The Future of Broadband in the NE and the world
In a busy, buzzy and engaging event, over 100 of the NE’s leading business people and entrepreneurs discussed the Future of Broadband – looking at the prospects for the NE in the new wave of broadband services, often called “Next Generation Access” or “NGA” some of which are being developed here in the region.
The scale of the opportunity
In their opening remarks, Fred and Mercedes mentioned the importance to the NE’s businesses of getting to grips with the coming services as broadband develops; this is especially important given that the region is increasingly looking to create new jobs in the digital and creative sectors; such as games, animation and software. Mercedes described how NorthenNet offers types of technology and broadband speeds to smaller companies previously only available to the very largest and on a much more flexible basis. She argued that “It’s not about the technology; it’s about the people” and that the benefits of creative and technical people working together are beginning to be realised.
The move from Copper to Fibre
To provide a basis for the conversation, Adrian Wooster, Chief Technology Officer of the Community Broadband Network, talked about “From Copper to Fibre” and covered the types of new services based on optical fibre technology and their impact on business. He mentioned that it’s important to remember that it’s not all about download speed. Increasingly the speed at which you can upload files and other content is becoming more critical to businesses. He said “New technologies are coming, some of them already being implemented in Gateshead, that offer the potential for new services. You can get closer and closer to customers.” He stressed the business relevance and innovation potential of new services.
G-ti – “Getting it done” in Gateshead
Liz Reed from Gateshead Council (pictured above) focused on G-ti (which stands for Gateshead Technology Innovation) a ground-breaking project bringing ultra high speed service to the Baltic Business Quarter. “Our job is to make sure we get businesses and jobs; jobs for local people.” That G-ti is an example of collaboration between the private and public sectors, is a very open and competitive network and that it demonstrates what Gateshead needs to be competitive. That it’s important for local authorities to demonstrate leadership. She spoke passionately about the “need to unite creative and technical people in using this new stuff”. Liz said that Gateshead was “About getting things done.” At the end of LIz’s presentation, Brian Condon a director of CBN and an independent consultant on technology and business, did a ‘straw poll’; asking the audience to vote on whether this project was a good use of public funds – admittedly an unrepresentative audience – but they voted in favour (with not a single hand raised against).
Caring for the “Not Got Anythings”
Other local projects featured highly in the session – Cybermoor Limited whose Operations Director, Kevin Wood, said that in his area of Weardale ‘NGA’ stands for “Not Got Anything”. Cybermoor are working with local communities to install optical fibre and improve access to services and innovations such as high capacity ‘Telehealth’. He agreed with Liz that it was about “Getting things done”. He said he wasn’t afraid of the “Community” word. He was open about some of the issues of small scale projects; and that a lack of depth of resources could give problems. He concluded that “It’s about making things happen when no one else cares.”
George’s “Stories from the Coalface” from ITPS and Virgin
George Galloway, MD of ITPS brought what he called “Stories from the coalface” of real business in the region. ITPS is a successful and growing privately owned IT services business with over £10m of turnover. George, who was on stage with Chris Walsham from Virgin Media, provided examples of how ITPS operates. They were the first Service Provider to offer services on the G-ti network (there are now 5 competing providers) and they partner with a range of companies including Virgin Media. Chris stressed the importance of partnership working and the need to collaborate. He said that their strategic relationship with ITPS was a good example as it shows that both large (and Virgin Media has a £15bn network) and smaller players can benefit. George gave the example of a successful project where a move from Copper to Fibre (of one of the types described by Adrian earlier) had delivered operating cost savings of 30% while simultaneously provding a 10-fold performance increase. Chris added that these new technologies can help companies reduce their carbon footprint; reducing the need to travel and saving time.
Partnership working to ‘bridge the gap’
Simon Roberson who is the NE Regional Manager for BT Group gave a different perspective from a very big player in the market. He talked about BT’s plans to deploy “Superfast Broadband” to 66% of the UK population by 2015. He said it was a very big project and that it would be difficult to reach those people described as being in the “Final Third”. He said “We have to remember that the ‘Final Third’ is one third of the population; not 1/3 of the country.” and that there are still very big distances to cover outside the dense urban areas.
Simon gave an example of partnership working in Northern Ireland as a way for the public and private sectors to work together. He argued that, despite what some other speakers had said, what will pay for the investments will be premium services such as HD and 3D TV which need more bandwidth than existing services. He said to businesses in the meeting “For you guys it’s a tremendous opportunity.”
Stand by me . .
In a charismatic multimedia keynote presentation, Houston Spencer (above, left) Vice President of Alcatel Europe (the private sector partner in G-ti) used the Ben E. King song “Stand by me” coupled with images from the 50s and 60s to show how much the world has changed and how much more change there is to go still. He showed a video called “Stand by me; playing for change” which was made in multiple locations by multiple players and brought together to form a single performance. He told us that the original record had been played over 7 million times on the radio since its original release 50 years ago but that this video, released only 2 years ago had already been watched over 12 million times on YouTube.
Houston talked about the changes that are coming; and that big organisations came about because of the ‘need to aggregate capital’ because everything was expensive. The IP/Broadband world changes all that – and that it’s now much easier to create and distribute new forms of content and products using the internet. Houston asserted that many people mistake the intent of new forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter; they are not about “broadcast mode”; “It’s not about self promotion, it’s about making connections with people, building relationships and forming an ‘ecosystem’ of people connected together”. Houston concluded that there was a risk that the big players might destroy the ecosystems they are creating by too many rules or changing the conditions that brought them about. He finished with an optimistic picture of how relationships sustained by the internet can result in an explosion of global collaboration and connectivity.
Photo credit: Simon Williams, Crest Photography