Peter Cochrane's Blog: The GDP threat

A vibrant 21st century economy needs 1,000Mbps

Written whilst driving from Ashville to Durham, North Carolina, and despatched via a free company wi-fi service that appeared on my screen in the downtown area

After more than 15 years of discussion and debate I am picking up some interesting vibes relating to broadband across North America and elsewhere.

After degrading the broadband definition to much less than 2Mbps, and endlessly wondering why people would want more, and what would they do with it, governments, regulators, telcos, cable cos and ISPs are starting to realise the Japanese and Koreans got it right. A dedicated 100Mbps service is a minimal specification and 1,000Mbps looks like a more realistic target for a vibrant 21st century economy.

A few copper and wireless rollout programmes appear to have recently been stopped whilst the incumbents consider their position and technology options. The good news is the necessary optical fibre technology has been ready to go these past 15 to 20 years, and the civil engineering costs still dominate the full rollout equation.

And best of all, the cost of ownership is far less than any copper alternative, even for basic telephony. The bad news is there has been around 20 years of investment in the wrong technologies (ie more copper cables and DSL) and any abrupt change of course now is really going to hurt!

Are there any other limiters to the rollout of fibre to home and office? If there are, manufacturing the cables and terminal equipment isn't one of them! Most likely we are going to see a skills gap in the area of installation. Rollout could be limited by people, rather than equipment or investment.

On the upside, we may be able to use wireless drops for the last 100 metres to save a significant amount of time and money getting directly into home and office. There are also bandwidth aggregation technologies that might just help a little in the interim.

Are there any other choices? As far as I can see the only other options are a reduced GDP at a national level followed by a rapid slide down the global economic scale of productivity.

Beyond the creation of new industries and the transformation of the old, internet communication is about the only technology that allows us to offset travel and the associated burning of a lot of oil. But in this regard, we need big screens, hi-fi sound, telepresence technologies and more to make it work. And this we have, except we don't have the bandwidth necessary to get the level of realism of connection and communication to make it really work.

Hopefully the GDP threat will tip the balance where all previous logic, technology, economic and futurism arguments have failed. Fingers, wires and fibres crossed that we can catch up in time - the leaders in the field are way ahead and stealing more than a march!


Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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