Although this is almost exactly a year old and quite US-centric, the video below “Innovation at the Edge of Electricity” was made. It has some great stories that may well make the minds of anyone living in the US or Europe boggle at how true innovation is happening in the developing world without any “help” from regulators or lawmakers.
As technology is forcing industry convergence, it is not just the Western-style Telecoms regulation that is getting in the way, but the rules and regulations from the Electricity and Banking Industries too. For instance, look to Africa, not Europe or the US if you want to see what true innovation is on mobile payments.
Many of the stories are particularly helpful when we think at how we should rollout faster broadband to the so-called “Final Third”. Innovation has always happened on the edge of the network. Surely it is time for us to include some of these new ideas from the “edge of electricity” and adapt them to our own requirements. Or will we let the regulators carry on regulating our service industries to die a slow, painful death?
I live in the country. I live in the so-called Final Third. Ofcom call it a “Market 1” area – because BT is the only fixed-line service provider providing the physical lines that broadband and telephony run across.
This week, three different views hit me that have changed my whole view on how we roll out broadband to the final third. I expect many of my readers will have switched off by now – but bear with me – because I think it might interest you.
The first view was from Adrian Wooster’s blog – where he has produced a really interesting picture of what the spread of the UK’s broadband looks like by postcode – one image of which I have copied below:
Click on the image on Adrian’s blog site to see each scenario – it loops back at the end to highlight the gulf between where we’re starting from to where we need to get to. Each spot of light represents a postcode.
At the moment the image only covers England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own statistical output area systems which individually need resolving to postcode level.
The interesting thing is that most of the “final third” remains in the dark – even at 95% coverage!
That got me thinking. What will be available from WiFi/Mobile/Radio technologies by 2015? Regular readers will know that I am interested in LightPeak – but there have been two other announcements this week that are very interesting and makes you think differently about broadband for the final third in 2015.
The first was from Alcatel Lucent – who have just announced the launch of the lightRadio cube which can be installed wherever there is electricity.
So this little device will dramatically reduce the costs of deploying mobile phone base stations – whilst allowing extended coverage of 3g networks to areas that are currently far too expensive to cover.
The second was from an In-Stat Report – stating that a new Wi-Fi technology standard called 802.11ac has been developed to provide Gigabit speeds across WiFi networks. The report predicts 1bn devices shipped with this technology by 2015 – which will allow streaming of high quality video to the TV set – or downloads of BlueRay DVDs in 6 seconds.I expect that many, if not most, will be mobile devices of some sort.
Add these two developments together and you get a very interesting set of technologies that may be able to provide 1Gbps speeds (depending on availability of backhaul) to most households in the country that are not provided with a direct link – i.e those who are in the dark areas on the map. That is 500 times faster than our current unambitious target for 2Mbps….and will require the cooperation of mobile operators and fixed-line operators who can provide much faster backahual speeds.
Exciting stuff – but I wonder if today’s #digitalbritain thinking is really embracing such ideas as these to create a truly competitive infrastructure for those in the power of the Dark Lord? As these new technologies are enabled, the bottleneck may well move to the backhaul. Which is why the current ideas around Fibre to the Community or “Digital Village Pumps” will become even more important. Then again, I would prefer to redefine FTTH as Fibre to the Hamlet – like the one I live in – or Fibre to the Clachan – as they say in more Celtic countries!
Just returned from the Next Gen ’10 roadshow in Edinburgh.
The most interesting thing for me ( which I had compeletely missed before I went there) is that Scotland has approached this whole problem of upgrading the broadband network by commissioning the Royal Society of Edinburgh to look at the problem afresh. Unlike The Royal Society (based in London), the RSE has maintained the “Scottish Generalist Tradition” and have brought an eclectic set of wise folk to apply new thought and rigour to working through the issue of broadband in Scotland so that it serves the wider context of society and the economy. Technology is a means to a greater end, not an end in itself.
The Digital Scotland interim report can be found by first clicking on the RSE logo below and then clicking on the link right at the bottom of the page “Read Interim Report”:
Unlike the Digital Britain report which was written in the time of a dying administration by economist-politicians, bureaucrats and quangos, and then attacked by the new administration to become a nearly totally ineffective set of recommendations, Scotland has approached the problem with refreshing renaissance-style method that only a body like the RSE can do. It is an elegant combination of mathematical logic combined with rounded, objective reasoning – and moves the debate forward so that Scotland might well take the thought-leadership position when it publishes its final report once the current comments have been digested.
One conclusion that I came away with is that the whole debate about where fibre goes should be re-focused around Fibre to the Community. Many of the more rural areas in Scotland would benefit tremendously by digging a single fibre into the community. The current ambitions of Jeremy Hunt and the Con-Lib coalition government for the UK to become the leader in Europe for broadband by 2015 – without any central government funding – becomes even more challenging when one compares us to Finland – which was very well articulated by Professor Michael Fourman in his detailed analysis backing up Digital Scotland at the conference.
One of the strange things is that the interim report talks of Fiber, not Fibre. I am not sure how this American English has managed to get into a perfectly good Scottish-English Language document. But Hey Ho – the world moves on!
The Scots, Edinburgh and the RSE have a long tradition of great invention and enlightened thinking. This blog will keep a keen eye on developments North of the Border.
(P.S. The talk that I gave on Sir Patrick Geddes will be put onto this post once I transcribe and edit it.)
The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings which are separate from the two normal social environments of our homes (first place) and the workplace (second place).
In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time.
Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests that the three hallmarks of a true “third place” are that they are free or inexpensive; provide food and drink (while not essential, quite important); and that they are highly accessible. Starbucks and Costa are obvious examples, but villages and rural communities often have other third places such as a cafe, a pub, a church hall or a school hall.
As more and more people choose to telecommute and work from home, third places become ever more important as the bridge between the old world and the new world of work: both paid and voluntary.
If we are going to re-invent society around more local, sustainable ways of working, then the nurturing of our third places becomes central to this new philosophy for 21st century living. And if we see want these “communities of place” to replace the industrial factories and call-centres and office factories of yesterday, then we must provide them with the latest broadband.
Hence Fibre to the Third Place. WiFi hotspots do some of it, but there remains a lot more work to do!