As we enter the 2017, we are faced with a different landscape, one which will see changes in the economic rules of engagement with other European nations, and likely the United States. In this new era, in order to preserve competitiveness, it is vital that the leaders of nations recognise the importance of the next wave of digital infrastructure. Success or failure in the digital economy is what will make or break the economies of the future.
The funding announcement this morning indicates that the new UK government gets it. They recognise the critical importance of digital infrastructure as a cornerstone of modern society, and in particular, they recognise the importance of investing in a future proof infrastructure that only fibre optic access can offer.
London, the financial capital of Europe, is languishing in 26th place in the European broadband speed league tables, according to the 2015 Ookla, ‘Net Index Explorer’, so it is no surprise that the new government has sought to institute meaningful change.
With the focus of this announced funding being steered toward competitive operators, those who have already driven their stake into the ground with their commitment to fibre only infrastructures, the Government is seeking to catalyse more infrastructure based competition.
If history is to serve as an indicator of likely future success, this investment appears to prove to be a shrewd move. Reflecting on the countries, and even regions within the countries of the developed world, it is clear that infrastructure based competition is without question one of the key ingredients to advancing the broadband agenda, and in turn advancing the economic health of a region. We have seen this most recently in the United States with the explosion in the availability of sub $80 per month Gigabit broadband services. With this new infrastructure, many forgotten communities are finding they can now compete for jobs, they can compete for foreign investment, they can now retain their best and brightest, and provide them with infrastructure that permits them to share their talents with the world and work remotely, while strengthening the fabric of their local society.
It is true, when deploying ubiquitous Fibre-to-the-home, the UK represents a challenging market, particularly when compared to some of its peers in Europe. Some may take comfort in this, citing it as a reason not to begin down this path. However, as economic power continues to shift towards the digital leaders of the world, one must really ask: How many of the leading digital powerhouses (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, etc.) have emerged from the UK? These giants of the new digital world have emerged from locations that have recognised, embraced, and promoted digital leadership;these locations permit the development of world leading digital platforms. Frequently the development of these platforms is performed by British expats working in Silicon Valley, because they had to relocate to make use of their talents.
Every great journey begins with the first step. It is great to see the new government is demonstrating the courage to take that first step--a step that will advance the UK’s digital strength on the global stage. A step that will ensure that none of the infrastructure built is wasted investment. Fibre optic cables today carry multiple terabits per second. The Gigabit broadband services being enjoyed by some today only represent the beginning. It is with 100% certainty that I say that applications will evolve to take advantage of the higher bandwidths that fibre based broadband can bring. We will look back in a relatively short time and ask, "How did we ever get by with 20Mbps?" Just like we do today when we consider 1 or 2Mbps.
This bold move is to be applauded. This move will not only ensure that business and residential broadband access are brought to the forefront of global digital societies, it will also ensure that the U.K. has a fixed access infrastructure that can accelerate the deployment of 5G mobile networks. With these new combined fibre and 5G networks will come an explosion of opportunities. It is vital that the U.K. does not face delays in its 5G deployments due to substandard backhaul infrastructure. Securing early 5G market experience will be vital for UK businesses to take first mover advantages and out manoeuvre their international competitors.
With the light that fibre brings, today’s announcement ensures that the future is brighter.
Ronan Kelly is ADTRAN Chief Technology Officer for the EMEA and APAC regions