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This is not an upgrade PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 10:46

Head of TelecomsSome people may regard any modernisation of the way we do things around here as retrograde.  Most, however, can see the benefits and assume that with technological development there will be yet more and better benefits to come.

So why do I say that the deployment of fibre for digital networking to every home and business, or even to every bus-stop, is not an upgrade ?

I say this because it would be a mistake to project the future in terms of the past.  Fibre to the home/office/whatever (FTTx) is potentially so completely different that, although some uses may in concept be similar to previous communications arrangements (e.g. making a voice call), the vast majority of uses are for things that have never before been possible.

It is therefore quite wrong to see FTTx as a ‘next generation’; it is a new species, quite different from anything that has previously been experienced.  It is similarly unhelpful to describe it as ‘superfast broadband’ – not least because the technical term ‘broadband’ was progressively diluted by providers to mean whatever small trickle of data flow they could manage without throwing away their out-dated creaking copper infrastructure.

The single hair-like fibre that can now be provided to serve anything from a traffic light to a large office has the natural capacity to carry data flows for many different things at the same time.  When people (or media commentators) ask why some headline download capacity (e.g. 10 or 50 Mb/s) might be needed, they will usually relate that to their common experience of, say, browsing a web-site or watching television.

They do not add up the umpteen concurrent data flows (download or upload) that may traverse that fibre.  They do not allow for the personal health service with daily interactive check-ups with the surgery or the monitoring services checking that granny has not fallen over or forgotten to take her pills.  They do not allow for the education channels and the multiple varieties of TV and audio productions – some of which are generated from within their own local community.

Nor do they anticipate the enhanced neighbourhood watch or localised baby-sitting services.  They do not allow for the bus tracking or localised traffic report or access to the local supermarkets’ in-store special offers - or umpteen other monitors, meter readings and stuff happening silently in the background and making life easier, safer and more productive.

They do not allow for different family members to be using that single slender fibre at the same time for many different working, living, playing purposes – in the jargon of the trade, multiple virtual private networks operating concurrently and provided by many different competitive service providers and local community organisations.

In technical terms, an Open Access FTTx infrastructure helps to resolve all sorts of inhibitions that have plagued the last 2 decades use of B-roads as if they might be motorways.  Latency, packet loss, jitter, symmetry and contention are all burdens of a bygone era that was ‘unfit for purpose’.

UK media commentators are often surprised and shake their heads in wonder as to why anyone could possibly need 100Mb/s, and yet, not far away in places that have invested in these entirely new local access infrastructures, the demand for a further ten-fold capacity (1Gb/s) is now leading those countries’ service industries to develop yet more innovative tools for assisted living, for cultural development, for community cohesion and for economic growth.

No-one in the UK is expected to be a pioneer exploring the unknown or unquantifiable.  Others have taken a lead and our sole advantage is that we can now look at their experience and understand what, in their wisdom, they may have perceived or have certainly revealed by not relying on incumbents to innovate.

Deploying an FTTx ‘open access’ local infrastructure is as basic as roads and water pipes. It is an entirely new species of communications capability.  It is certainly not an upgrade to any previous service that has long passed its sell by date.  It is making a world of difference.


See also 'Comparatively Crazy' - February 2010


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