Fibre delivers much more than faster connections Print
Written by David Brunnen   
Wednesday, 06 August 2008 09:00

Titanic Quarter, Belfast
Today's announcement by the developer of the massive Titanic Quarter regeneration of the old Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast will not go unnoticed by the leading telecoms companies.

Policy experts and regulators in London, as well as those at the European Commission in Brussels, may also pause to reflect.    

A distant development in the far north western corner of Europe, well away from the buzz of eager experts and city analysts, would not normally be expected to cause much of a stir.

The headlines about the super-fast broadband speeds that will serve the homeowners and businesses in Titanic Quarter do not however tell the full story.

The so-called ‘Next Generation Access’ technology – fibre to the home – is not just about the prospect of getting on-line stuff delivered faster.

Nor is it about having that single hair-like strand of fibre deliver more sorts of on-line stuff – not just phone calls or the Internet but also high-definition TV and many other services (such as Connected Health) designed to make living better in the new city quarter. 

The Titanic Quarter Network is not even pushing the boundaries of technology design;  all the components have been in everyday use for several years in countries such as Sweden.    

What makes it different and almost unique in the UK is hidden in the detail of how this network is being delivered.   It explains why the 15,000 future occupants of Titanic Quarter will be streets ahead of the rest of the country for years to come. 

As far back as anyone can remember telephone companies have provided the lines.  In recent times new sorts of ‘service providers’ have been allowed (at a price) to use the Telco lines under a process called ‘local loop unbundling’. 

But at Titanic Quarter there will be no need to unbundle anything because the new fibre access connections are provided completely separately from any of the services that consumers may choose to run over them. 

This total management separation of Access and Services is a clear step beyond the regulatory fix of ‘functional separation’ that was imposed on BT and led to the creation in Great Britain of the functionally independent Openreach organisation within the BT Group. 

The new model adopted in Northern Ireland by Titanic Quarter has many implications.  Network design is no longer constrained by what a Telco thinks its customers may want or what it imagines it can deliver. 

What customers want is not set in terms of specific speeds or prices.   Customers want to have a wide choice about what they want - and to be able to change their minds without hassle when something better comes along.  

These new freedoms and service innovations are much easier to deliver with fibre, providing, of course, that the network design is not constrained by bottlenecks and is completely open for use (on a wholesale basis) by any service provider without the upfront costs and hassles of the copper unbundling business. 

Alongside this long-overdue utility management stance come many other benefits . Most of these will not become apparent until customers have gotten used to the new services.  These extra benefits of reliability, quality and the additional scope for easier higher-level service innovation, are things that millions of customers in other countries are now beginning to appreciate.  

Size matters to the media.  Incremental innovations in odd places can be ignored.  Straws in the wind can be blown off course.   But those who make a living from being masters of competitive intelligence have learned not to ignore the signs of a new trend. 

What was announced in Belfast was hardly a surprise.  Nor was it radically innovative. Futurologists never tire of pointing out that most of us, including the analysts and commentators, are relatively unobservant.  Things creep up on us when our backs are turned and our focus is on the established celebrities.   

In Belfast’s Titanic Quarter the small incremental steps of innovation have just lengthened into a larger stride.


See also:

Titanic Quarter news release - 6th August 2008

Ofcom Consultation response:  June 2008

'Islands of Fibre' - CMA editorial Jan 2008

'21st Century Cities' - report from MIT workshop, Stockholm, May 2008

Titanic Quarter - the video





Last Updated on Thursday, 12 March 2009 09:28