Archive for March, 2010

BE vs BT

Not wanting to turn this blog into a long sales pitch. However I recently came across a video showing the performance of a BT line against a BE line. Although it’s not a like for like test (the BE line being an Annex M and the BT line being an ADSL Max), it still shows the level of throttling that occurs within BT’s core network at peak times.

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The Ills of the public sector

My girlfriend works in the public sector, and for the last year and a half, I’ve had an interesting insight into the inner workings of a government-funded organisation. She works for a company that is tasked in giving direction and career guidance to students aged between 11 and 16 both in schools and in local communities. And she hates it.

One of the main issues with her job is the lack of work ethic her colleagues display. In the private sector, if you work hard and are successful, you get rewarded. If you don’t, are lazy or are permanently ill, you are disciplined or further still sacked. Fair enough you may say. However in the public sector this is not the case, as many a time she has complained about people displaying minimum effort but reaping the same rewards as someone who has worked much harder. Many times she has come back from work having to cover the shift of someone who is off ill. This does little for her morale. Furthermore she is then tasked with covering the target of this absentee, despite her exceeding her own target without praise or any incentive to perform. As a naturally hard-working person, this can be extremely demoralising. Until recently, I thought this was a local issue with her organisation. However it seems that this is symptomatic of the public sector.

Her argument was compounded by an article we read recently in the Sunday Times. Apparently Sir Stanley Kalms, upon becoming chairman of an NHS hospital, threw a tea party for members of staff who had served for more than 25 years, as a reward for loyal service. However what he encountered was a motley crew of people who neither he nor other members of staff even recognised, as the majority were either ill, grotesquely overweight¬† or “no longer fit and proper people to be in a hospital”, but crucially were still being paid. Also because their packages had been negotiated in more profitable times, they were generally on better pay than the majority of their colleagues. In the example, this had repercussions for the hospital, as wards were left short-staffed and hospitals were without funds to purchase vital equipment. Reading this made me realise that the local issue my girlfriend had mentioned time and time again was¬† actually a more generic issue afflicting the vast majority of the public sector.

But the question has to be asked, why can’t they just sack these individuals? In every company I’ve worked in in the private sector, if you had a long period of illness that was unexplainable you would at least be disciplined. However in the public sector, the trade unions have a much larger sphere of influence. Again according to the Harriet Sergeant’s article, 61% of state employees belong to a trade union, compared with only 20% in the private sector. Their influence is not waning either. In 2006, Labour received roughly 73% of their donations from unions. This figure is thought to have increased during the subsequent recession, as the labour government relied further on donations..

Unfortunately there is no real way to rectify this, as any real resolution will need to be dictated from the top, filtering down through the system. And as we know, this could take years to implement properly. However there are positive signs. There is pre-election talk of the Tories disbanding government-funded organisations such as Connexions, with a view to giving this responsibility to privately funded companies with a similar ethos. This is part of a more macro trend, as the government looks to increase the number of projects they relinquish. One way they are doing this is by outsourcing. Serco, one of their key benefactors of government outsourcing, recently posted a 34% rise in annual profit, and they expect this to grow further. By giving as much responsibility, jurisdiction and control where possible to companies who understand from the ground up their industry in the private sector will only help to weed out the inefficiencies of the public sector to bring it into line.

Where will the Internet go next?

I once read a book called Futurize your Enterprise back at the turn of the decade. At the time, it was seen as very ‘far out’ in it’s thinking, as it demonstrated the way the Internet may be used in future times. For example it displayed a future where everyone had their own domain and their own website. This site would not only display personal contact details for the user, but would also display their vital statistics, medical history, possessions and geneological history. The thinking behind this was that everyone was connected, and if for example, I had an accident when holidaying in Alaska, a local GP would be able to bring up my medical history at the touch of a button. Bearing in mind this was published just after the dot-com crisis, this seemed fanciful. However fast forward a number of years to a time where we are a lot more aware and protective of our privacy and you can see the issues that this concept had. Saying that, one of the other main concepts from the book was the fact that machines would use the internet more than humans, to commmunicate with each other. An example being that a fridge would order milk from the local supermarket when it sensed you were running out.

With the advent of mobile broadband and in particular LTE, this is not very far off. Machine to Machine (or M2M to add yet another acronym into the mix) communication is a technology that many see as the next logical step in the evolution of the Internet. And personally, I feel it offers many exciting prospects for entrepreneurs and integrators alike for the future. Carl-Henric Svanberg, the ex Ericsson Chief made the prediction that within the next 5-10 years, there could be as many as 50 billion sim cards embedded into ‘intelligent devices’. And where he says ‘intelligent devices’, he means items as mundane as doors and fridges. Others such as Juniper research predict that by 2014, there will be almost 412million M2M mobile subscriptions. Of course there are already a number of applications that connect to the internet. Fridges come with Ethernet ports allowing you to browse the Internet when choosing what flavour juice to have in the morning. However the main distinctive factor will be in the take-up of a universal language for machines to adopt when communicating with each other.

The fascination of this is the business model behind it, and the challenges it presents to network operators. Firstly for service providers, it offers a compelling way to cover the decreasing revnue from voice services, as these are increasinlgy delivered by IP. Secondly it means that service providers need not concentrate on selling services and bundles to ‘humans’ in a bid to increase ARPU. Whereas for many, there has come a natural saturation point as to the affiliated services you can bundle with connectivity, as to appeal to a mass market, you can only charge so much for a bundled package. Personally I don’t think M2M will change this markedly. Instead it will focus on areas within businesses that can be enhanced with remote support, as the potential number of devices that can be woven together is endless. This fits in nicely as companies look to cut costs by deploying a remote working environment as opposed to having physical branches.

Secondly the affect on network operators will be huge. One only needs to look at the issues O2 faced with the mass take-up of the IPhone. Personally although LTE will help the end user, it will not help the operators, as they will be tasked with delivering more bandwidth (and more expectation) to their subscriber base. One possible method to help this could be in mast sharing. Vodafone and O2 have done this in the past. Tom Alexander, CEO of Orange mentioned this was also a driver for the UK merger between Orange and T-Mobile. However a more compelling method would be the use of fixed line DSL, Ethernet and Fibre to backhaul mobile bandwidth as opposed to the legacy routes taken currently. In this respect, O2 owning thier own network (through BE) puts them in the enviable position of potentially being closest to delivering this ideal.

The future of the internet is a subject many more learned people than myself have spent time debating. A common theme is that we will move away from having a standard interface to the internet (being the browser) and instead will be able to interact through many different appliances. Also there will be a marked rise in traffic between machines. As always though, the main challenges to overcome will be how to facilitate this. Hopefully the launch of the Cisco’s CSR-3 will help to rectify that in the future.


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