Could Universal Broadband Internet Access for all be on the horizon?
Do you remember the Broadband for Scotland adverts?
I still remember the awfully frustrating days of the dial-up modem, where accessing the Internet was slow, cumbersome, noisy and always exasperating. The wonders of broadband eventually replaced the screeching and beeping, then Wi-fi and now fibre optic broadband. The landscape for most of us has completely changed, and the breakneck speeds offered by fibre optic technology opens up a World of possibilities for society. As exciting a prospect as that is, we're still very much in the 'them and us' stage.
Fibre Optic Roll Out
The terms Superfast and fibre optic broadband are used interchangeably, but what does it mean? The technical definition is that to be classed as having Superfast broadband; you need to have download speeds of at least 24 Mbps. That means you can, theoretically at least, download 24 megabits of data every second, compared to the traditional 1 or 2 megabits. So is it all that different?
Yes, it is, it's a 'night and day' situation. I say this with a note of incredible envy, as, like many people who live rurally, I'm denied the pleasure that Superfast offers. Occasionally, and rather cruelly, I get an all too brief opportunity to experience what I'm missing when I log-on in Café or Hotel or to a friends or colleagues Superfast broadband.
In rural areas, especially in Scotland where we are based, Superfast coverage is very low. In most cases, Superfast coverage is less than 30% throughout Scotland. There is even the rather bizarre situation in one Perthshire village where half the village recently had fibre optic Broadband installed by BT. While the other half will have to wait until 2017 to enjoy the same experience their neighbours already take for granted.
It's frustrating for the majority who are missing out, especially for those that rely on the Internet to manage and run their business. In some cases, the growth aspirations of rurally based businesses are hampered by their sub-standard Internet connection. BT, along with national and local governments are working hard to accelerate the roll-out of Superfast Broadband. It won't happen overnight and represents a huge challenge.
Help on the Horizon
It's not just a problem in the UK, it's a global issue, especially in countries with poor existing telecoms infrastructure. As with many global issues, global solutions often materialise. Help may well be quite literally on the horizon thanks to one very global organisation - Google.
In 2011, Google started unofficially experimenting with the concept of using high-altitude balloons to create an aerial, wireless network, capable of delivering broadband speed Internet access to everyone. In June 2013, Project Loon was officially unveiled with the announcement of a pilot project in New Zealand. The first person to connect to the balloon was a rural farmer with no conventional broadband Internet access. He'd had satellite based Internet in the past, but at up to $1,000 a month, it just wasn't a viable option for him. In the end, 50 people were included in the New Zealand pilot. Although very small in scale, it was considered successful enough to justify extending the pilot. Project Loon pilots in the Eastern Valley of California as well as the North-East region of Brazil, quickly followed.
Fast forward a couple of years and Project Loon has now entered a new, exciting phase in its rise to move beyond just being a concept. On July 28th, Google and the Sri Lankan government signed an agreement to launch the first wide scale deployment of the high-altitude balloon technology. The ambitious plan will see an armada of balloons launched to cover the entire island of Sri Lanka, an area of over 25,000 square miles. When it is finally officially launched in March 2016, Sri Lanka will be able to claim the bragging rights for being the first country in the World to offer universal Internet access via balloon-based technology.
You can be sure that Google, as well as other organisations, will in parallel be challenging their R&D teams (Research & Development) to come up with ways of delivering faster speeds through the balloon technology. The gain for Google is very clear in that they can facilitate a far larger audience for their revenue models, now you can see why Google’s share price is growing so quickly.
A cautionary note
Our desire for faster and faster Internet access will never end. Superfast will eventually be replaced by another marketing term (Superfasterer anyone?) to describe the next high-water mark in download speeds. But if you have a website or are planning to develop one, remember that you need to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Not everyone has Superfast broadband access, and your HD promotional video on your site could leave many of your website visitors frustrated.
At Inspire, we follow that principle because we live with these issues on a constant basis. We admit it, we suffer from SBE (Superfast Broadband Envy), and that's why all our websites are developed with not just the end user in mind, but also their location. Where are they? What device are they using? How are they connecting? All questions that drive us to deliver the best possible mobile optimised websites.
Want to create a mobile website that works for your business, and your potential clients, wherever they may be? Contact David on 01738 700 006 or fill in our enquiry form to find out more.
David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David’s academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel & Ergonomics) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society, Entrepreneurial Exchange and Business for Scotland.
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