Last week I was one of the many speakers at “Business and Bandwidth: Driving Innovation and Competitiveness in Central Ontario”. It was an excellent event hosted by iCanada, the Government of Ontario and York Region that brought together stakeholders from numerous regional municipalities to discuss the impact of a connected community on innovation and competitiveness. There was lots of emphasis on the need for speed; ultra high-speed Internet bandwidth available to all. Although I don’t disagree with that starting point, it also raises a few questions. Yes; there is plenty of proof that high-speed Internet connectivity has a measurable result on economic development. I will be the last to dispute Gartner, United Nations, and others that claim “scaling to a Gigabit access could increase GDP by 3% each year”. I am confident that they have done their research to back it up.
There is no doubt in my mind, that new (Greenfield) communities will have to build 1 Gbps (or FTTH, Fiber to the Home) infrastructures (and be ready for more). Frankly, anything less will not necessarily be more cost effective these days anyway. But there is a world out there that is already built; where infrastructure is already in place. If the business case for massive overhauls would be that apparent, there certainly would be much less debate and more fiber roll-out (all the way to the door). “Build it and they’ll come” does not work (in my humble opinion), and plenty communities around the world have already experienced this. We have got to understand for who we’re building the infrastructure (today), and what shall be done with it, to make the business case stick.
Big business, universities and other data-intensive industries may require bigger pipes already, and organizations like ORION do provide for them (building infrastructure of 100 Gbps, and preparing for 500 Gbps, and talking about 1 Tbps (not tablespoons, but Terabit-per-second!). Most of us, however, are not quite there yet. The small-medium-businesses and families in homes (which really make the bulk of the fabric of our society) wouldn’t know what to do with 1 Gbps (today) or more (but certainly need an upgrade from the squeaky dial-up, which sadly enough is still prevalent in many places).
Some communities are understanding this and aren’t jumping on the bandwagon for immediate fiber bandwidth infrastructure to the door (yet). WiFi community networks are providing a perfect interim step to deliver high-speed Internet to all its constituents. The WiFi networks start driving (and understanding) the demand. What really matters – and where we luckily are seeing the debate leaning towards – is the appreciation of what to do with the pipes. Provide value to the community constituents and build corresponding infrastructure to deliver and consume content with the speed and ease that we’ve become accustomed to.
In my presentation at the event, I suggested that not every town will have large universities and global businesses that will demand the bandwidth, or be an economic magnet. Surely, that doesn’t mean that smaller and remote communities can’t be big players in the global economy without overhauling the existing network infrastructures with 1 Gbps-to-the-door or more. I suggest a gradual and calculated (yet immediate) deployment of high-speed Internet with plenty of capacity to support the factual needs and expectations of the stakeholders that enable them to communicate and collaborate with the connected world around them. Today, I don’t need 1 Gbps to my house to operate TelePresence from my home office. With just the right (scalable and expandable) infrastructure, even the smallest, least connected and most remote communities can become an active participant in the rapidly changing world.
Doing nothing is not an option, but the transition of our (existing) communities into smart and connected communities may not be sprint either. This is a marathon; and along the way we build the services, drive the demand, upgrade the infrastructure and so forth. Nobody knows what the future holds…yet we know it’s evolving at an accelerating speed: and connectivity to the rest of the world is a critical part of it. Speed is a means to an end. It’s all about the services! Build the services; create demand; and (ultra) high-speed bandwidth will come. Enough talk. Let’s do it.