"Hot on the heels of Usain Bolt and the Jamaican men's
sprint team at London 2012, speed has been back in the news this
week. This time though, the subject is broadband." Jonathan
Elliott, the managing director of money-saving expert for business
Make It Cheaper, dives into the argument over
whether we should have fast broadband nationwide, or opt for
lightning fast broadband in the urban hubs.
The biggest broadband story of the week is that Ofcom has given
the nod to Everything Everywhere to launch 4G mobile services.
Smartphone manufacturers will need to build and release handsets
that can handle the technology, but in theory this means that
Orange and T-Mobile, the two brands under the Everything Everywhere
umbrella, could offer next generation mobile services from
11th September. Three, who have a legal right to buy
some of Everything Everywhere's spectrum, should be close
The regulator says that denying customers the opportunity to
experience 4G when a company is in a position to provide it would
be wrong, but it's easy to understand why the other networks - who
have to auction for 4G bandwidth next year - are unhappy with the
decision. It will be interesting to see if O2 and Vodafone
customers get itchy feet for improved download speed and look to
switch their contracts. My business mobile team at Make It Cheaper
is on red alert for requests to this effect.
Meanwhile, in fixed broadband land, an equally contentious story
continues to brew. The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised
that Britain will have the fastest broadband in Europe by 2015.
This is something that would give Britain a competitive edge in the
digital economy, and Hunt is right to point out that we thrive in
creative industries that would feel the benefit of superfast
broadband. However, his bold pronouncement has attracted criticism
from some quarters because he is clearly prioritising speed over
coverage. In other words, it's great that person A can download a
huge media file in the blink of an eye - but not if it means person
B cannot even get online.
From a purely business point of view, this translates to a
question of whether you would prefer Britain to be more competitive
with other countries, or for British companies to be more
competitive with one another - from a geographical point of view,
at least. As a champion for small to medium-sized businesses and
start-ups in Britain, I have to favour the latter.
It seems an apt time to mention that the Federation of Small
Business (FSB) is lobbying government to push broadband coverage
higher up the agenda. Failure to do so, they say, would mean that
the current "digital divide" between urban and rural businesses
would become even more pronounced. FSB statistics show that six in
ten rural businesses are dissatisfied with the speed of their
broadband. That's bad enough - but there's a concurrent issue here
with businesses that don't exist yet. Britain's next
technology-dependent start-up should be able to operate
from a converted barn in Cumbria - but its need for speed means
that probably won't happen.
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