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 of the need for speed; ultra high-speed internet bandwidth available to all. Although I don’t disagree with that starting point, it raises to me also 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 to – is the appreciation of what to do with the pipes. Provide value to the community constituents and build corresponding infrastructure to deliver and consume such value 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 business that will demand the bandwidth and be an economic magnet. Surely, that doesn’t mean that smaller and remote communities can’t be big players in the global economy without necessary 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 plentiful 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 my Telepresence from my home office. With just the right (yet scalable and expandable) infrastructure, even the smallest and today’s least connected and most remote communities can become 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.
Billions (in Canada) and Trillions (around the world) of dollars are being spent each year on the development and renewal of our infrastructure. Roads, bridges, homes, and [commercial, industrial, and institutional] buildings make the physical fabric of our communities. A small, yet growing portion, of this global spending goes to the systems that make this infrastructure work; such as security, mechanical, electrical, and transportation systems.
These systems have always been part of the DNA of the underlying infrastructure for our communities (nothing new there). However, the difference is that they are becoming smarter and more capable to have a profound impact on the performance of the infrastructure. Where historically these systems were subservient to the bricks, beams, and concrete they were housed in; it now seems they are being elevated in importance. The intelligent systems have now the ability to make our infrastructure come to life – and provide greater value to those that depend on it.
The great enabler of this shift is the world of information and communications technology (ICT), and more specifically the Internet and IP networks. Networks become the new addition to the DNA of our infrastructure. We have seen already numerous examples where connected and smarter infrastructure has the ability to positively impact economic, social, and environmental sustainability. My blogs have covered several of these examples, and please keep reading them as there are more to come.
The trend of smarter and more connected infrastructure is unstoppable as every sensor, device, system (and user) will become a node on the Internet and its worldwide networks. We [as in leaders in the construction, design, development, ICT industries, and many other stakeholders] have now the stewardship to channel this transformation into a direction that is repeatable and sustainable. Together we have the ability to (re)build the fabric of our communities through the intelligent use of technology and innovation. As we see this technology and innovation converge with bricks and mortar, we will end up with infrastructure that meets our, and our children’s, rapidly growing expectations in a resource constraint world.
At Cisco Plus in Canada on Wednesday May 16th, a selected group of leaders in the infrastructure industry (architects, engineers, developers, builders) will gather to discuss the implications of “clicks and mortar”, and the opportunities it will provide to all that are interesting pursuing them. The future is here, let’s now optimize and monetize it, together.
When you are visiting Cisco Plus, please attend also the Business Session “Managing Unprecedented Change with Business Transformation” by Sandy Hogan (Cisco Vice President of Americas Business Transformation) on Wednesday May 16th at 11am EST.