Sunday, 1 September 2013

End of My High Wire Days

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There’s a spooky thing in todays' news, two articles strangely connected, but not that obviously, but enough to make me nearly choke on my croissant. Jeeves did give me a thoughtful stare!

Today BT switched off its dial-up internet service, so no more listening to this - . The company said it was taking the step as only a “tiny number” of its customers still went online, using a dial-up modem. Estimates suggest about 200,000 people still used dial up at 56K. While the majority of these users could migrate to broadband, in many rural areas, this can be quite expensive and often for barely 400kbs. Indeed, just 4 miles out of Warrington (quite a built up urban area), I know friends struggling with expensive BB from BT/Openreach at about these sluggish speeds.

These people can continue with dial-up however with BT subsidiary PlusNet, (what those nice Yorkshire folk? Yes the very same....).

Next to this news was that the cost of HS2 has grown already to £42Bn with a £14Bn contingency. Boss of the project Alison Munro says that “It is not true that costs are out of control”. Our chancellor (and MP just down the road from me in wealthy Tatton), assured the BBC today that he is “passionate” about the multi-billion pound high speed project, despite rumours that costs are spiralling.

This is a project to bring faster trains from Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds to London Euston, with many estimates using “savings in work time” to help justify this infrastructure. The idea is that less time will be spent on a faster train, meaning more time in the office. I can understand how many of these advantages could have been formulated back in 2008, when many of us were on dial-up internet, I seriously wonder if the numbers stack up now, nearly 6 years later. The Institute of Directors don’t seem to and they have a track record in knowing what makes business thrive.

Most of the ‘office crowd’ I mix with seem to spend and be encouraged to be less in the office, as its cheaper and productivity can be much higher.  On shorter rail journeys I am less inclined to get my laptop or tablet out and do some work. I don’t know it that is similar to your experience. Also the scope of HS2 for the estimated cost seems pretty humble.

In Japan, the Tokaido line of the Shinkansen (bullet train) was apparently in profit after just 6 years of operation.  Even if the quantity of passengers could be found to pay the premium these services will demand, how long will it take HS2 to break even. You only need to look at the queues at Euston now for the first evening off-peak trains north after 6.30pm, while the earlier pricier ones are only 2/3rds full, but four times the fare. A standard walk-on peak return London/Manchester on Virgin is £308 or £441 in first class. Now in the latter I must point out that in the 2 hour and 12 minute journey, you can drink as much as you can, with unlimited sandwiches, crisps and snacks. Even with my 12” plate packed in my laptop bag, I would struggle to consume £133 of freebies in that time.

You can see why a Skype / Webex conference, or 2 hours of chatting as a group as audio teleconference, may seem a more modern and practical alternative. Of course, sometimes there is no alternative to just being there. These things are not possible however if broadband infrastructure is not available. That is the connection with these two articles. What would be the cost to bring broadband to every community in England and Wales, rather than fast rail links to barely a handful of places?  I mean southern Cornwall, bits of Somerset, Hampshire, Brecon, Bala, bits of Northumbria, yes everywhere.

Even if we gave the job to BT/Openreach, I would be surprised we could not manage it for £42Bn with a £14Bn contingency. That would really change our country, energise business and innovation, providing a chance to catch up with South Korea and others where 4/5G and fast internet access is the norm. Now for me that would be a brilliant way to move forward, I agree with the protesters looking for super-fast broadband not HS2. We should have taken the chance to improve rail links in the 1980s/90s, let’s hope we don’t miss our chance in this decade to create a solid foundation for our digital future. 

You can link with me on LinkedIn here - It would be great to connect !

Read on to asset management software and how its being swallowed up :

Psychedelic Furs - Highwire Days.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

PS As usual, if there are subjects you might like me to tackle on this blog, please get in touch and let me know!

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