Is your broadband service worse than it was twelve months ago? For all this talk about multi-megabit speeds, I have seen very little improvement in real-world performance over the last year. If anything, things seem to be worse now. As usual I have no empirical evidence for this and I can’t find any news stories to support the assertion. I’d be interested to know if people’s own experiences concur with this theory, but it seems that the more performance we try to wring from our ageing telecoms infrastructure, the worse things become.
If it is proven to be true, it is understandable. The copper line infrastructure that delivers broadband for the majority of us (as well as our phone lines) is positively geriatric these days, and subject to any number of failings. It was never designed to carry the volumes of data we seem intent on pushing over it. Given the nation’s reliance on data traffic for much of modern business — and many social and governmental services — you would think a good argument could be made to let the copper network retire and replace it with a true broadband network. Perhaps one based on optical fibre.
As Peter Cochrane points out in one of his excellent blogs on Silicon.com, the technical and economic arguments to deploy fibre in the access network have been understood since the mid 1980s. Fibre networks would provide an incredible platform for new business models in the UK — not just the obvious internet, communications, and media triumvirate proferred by BT, Virgin and Sky, but completely revolutionary ways of home working, shopping, gaming, exercising, health and security monitoring, teaching and more.
The argument for deploying fibre is strongest in metro areas, where the largest number of people and businesses can be reached in the least radius. The argument could be made particularly forcefully for such a deployment in Manchester, a city that is pushing to be recognised as the UK home of the media and creative industries. With MediaCity:UK due for completion in 2010, creating 15,500 jobs in the media and creative industries, perhaps now would be a good time to start pushing for a scheme to roll out such a network. Today the RFI for the ‘IP-City Network’, created by the Manchester Digital Development Agency effectively specifies a wireless network, and one that will only provide most people with 1Mbps. This is a specification to meet yesterday’s requirements rather than tomorrow’s. If Manchester is going to claim a place on the World stage as a centre for media and the creative industries, we will have to be a little more ambitious.