Peter Cochrane

Access to high speed broadband is one the key issues faced by the tech community in London.

Peter Cochrane was previously Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at BT and has over 40 years of experience in technology management. 

In his first column he explains how important our broadband connections will be to the future of London’s economy.

Most discussions about broadband seem to focus on today’s needs and the history of how we got here.

If the TelCos and CableCos are involved, the view is warped by their past investments, the capabilities of old copper cables, and a need to exploit the plant they already own.

Governments and regulators come along with artificial targets, comparisons, and appeasements, all aimed at reassuring the population that they are doing a good job and that it will be all right on the night.

It is seldom the case that anyone asks the most important questions: where is all this going? What do we actually need to meet our future needs?

So let’s adopt that stance and try to answer this call.

We can’t afford to ignore broadband speeds

If we look to the near horizon we can see some big and obvious challenges: cloud computing; telemedicine; telecare; home working; distributed expertise; and a little further out there is a new industrial revolution building.

No country can afford to ignore these changes and no country can afford to opt out of the new game of distributed resources and rapid connectivity.

This goes way beyond the old computer games industry and entertainment. Rather, it is about being a player on the world scene and generating GDP. In short, poor or insufficient broadband will result in poor GDP generation.

Cloud computing will put further pressure on networks

The UK cannot participate on the world stage without adequate connectivity and bandwidth. Our existing copper cables and ADSL modems – (including fibre to the cabinet) – as supplied to most customers today cannot meet the need at a fundamental level.

Cloud computing is not an asymmetric technology; the upload and download requirements are far more balanced when files are remotely stored and accessed. The same is true of video conferencing, home working, telemedicine and telecare.

Thanks to 3D printing, connectivity is now vital to the industrial sector

Perhaps more vital is the revolution now building in the industrial sector, evidenced as developments in nano tech, biotech and 3D fabrication and printing emerge.

At the leading edge is Boeing Aircraft, who are printing over 300 parts for their DreamLiner, whilst the US Army have deployed 3D printers to the front line to aid servicing and repairs of operational equipment.

3D printing is now employed by leading architects for the creation of realistic models of buildings, developments and even cities.

Simultaneously, in the home over 64,000 people world-wide now enjoy the same 3D printing facilities.

Why is all this important?

Because remote and disparate groups can now collaborate in the design process and then print the resulting objects locally.

The car industry is already seriously engaged in looking at 3D printing for obvious reasons.

Britain is placed as low as 24th in global broadband league tables

Right now their biggest challenge is getting the cost down to compete with pressed steel.

The first cars and bicycles have been printed – this means for cars, it is only a matter of time and not when.

The real punch line is that we are migrating to a world where we will be able to ship designs instead of shipping goods.

In the world broadband league the UK is not in the top 20, and amongst the EU countries we do not even get into the top 10.

Numbers vary from survey to survey, but in general terms the UK is positioned around 24th and 13th respectively.

Whilst our suppliers judge 40Mbit/s to be ‘superfast’, our industrial competitors are already above 100Mbit/s and moving on to 1000 Mbit/s.

Many countries in the Far East are gearing up for 1Gbit/s to home and office with Japan out in front with plans for 10Gbit/s.

The UK government has a target of the UK becoming a world leader and number one in the EU broadband stakes by 2015.

Will they achieve that goal? I think not!

At this point I can hear the critics, doubters and naysayers:

“But there is no proven market; there is no demand; and there is no need”.

I remember those same arguments being rolled out for stereo sound, colour TV and mobile phones – and probably the same people said the same about steam trains and automobiles.

Do we want to be a world player or not?

So just let one of them try sending me a small 350Mbyte file when I need it within an hour, or let them try video conferencing as a working medium over UK broadband.

I’m sure you get the point, but that is today’s need. What is coming down the pike is far far bigger, and the UK has a simple decision to make: does it want to be a world player or not?

We already lost the computer games market to South East Asia, so much more can we afford, and how rapidly would we like to see our GDP decline?

Dr Peter Cochrane OBE is a futurologist and independent analyst at Cochrane Associates.


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