They’re not really thinking about this, are they?

EU scrutiny comes as the Government attempts to maintain and capitalise on Britain’s lead in Europe as a digital economy through Brexit. Ministers view improving the country’s broadband networks as vital. While more business is done online in Britain than anywhere else in the EU, its digital infrastructure lags behind France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

If we do more business on a worse network then it’s not the network determining the amount of business, is it?

17 thoughts on “They’re not really thinking about this, are they?”

  1. It’s like those WW2 attack planes that came back full of holes. Don’t waste resources strengthing the holes, the planes can survive without those bits as proved by them getting home. Find out what bits losing causes you not to get home.

  2. Bloke in North Dorset

    Well, sort off. Eventually a single hole will cause a cumulative problem which it wouldn’t on its own.

    Ditto digital infrastructure, it works now but the upgrade time and cost means we need to be continually looking at it. Also, its a step increase, like adding a new widget making factory with the same problems in forecasting and planning.

  3. I’ve never seen an answer to the question: “what can a domestic residence do with a 1Gb* link that it can’t do with 100Mb?” (which is what you’d need FTTP for). Many people can already obtain FTTP if they want it, but they have to pay for the physical cost of laying a new cable (as well as a bigger monthly fee). I’m not sure why that cost should be placed on me.

    * Yes, I’m aware that Bill Gates was alleged to have said that 640KB should be enough for anyone.

  4. Bloke in North Dorset


    In the early days of GSM we used to ask why would anyone want SMS when planning new networks.

    Then when 3G was being planned we used to ask about killer apps, but nobody figured out it would be the Internet and that we’d soon need not just 4G but 5G.

    I think getting cities fibred up is a good bit of forward planning. How its being done might be a good place to look though.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    This is just a boilerplate argument now – Whatever else Brexit means, it means that more money for my pet cause is vital if we are to stay competitive/alive/in Slough/whatever.

  6. This is the very reason why Jeremy is not an EU fan.. i have a pet project, leave me alone to spunk money as i see fit.
    (and lest we forget Theresa’s industrial strategists are drawing up their shopping lists too)

  7. BiND;

    “In the early days of GSM we used to ask why would anyone want SMS when planning new networks.”

    And the fledgling MNOs were really surprised when the apparent rapid take up of handsets didn’t translate into voice traffic, which is where they had banked on their revenues coming from. SMS basically killed the pager industry, with the MNOs barely noticing, and their initial response was to capture the missing revenue from the sale of handsets.

    So, yeah, when 3G came out, they were trying really hard to find the equivalent killer app. You’ll know better than me, but I seem to remember that the 3G roll-out was initially done according to the prevailing voice traffic paradigm, and data availability was actually bloody difficult to buy in the first place, expensive, and about an order of magnitude slower than fixed line modems.

  8. The value of the digital economy is likely concentrated in hotspots such as London, the Thames Valley and northern cities (being a southerner that includes Birmingham). The performance between Inverness and Chepstow is likely to be immaterial, but no doubt that is where any extra cash would be spent to improve the UK network.

  9. Anyway, Tim’s point stands; the value of the network isn’t solely in the (peak) bandwidth, or the latency, (these issues were being partially solved by CDNs), it’s in the graph, the nodes and the interconnects.

    At one point, early 2000s, UK internet shopping was well ahead of the US, and some way behind South Korea. Which seems a bit odd, so I suspect that the UK’s physical cabling closely matches the population/household/building density distribution in a way that other countries don’t (quite yet). That’s possibly just an artifact from the way network was built out under the GPO and subsequently BT.

    Curiously, we’ve got a situation where there are basically a metric fuck-ton of general purpose processors knocking around the place, some with fairly hefty amounts of storage attached, and their current internet connection points to the internet are notionally capable of delivering data at a rate that’s roughly equivalent to IDE disk drive rates of around 15-20 years ago.

    But; those devices can only send data back out at about an 8th of the rate at which they can receive it, and they can’t be individually addressed directly.

    So; whack out as much bandwidth as you like, generally a good thing anyway, but start to ditch the asymmetric technologies, so we can get 50/100mbs+ down and up, and create the conditions where peer to peer comms can happen.

  10. Alex “The value of the digital economy is likely concentrated in hotspots such as London…”

    To a certain extent it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    If internet service outside of major cities is poor then people who benefit from a better service won’t live/work there or will move out. Also people in those places will be dissuaded from starting a digital business or expanding an existing business digitally.
    If you look at Right Move etc there are gauges on every page to tell prospective buyers the internet speed. It’s a deal-breaker for many people – including me and I imagine many people commentating here. Poor service in an area? I couldn’t move there – full stop.

    The difference between domestic and business service requirements is also blurring as more people work from home, especially those setting up their own businesses.
    Each individual one or two person business may not be important in the great scheme of things but add them all together and they are an increasingly important contribution to the economy.

  11. Bloke in North Dorset

    Ducky McDuckface,

    Whilst 3G was pushed as a data technology it wasn’t really why the MNO’s went for it, they needed the extra spectrum and 3G wasn’t really a data technology, although it it much more spectrally efficient than 2G. In the end the early releases were still voice technology with a data overlay, although much better than 2G , which was creaking at the seems in city centers, not least because SMS was consuming for more capacity than planned.

    The move towards fixed charges and free minutes was something that the World Bank forecast way back in the ’80s, IIRC, so the MNOs did see it coming and that also drove the increase in voice usage. The generally hated having to give free handsets, and still do, but they’ve made that bed so they now use it as a customer retention tool.

    4G is a true data technology and it will have a voice overlay. eventually, but its mainly another step up in spectral efficiency. And despite what that idiot in Ely says, a good friend who is a strategist at one of the MNOs reckons they’re already getting to the point where they need 5G in some of the city centers.

  12. @BiND

    In the early days of GSM we used to ask why would anyone want SMS when planning new networks.

    I can readily believe it. But at least there was an application there, even if the network planners couldn’t believe how popular it would become. I can’t (and no-one I’ve asked can) think of an app that’s going to need 1Gb to the home. Streaming a dozen 8K TV channels simultaneously requires only a fraction of that.

    Most of the countries with a significant penetration of 1Gb links tend to house a large chunk of their populace in giant flats. One fibre link and you can service hundreds of people. Providing a fibre connection to every premises in the UK would make the cost of HS2 look like small change (though I’m sure it would deliver better RoI).

  13. Bloke in North Dorset


    You’re right in that a lot of the Asia stuff is/was easy because it was basically run a cable with a number of fibers to a clump of what are, in effect, vertical villages. The cost per house passed is very cheap compared to western countries where we has a lot of suburban sprawl.

    I also find it hard to see why anyone would 1GByte in the final mile, but most of what is being talked about is really the middle mile, and that’s needed for the MNOs and businesses as well as consumers.

    Part of the reason my mate’s so keen on 5G is replacement of the final mile from lampposts and the like, and that will need a fiber to each radio, not least because most of the processing will be done at a central point, so its not just the consumer data but the network management and control data that’s being shipped about. I’m out of the lop a bit now but one goal was RF over fiber, again that is very high demand.

  14. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Why would anyone need X? You don’t know up front, but people find uses. Would 1Gbps be useful to me? Yes, all things being equal. One thing I do know is that once you’ve had a certain speed, dropping back to a slower is painful. My last iOS update came in at 13 Mbytes per second, which made deciding to download and install it a much less painful process. Three minutes for the 2GB download beats three hours and means I don’t have to be up till 10pm mucking about. I’m happy with 100 Mbps at the moment, but my ISP has a habit of silently bumping bandwidth at no extra charge (I started at 20Mbps a couple of years ago) so if they push it to 150 or 200 I won’t complain (the modem’s only good to 400 or so as that’s where DOCSIS 3.0 tops out).

  15. @BiCR

    Big downloads (a Linux distro, say) are certainly a good example, but only relevant to a small proportion of the population (who, arguably, ought to pay for it, if they want it so much). But if I’ve got a big download, I don’t usually sit there watching the progress bar, I do something else – so whether it takes 3 minutes or 3 hours is largely irrelevant to me.

    To clarify, I think FTTP should be widely (if not, perhaps, universally) available – but if folks have to pay for it (including a reasonable charge for installation), that’s just fine with me. I pay a small monthly premium to get 100Mb VDSL rather than 17Mb ADSL+, it’s worth it, but only just.

  16. @Chris Miller, October 10, 2017 at 9:28 am

    I’ve never seen an answer to the question: “what can a domestic residence do with a 1Gb* link that it can’t do with 100Mb?” (which is what you’d need FTTP for). Many people can already obtain FTTP if they want it, but they have to pay for the physical cost of laying a new cable (as well as a bigger monthly fee). I’m not sure why that cost should be placed on me.


    Up to 20 Mbs has always been more than enough in Pcar house.

    tbh I think it’s childish bragging – my broadband is faster than yours.

    Dear PM May, Gov’t & Ofcom,

    Back off – your intervention/meddling* invariably results in worse and more expensive. Let free market supply what consumers willing to pay.

    * Having said that, reverse Blair’s cancelling BT’s incentivize efficiency & innovation RPI-x price control. Unlike Water, Airport etc return on capital controls.

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