Digital Britain stuck in the Dark Ages

October 5, 2009

Ted Higase
-Ted Higase is managing director Europe, Middle East and Asia at Global Crossing. The opinions expressed are his own.-

The government-proposed Digital Britain initiative is living in the dark ages, especially if its authors expect UK businesses to believe that a transmission of two megabits per second is “superfast”.

Having adequate underlying infrastructure is critical to the success of Digital Britain and that requires investment and commitment to ongoing innovation. Internet foundations must be robust enough to deal with demand for business use in particular, but a successful Digital Britain needs to be about gigabits not megabits.

In the same breath, before businesses begin to jump on-board the Digital Britain bandwagon, they must understand the race to gain a competitive advantage isn’t won purely on speed. The service must also be up to scratch with adequate provision to ensure the systems can cope and with alternative measures available should a problem arise.

One of the benefits that an improved communications network should provide businesses is the ability to work more flexibly, where remote workers can access networked information more effectively.

But by the time the scheme is rolled out, the changes will already seem outdated and some of the benefits unambitious. Fundamentally the customer is not interested in the speeds, only in the services they can use and in today’s climate the opportunity to cut overheads via remote or home working relies on the ability to provide employees access to rich media applications.

Video conferencing and the use of technologies like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are a much hyped benefit of faster broadband and offer the potential of cost savings, enhancements to business performance and reductions in the time and money spent when employees are out of the office environment. Thus, the UK economy will receive a much needed boost.

The industries’ reaction to the proposal has been mixed. With BT as the major provider of the underlying services for broadband, any government plan is heavily dependent on expansions of its next generation network. BT plans to roll out “super-fast” broadband of 20Mbps or more, but the company has warned that the government’s Digital Britain plans may need some new thinking even to achieve this, urging the government to be more precise about what services people will use, and what performance is needed, Tim Whitley, BT’s corporate strategy director said in an August interview.

For our part, Global Crossing suggests Ethernet services as a more cost effective, resilient managed service providing flexible connectivity between any two locations and avoiding dramatic speed variations in some areas. With a network capacity up to 1Gbps, this system has the capacity to achieve the desired results, not just to meet immediate needs, but to cope with long term changes and developments beyond the next few years.

Before asking businesses to invest more money in internet technologies, it’s imperative that the planned foundations outlined in the Digital Britain report are robust enough to deal with the demand. Providers must put in place adequate investments to ensure issues around quality of service and, in the worst case scenario, service drop outs are avoided.

Businesses, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and consumers need an internet infrastructure that guarantees a reliable service and that copes adequately with high levels of traffic across the country by the 2012 target. Otherwise, there is the real possibility that the UK’s businesses could fall far behind their global counterparts.


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Glad you have posted this article. It is a great worry to us all, especially in rural areas that we are never going to be able to compete with other countries, or use Ecommerce, Educational sites, Online healthcare and many other fantastic innovative applications in digitalbritain. The current plan to removed DACS, run new copper and bond pairs together (BET) proposed by the incumbent telco (openreach) is a scandal, especially when they want government money to do it. The simple fact is that govt don’t get IT and don’t understand it is actually cheaper to run fibre than obsolete copper. There are very powerful clever people running the copper cabal, and articles like yours might make other clever powerful people wake up and fight back to save our next generation.
We need fibre to every home, to provide ubiquitous connectivity for everyone who wants it.
Broadband and internet access is a utility. It has so much potential to enrich lives and bring us into the digital age, but only when it works.
and for half of the UK it doesn’t.And it won’t on bonded copper either.

Posted by cyberdoyle | Report as abusive

Excellent article. More information on Britain’s slowing moving technical leap.
I’ve worked as an Internet backbone engineer in the UK, Canada and U.S. In the UK the problem solely lies in the lap of BT.
No other company is allowed to lay new fibre in London other then BT. Or get into the telecoms market to compete with BT. Whether you’re a business or end consumer BT owns the lines. No competition is not good for consumers, business and inhabits growth. There are plenty of resellers but all have to buy from BT.

Canada telecommunications is a good example, it was called Bell Canada long ago. These were the days when the Canadian government debated what exactly can be put over copper or fibre cable, voice or data or both. Quickly they learned you can’t regulate it. Internet Protocol is to powerful. Rogers communication got into the fibre laying game in the 90’s and years later sells every possible form of communication a consumer would need, cell, home internet, home television, everything. Leaving Bell Canada still trying to pitch long distance charges and bad DSL services. Fibre was the way to go and Bell realised it too late.
Britain telecommunications is still regulated by organisations and supported by a government that doesn’t fully understand technology. All at the expense of the British public.

Posted by Dutch | Report as abusive

Thank you Ted for putting forward an excellent insight in to the lack of Governments understanding on speeds required for 21st Century consumers and businesses. A good suggestion is the use of Ethernet as underlying technology. Fiber in every premise will certainly lay the foundation for UK’s strong economic growth and should be seriously considered. Thank you, once again.

Posted by Netherlands | Report as abusive

“For our part, Global Crossing suggests Ethernet services” – if you want to distinguish your proposed infrastructure from BT’s, you’re going to have to give the taxpayers and shareholders (whom you presumably want to chip in for it) a lot more detail than just using the tradename of a bright yellow cable that never got above 10 Mbp/s….

After all, Global Crossing’s hands weren’t entirely clean in the “dark fibre” scandal – how do you intend to convince us that you will invest our money more wisely this time?

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

No other company is allowed to lay new fibre in London other then BT. ?? Nonsense.

Posted by Graham Bollan | Report as abusive

As to 2 Mbps, it depends whether you want to read the financial press and do share trading or play on line games

Technically it is a waste of time and money to overlay the wire network with a fibre optic one

We should wait and leapfrog that stage and go for high e.r.p. satellite telecoms which can have massive bandwidths and total client mobility

Much of the third world now has common mobile telephony without any land lines, they leapfrogged that stage

More haste, less speed

Posted by Digger | Report as abusive

Broadband in this country has been a joke for years.

I remember when in 2001/2002 my friends in holand started getting 20mb ADSL not fibre

Most are on at least 50mb now.

I can not watch TV correctly over the internet.

This country is a joke when it comes to broadband, they may as well say everyone has internet look they can use dialup.

The downstream needs to be at least 6mb NOW , to allow for tv/movies over the internet correctly.

The whole infrastructure needs sorting.

The target should be by 2012 20mb not 2mb

Posted by Chris Dawson | Report as abusive

Very interesting reading and clearly there is far more to high speed Broadband than I had previously imagined. I shall watch this space with much anticipation.

Posted by Peter Schwarz | Report as abusive