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Seeing the light – the final switchover PDF Print E-mail
Written by GINI   
Thursday, 25 March 2010 00:00

Head of CommunicationsSome of us were around in the 50’s for the tail end of the great switchover – from DC to AC mains electricity.  It took longer to move from manual to automatic telephone exchanges but that massive job was done well before our cookers and boilers were finally converted to run on North Sea gas.

We decimalised, after years of preparation, in an instant - but most great conversions are so achingly slow that by the time they are finished most of us have long forgotten the time before the change - television only in black & white, the extra-ordinary agonies of eMail before PC’s, the Internet, digital cameras, a world without motorways, mobile phones and mobile phones that only made phone calls.

Most countries have managed narrow-band data.  None have yet completed the provision of basic broadband and the UK has yet to score 1% in the fibre-to-the-home league tables.  But we know that these things will happen.  We know that our children or grandchildren will find it impossible to imagine how life was lived in a time before low latency.

The question is, will we live to see that day, to see the ultimate communications conversion, to celebrate the day the last old copper pair, that century-old central-battery last-generation telephone line, is finally carted away to the technological recycling centre.

At Groupe Intellex we call this NilCu Day – the day when we cure our country of copper-line-dependency and all its constraints.    By the time it happens the name will have changed, an entire industry will have been built, careers and qualifications developed, retirement homes will cater for gaming grannies and, probably, cars will drive themselves in safe and orderly convoys along motorways with recharging points at frequent intervals.

So often, future projections seem like a joke.  But NilCu Day is a serious project, not merely because it is inevitable but because the time taken to reach that day relative to other communities, other countries, other economies, will sharpen the divide between the converted and the unconverted in ways that we’ve not seen since the Victorians got to grips with drainage. Make no mistake, in global economics, this is a competitive race for which we are ill-prepared.

So, where’s the plan?  Who now is working out how we get from A to B without delay?  Certainly not our last generation of Telco’s who can focus only on their need to extend the life of copper by swapping DSL from A to V.  

Where can we look for practical advice on project planning?  Should we go to Sweden where the project is already 11% complete and driven by local communities?  Should we look to Korea or Japan for a top-down government/industry approach?  Should we limit our aspirations to more moderate targets, or simply opt out and devote ourselves to becoming a world heritage campus for students of backward thinking?

Groupe Intellex knows exactly where it stands.   In all of the great long-tailed conversions there’s been a pattern of selection that’s evident from the earliest days of market cherry-picking through to the societal safety nets that are cobbled together to catch the disengaged  disconnected and disenfranchised.   But it is not inevitable that those in the margins should be the last to benefit.  If this great project gets started anywhere we believe it should start where the economic and societal needs are greatest, where the beneficial impact is more urgent.  Not where the easiest of short-term profits might be skimmed.

We must, of course, be realistic.  The entire UK needs its NilCu Day but, like AC/DC conversion, it must inevitably be locally planned and executed.  Other regions, when they get around to thinking about it, may disagree but the target of our modest aspiration is the under-performing but talent-rich blank sheet that is Northern Ireland.  An economy still struggling to recover from the legacies of past decades of division, and with massive public sector employment - but stocked full of brilliant, well-educated and talented young people. 

So our GINI project is NILCu Day and, over the next months we will prepare to talk to the people, the communities, the leaders and educators of this country (and its neighbours) about the conversion project that is already underway.

Just remember, folks, you heard it here, first, on this channel.

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Notes:

The reference to Swedish FTTH penetration is taken from the FTTH Council's 'Market Panorama' Survey June 2009 . 

The FTTH Council survey results did not feature the UK as it looks only at those countries with at least 1% penetration.

GINI Ltd is Groupe intellex Northern Ireland, directed by Eoin Lambkin

 

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