Opinion

Connectivity: Why fibre is good for us

6 min read

22 February 2013

David Barker looks at the future of connectivity for SMEs in the UK and what is driving the need for faster, more reliable internet access.

Over the last ten years internet access has become an integral part of our daily lives. You would be very hard pressed to find any office that doesn’t have at least some form of web connectivity now.

The government has a plan to increase the UK’s average broadband speed to greater than 24Mbps by 2015, thus making it is the fastest in Europe, but we have a lot of catching up to do before we can claim that title. Current average speeds are around 12 Mbps, although this is up from nine Mbps last year, largely due to the roll-out of faster broadband services such as fibre to the cabinet (FTTC).

Why fast access is essential 

The need to increase the broadband speeds in this country, especially for small to medium businesses, is a key aspect in the wider adoption of cloud- based services for day-to-day activities. 

An area that is often overlooked when moving back office functions into the cloud is the connectivity from the office into that cloud provider. If you’re moving services which you’re used to accessing over a 100 Mbps or one Gbps local LAN, and then find that staff are trying to access the same services over a four or five Mbps ADSL line there’s a good chance that this will create a bottleneck. It will stop your people from being able to use the cloud and possibly lead to the services being brought back in-house.

Therefore, if you are looking to adopt the cloud or colocation (a self-storage style service for critical IT equipment) within your business I’d suggest you consider the following:

  • What are the current network traffic levels over your LAN? Make sure to look at average and peak loads on the network;
  • How does that compare to your current internet access speeds? Consider the upload speed of your connection if it asymmetrical; and
  • Do you need to guarantee speeds/service levels into the cloud provider? If so, you might want to consider a private connection that can run at speeds from 10Mbps to 10Gbps.

Add into this that internet access is now key to almost all businesses being able to operate effectively, and the reduction in costs for ten to 100 Mbps ethernet-based connections, then it starts to make sense to replace the eight Mbps ADSL line with a faster FTTC or leased line connection that comes with a stronger service level agreement, along with the speeds to support your business growth and productivity.

Infrastructure challenge

To reach this goal, significant investment is needed to build the infrastructure of a nationwide fibre network. This isn’t so much of a problem in metropolitan areas such as London where there is already a large quantity of fibre, but in more rural places it can be expensive to get the cables there. 

Putting fibre in the ground can cost anywhere between £100 and £250 per metre, depending on how it is done. Plus, there’s the yearly tax payable to HMRC for every metre of cable installed, and you find the potential return on investment is much lower (most users expect to pay the same price for a connection in a small village as they do in central London).

4G as a saviour?

One solution to this could be the new 4G mobile networks which, if you can get coverage, can deliver speeds up to 90 Mbps and the amount of fibre needed is far less (you only need run fibre to the base station rather than every house or street). However, at the moment the cost per Mbps for mobile data is too high to allow for widespread replacement of fixed broadband connections – but then again, they said the same about mobile phones compared to landlines when they were first released.

Overall internet connectivity is getting faster, cheaper and more reliable. This trend will continue, and needs to, so that the UK can have widespread broadband adoption with an average speed above 20 Mbps. Without it we aren’t going to be able to take advantage of the new services (some of which we can’t even imagine at the moment) that scalable computing will allow, leaving us lagging behind nations such as Japan, Korea, Norway and Portugal, that have invested in their connectivity infrastructure.

David Barker is founder and technical director of 4D Data Centres, which he founded at age 14, and a finalist for the Young Entrepreneur Award at the Growing Business Awards 2012.