PEOPLE. The consumers of this technology. Ask what people want, first. Then think about how we need to deliver it. Not in a piecemeal, this'll do for now fashion, but to reach an eNdGAme where the people who make up this nation are being best served. Think about your neighbour, the person sitting at the desk next to you, or on the Tube. Your family members, friends, the stranger in the doctor's surgery, the farmer down the road. Think about how being able to use video, invisibly, seamlessly, as part of their daily existence could change their life. What could it do for them, or for you? For your life, your business, your community, the nation?

Imagine health, education, security, communication, support, love, friendship, public policy directives, meetings, business deals, conferences, and everything else you can think of delivered on an "as if I was there" network.

And next time someone tells you that the USC of 2Mbps or any type of asymmetrical connection is fine for years to come, put them right.

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Wednesday 9 December 2009

Herding cats into the NGA 'pen'

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Last night, sitting in the Conservative Technology Forum meeting in the House of Commons, it finally dawned on me what a task we really have in front of us. I thought dealing with my neighbours and community was difficult... (oof, you really don't want to know!)

But it's actually far worse!

I've been in the House before so although it was nice not to have jetlag this time from Dave Isenberg's WTF conference, it wasn't "much different' from walking through my own house. (Must replace the marble busts on the stairs though...[photo])

However, what is becoming ever more obvious is the need to 'corrale' people into a situation where they collaborate and co-operate. Working for just your business' shareholders, or for a particular party win, or for the gain of xyz community is no longer the way to play. Not even if you play a winning card that seems to meet all odds. Because, on the whole, to date, every single winning hand has been played with a poker face in an attempt to win for 'your side'.

We have to go beyond sides. Beyond loyalties. Beyond shareholder interest. Beyond personal agendas and party politics. It's bigger. It can sometimes start far smaller eg a community of 12 houses, but it needs to be about making it right, nationally beneficial. It is about the ENdGAme.

What we are trying to do is FAR, FAR bigger than those 'personal' interests, be they corporate, community or even seemingly national when played politically.

What we are trying to do is free something which will allow, possibly untethered to start with, an opportunity to access an unrivalled resource - human creativity and imagination. Innovation. Ingenuity. Inspiration. All of those will unleash far more social economic wealth than anything else we have on the books. That, in itself, unleashes our most recent god - Money - that can be counted and "relied upon", AHEM, as a judge of value.

I know, as much as anyone how scary that is, though, and what it could unleash if you allow people to do what they are capable of. Hell, I have twins. 2 to 1 is not a good algorithm in a power struggle over the washing up, for instance! But when it comes to making things happen....hmm, then you are talking. Harness the power for the common good...and we have a clean house, a village with a cycle powered recycling trailer, real endeavours planned and executed by real people. We are going places then.

I will be writing about my thoughts on this decade shortly. This is the first in which I have been here the entire time fighting the same problem (Please, please, let it be the last!). But I know, from those I was with last night in London, and to whom I am eternally grateful to not just those but many others for their continued presence in this world I live in, (and their freely given experience, support etc - you do know who you are TY) that there is an 'oldgen' who are helping the 'newgen' deliver the 'nextgen'.

I can't make you speak out in public, but I can hope you might. I have spoken to so many of you in private and know you are not mute!

End of the Noughties.....what do you feel is up and coming for the Teenies, and where do you see your contribution being to the next generation of telecoms?

Are we herding cats? Or is there hope in the telecoms industry? Please, share your views here and if you know someone who remembers the Thatcherite days of 84 and "no TV thru BT" or who has a vision for 2012 that comes from their experience, please, come and share here so we stop re-inventing the wheel.

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Saturday 5 December 2009

Is Don Tapscott right?

Read more! I listened to him speak in Copenhagen at the FTTH Council event and have to admit I have more notes from that session than any other. This week he has taken on the music industry.

Whilst Murdoch and Google battle it out over news access by us mere mortals, the music industry has been applying undue pressure, particularly in the UK, in order to protect an outdated business model.

Don has decided to point out to the music industry several options available for their survival. I personally would not want anything to do with the billing engine responsible for ensuring each person was credited the appropriate amounts, but hey, jobs for the boys there in his suggestions!

What many people are endeavouring to achieve is to change the scarcity model into that of abundance. The problem is that the "protectionists" apparently didn't see this abundance lark coming. So, not having considered solutions prior to its arrival, they now feel threatened. Instead of embracing it, they are panicking like mad and endeavouring to hang on to the olde worlde models.

Won't work. It is that simple. And the telcos are in a similar kerfuffle.

If someone comes along, doesn't play the game, and instead of offering an 'up to', unlimited connection by the current definitions of unlimited etc, makes available a connection that is, "Really, all you can eat. No, honestly, it is, try and break it if you want, we want you using bits", what will we hear from the telcos? Certainly, no more of Benoit's hunting the mythical bandwidth hog, because our all-new 'use it or lose it' telco will be celebrating having found the people who really USE their network. It should be in transporting bits that telcos are making money, not in throttling and restricting the movement of bits.

Several years ago at a conference, I had a chat with Steve Kennedy (previously of Thus) over lunch about data transport costs approaching zero. That is even more the case now. If you have built your network on an assumption that by moving bits around, you stand to make ever more money as the costs of doing so approach zero, then what you want is people USING your network. You want them sharing videos, video conferencing, using VoIP, uploading, downloading, you name it.

You need to make it easy for those users. Not hassle them as the top 5% bandwidth hogs. Don't frighten them into not downloading a film or music track in case it might prove illegal with threats that their kids will suddenly be cut off in the middle of career-affecting school work.

Let everyone have access to what they want. Solve the billing engine problems by collaborating across sectors eg news, music, video etc and charge a flat rate that is supported by similar reductions in access costs because those running the access networks will see their usage go through the roof.

Stop trying to be all things to all men. Focus on what you are good at, and do it well. Make your money from a penny (or a fraction of a penny_ made for each of millions of transactions, instead of trying to find the single million penny/pound deal. Make a little from lots and lots and lots of people doing things. Because by making everything abundant, you will be far better off than now.

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Thursday 3 December 2009

Youngsters get it

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Google WaveImage via Wikipedia

Debatewise is a fantastic project and for all of those involved in nextgen, help support our very own nextgen of kids from around the world who on 9th December will be doing something memorable with technology - discussing what can be done about climate change on Google Wave.

Thanks to Dave Crane for bringing this one to our attention, it really is awe inspiring. The Twitter tag is #GYP and we ask everyone to show support for these people around the world.

Updates are that we've got more than 1,000 young people from over 130 different countries/territories signed up to take part in the debates. We're now busily getting them on to Wave, getting them used to Wave and adding robots and gadgets that will improve the experience for them.

We're also trying to get messages of support from climate change experts, politicians or celebs - a sentence or two of encouragement will inspire these young people greatly so if anyone knows anyone who might like to contribute please let me know.

The Independent will cover the debates in full and we're working on getting other coverage too. The country coordinators we've recruited - of whom there are 100 - will be asked to see if they can get any local exposure and will be provided with help doing so. Some of these guys are brilliant and we've been discussed in the Phnom Phen Post, the Cyprus Mail and on TV in Bhutan. I love the internet.

We've got some brilliant people involved. The Cambodian team are comprised of people who were picking food off rubbish dumps until recently. And the Bhutan team decided the best way to deal with their poor internet connection was to hire a hall and get their ISP to sponsor the event.

There is lots more to tell and I'll happily do so to anyone interested. Any offers of help or ideas for collaboration are very welcome too.


I have Dave's email address if anyone wants to offer support or contact him directly.

THIS is what freedom of access, technology is about, and NGA will enable. JFDI and let's stop worrying about how much money the music industry is losing through its own short-sightedness and lack of imagination.

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Tuesday 1 December 2009

The Digital Economy Shill, sorry, Bill

Read more! Share it.....and with all thanks to James Enck (blog down there on the right in the FTTH blog roll - follow him) Read more!