Every community in the UK will gain access to super-fast broadband by 2015 under plans outlined today.
Explaining why the government had abandoned the plans of the former administration that promised 2 megabits per second broadband for all by 2012, he said: “It’s silly to hang your hat on a speed like two meg when the game is changing the whole time.
He added: “What we’ve said is that just giving people two meg is not enough, what people use the internet for is changing the whole time.”
A recent study by the regulator Ofcom revealed that fewer than 1% of UK homes have a super-fast broadband connection, considered to be at least 24Mbps.
I ranted a little today for a change in the way that Northern Ireland deals with its broadband.
Northern Ireland has a fibre ring, which contains dozens of fibre pairs, all belonging to different carriers. Some of them are lit, some of them are dark. But it’s the dark ones that interest me.
This map, from Eircom, shows the basic layout.
Why am I interested?
Well, let us say I want to send a 1 GB uncompressed digital video file (equal to about 5 minutes) to my server in Pittsburgh. My current upload speed is 0.38 Mb/s which would mean the transfer would take about 6 hours to do the transfer. Not bad for around 3000 miles.
But let’s say I want to transfer it to a post-production house in Holywood, a mere 2.6 miles away? It’ll take around 6 hours to do the transfer – however I can load it onto a USB drive and bring it to the Picturehouse in about 10 minutes. By bicycle.
And that’s a load of crap.
Because no-matter how good our upload speed is – and yes it is important as we consume more and more digital media – if we are to become content creators rather than just consumers we need faster uploads.
So, my proposition is for our government, for InvestNI, for NIScreen, for Momentum/Digital Circle to get involved and light up one of those dark fibre pairs. That’s the cost of running a few LED bulbs and a few repeaters.
Then install wireless repeaters in every city at the local POPs. And get high speed connections into that ring via wired or wireless; a 50 Mbps wireless link is not expensive to run.
This ring doesn’t need to go to the Internet, though carriers should be able to sell their internet service portals across the ring. The point of it is to provide really fast access between points on the ring. So provide that, without throttling anything on the internal network.
If you can’t pass fibre into each home, then each POP should have a regional office hub (belonging to the Local Enterprise Agencies, the Libraries, InvestNI) which provides direct access to the ring. Make it so that it’s a five minute journey to these hubs and then the upload can be loaded directly onto the ring, transferred to a datacentre on the ring or direct to a POP at the other end, ready for receipt.
The aim here is not to compete with commercial offerings. Indeed there is nothing commercial about the offerings we are presented with. The aim here is to provide a use for the existing ring which will work to the benefit of digital creative companies and provide increased opportunity for ISPs to sell their services.
It’s my belief that government should provide the basic infrastructure for commerce. Whether that is money, music or uncompressed high definition video. And once the substrate is in place, commercial interests can ply their wares across the ring.
Yes, I am deliberately simplifying everything except the costs, which are incredibly low. This solution means the ring will be useful to everyone and there would be reduced reason to locate your business in Belfast or Derry, when Armagh or Irvinestown has the same access.