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BT DSL outage

I’m sure many of you were affected in one way or another by the recent DSL outage, caused by the North Paddington exchange. The latest is that from BT is that water got into the exchange, starting an electrical fire, which was put out by more water, causing a flood in the basement.

The above picture is an example of the severity of the situation. However I really must praise the sterling work of BT in not only working around the clock to rectify the issue, but also in notifying their customers using Social Media. Their twitter stream (@BTcare) was a hive of activity all day, and was backed up by their status blog depicting progress. In fact the above picture comes from their own Flickr stream. Info was then compounded upon by key clients, such as Gradwell (@gradwelltweets), who posted a list of exchanges that were affected (some 437!)

Although many of us in the industry view BT as a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to embracing change, they really are showing us all how best to adopt and embrace new media. And although they have been tripped up by their BTcare account more than once, these mishaps will inevitably help them create a more fulfilling user experience. The whole episode also helps to shoecase how Twitter, blogs and other social media devices, when used in the right way, can really enhance the way a business can communicate with it’s community. We can all learn a thing of two from BT.

This is NOT a party political broadcast

So we have heard the budget, and to be honest, there are few surprises for us telco’s. We all knew that this would be an ideal opportunity for Labour to posture somewhat prior to the election to gain votes. And that is exactly what they’ve done.

The one thing for me personally that has been interesting is both parties use of the advancement of broadband in their respective manifestos. The Tories have confidently stated that they will get 100Mbps lines to 90% of the population by 2017. Last year Labour confidently announced that their USC for #digitalbritain would be a paltry 2Mbps per household. This has been subsquently revised to providing ‘superfast’ broadband by 2020. However despite elaborate methods of financing this from each, there doesn’t seem to have been much thought as to how this would be delivered, and more importantly, who will deliver this.

Fibre is and has been the obvious method. Much noise has been made for both BT and Virgin Media to provide access to their ducts for other carriers use. However when the purported cost to deliver fibre to each and every premises is between £5bn and £30bn you can see the massive investment needed. Hence the government’s involvment. Many different technologies have been considered to deliver ‘next generation services’ today. Satellite, LTE, WiMAX and even BPL (that’s an acronym for Broadband over Powerlines) have been mooted as being able to service those much talked about not-spots, that are rightfully threatening the validity of the #digitalbritain manifesto.  The disappointing factor is that there seems to be little communication with telco’s to understand how best to deploy services that will help Britain move into a digital future.

In my view, there are 2 key issues that stop any government really moving forward with providing high speed universal access.

  1. Lack of communication with those in the trenches – I’m sure the likes of BT and Virgin Media have been consulted about their opinions on providing high speed access to all (or badgered to open up their ducts). However what the government hasn’t done is try to assist smaller providers who have worked in other more rural areas to try and deploy networks designed for tomorrow. An example of this can be found by the inequality in the tax rates paid out on fibre by the likes of BT and smaller providers, such as Vtesse. If there is at least parity, then this will spur people like Vtesse to create efficient models to provide high speed access in areas the not-spots.
  2. The government inherently doesn’t GET the internet – This is a massive statement to make. However on one hand the government is trying to deploy a set of foundations to provide universal access, whilst on the other, introducing the Digital Economy Bill to massively restrict our use of the internet. Ever so slightly hypocritical. The government seems hell bent on protecting the revenues of industries who also don’t get the internet, instead of helping them to adopt new business models to fully embrace the internet.

Once the government realise that providing universal access is less of a political game  whilst engaging with those who could spur innovation, then will we truly see a landscape conducive to providing nationwide high speed access to underpin a digitally thriving economy.

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.

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.

The power of a brand

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of brands within different sectors for a long time, probably due to Naomi Klein’s controversial No Logo. I recently came across the BrandFinance Global 500 tables. This basically aims to position the most powerful brands in the world by their percieved value. Although it’s quite focused on the financial sectors, it does help to give an indicator of general trends within certain sectors.

Coming off the back of the deepest and longest recession since WWII, it’s interesting to see which brands have maintained their value and which sectors hold the most powerful brand identities. In the UK, the most highly valued brand is Vodafone, who have usurped HSBC. This lends us a clue as to a macro economic trend, which sees the value of brands within the financial sectors decreasing in line with motifs formed from the recession. Interestingly enough, the reverse can be seen to within the communications and technology sectors, with brands from these two sectors making up half of those within the top 25 positions. It’s hard to pinpoint on a micro level where to attribute this success, as various factors can be seen to have made a difference, from the continued dominance of the IPhone to increased exposure in the BRIC economies.

In it’s conclusion, the article also states that the top 500 brands are starting to geographically diversify from the power bases of the UK and US. Although the article mentions new entrants from the emerging markets from their respective finanical sectors, it’s interesting to note that the top brand valued from outside of the UK and US is Toyota. It will be interesting to see where they stand next year, with the automative industry constantly tackling ever changing regulation and Toyota themselves starting the year off with a serious safety crisis.

To Infinity and beyond?

Fibre to the Cabinet

Well the trials have finished and amid all the fanfare, BT have officially launched their brand new FTTC service, providing up to 40Mbps down and up to 10Mbps up. Named BT Infinity (surely ironic) this promises to be quite a compelling offering for both domestic and business users hoping to adopt applications that require a large amount of bandwidth to be transferred across the last mile.

Now I’ll be honest in saying that I’m not the biggest fan of BT. However they deserve praise in being fairly quick to market with this. BT retail pricing seems competitive against the main competiton (being Virgin Media’s 50Mb service) whilst although geographic penetration is very limited, there are already over 100 enabled for the service, with quite a few exchanges planned for roll out. However saying that, there are still a few things that deeply concern me about the service.

Firstly it’s key to remember that essentially Infinity is a VDSL based service, meaning that BT will rely on their copper infrastructure from their local cabinets. This means that end user sync rates are still determined by the same factors that determine DSL. However even more important to note are their roll out plans for cabinets attached to exchanges, as even thought BT say they’re to enable a certain exchange for FTTC, it does not mean that they will enable all cabinets associated to that exchange. There are already stories of certain exchanges enabled where only half of the cabinets will be able to provide the service. Not good

Secondly it will be interesting to see how the underlying bandwidth is managed. It’s a well known fact that 21CN has been having some well documented congestion issues, and there is little doubt that Infinity will not help if BT can’t sort out the current issues that the’re already having. Infinity can only have a larger drain than the current access methods used. BT have gone some way to negate this being an issue, by deploying the same usage policies applied with thier ADSL2+ sericves. For the consumer, this has the added threat of reaching your limit faster than previously, due to having the ability to download a lot more.

Thirdly as expected, this will have very little impact on those in the not-spot areas around the country, as BT only plan to enable current market 3 exchanges. Therefore it won’t make major inroads into the USC set within the Digital Britain report. Further woe for those in rural areas.

However from my perspective, the main thing to take away from this is the fact that we are starting the process in moving away from copper in the last mile to fibre. This move will be painful for most, as we discuss the most viable ways to deploy it whilst making the end user propositions cost effective. However as it is used more and more within certain political party manifesto’s, it is sure to become a bigger plane for debate within various wide ranging communities. Hopefully this will mean more wide ranging action.


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