Cloud computing is held back by broadband vapourware

Back in the mid 1990s before cloud computing arrived to change our lives I was involved in a four year communications project for the European Commission based around the general theme of what was then called Telematics.

My project was looking at how the emerging Internet technologies could benefit the geographically disadvantaged, Euro speak for those living in the back of beyond.

The project grew out of a forum on the now defunct CompuServe service where a group of us were avid fans of teleworking. For me the concept of flexible working patterns was fascinating because of the freedom it provided companies and employees to work in the best possible way and that didn’t necessarily mean being surgically attached to a desk at corporate HQ!

Superior communications

Almost 20 years on I am as passionate about technology as a liberator as I was back in the depths of time when my first access to the Internet was through typed in instructions; GUI was a misspelt sticky quality! From those heady, pioneering days we have come along in leaps and bounds and while the technology exists and rapidly evolving unless the communications infrastructure is in place to carry the technology you are, not to put too fine a point on it, screwed!

It is ironic that many areas that the “sophisticated west” looks down on areas known as developing countries but which have a far superior communications capability that we have. This is because they have started expanding their telecoms operations in recent years and can invest in the latest fibre optic technology while the west in hampered by legacy twisted copper wire supply lines. These may have been “leading edge” 50 years use but they are “bleeding useless” now.

Similarly with mobile technology. In the UK the big air time providers paid through their noses for their 3G licences and the consumer has suffered from expensive air time charges as they have tried to claw back that initial investment. And for what? Very little. Unless you are in a city centre 3G coverage is next to impossible to find and there are large swatches of the country where there is no mobile coverage whatsoever. In telecoms terms we in the UK are a third world country.

Teleconferencing – why not?

We are now looking at using 4G bandwidth but unless the government and air time providers become visionaries overnight I cannot see there being any immediate benefit. The politicians will reap the cash to pay their expenses and the air time providers will turn the screw on the end user to recuperate their investment. Cynical? Moi?

Keeping on with the UK the road safety minister is thinking of increasing motorway speeds from 70mph to 80mph so people can get to their destinations quicker. He pontificates that this will save the country millions – I know, I don’t get it either – and make businesses more efficient. What he should be asking is why are they making these journeys in the first place? Why are they not using teleconferencing and other services to communicate with clients?

Hounds of Hades, if a pondlife individual like me can hold a visual conference on my smartphone through Skype while risking caffeine poisoning in a coffee emporium with free Wi-Fi surely it cannot be beyond the wit of multinational companies to use technology to cut unproductive journey times, reduce their fuel bills and slash damage to the environment through emissions!

Funeral streaming!

Am I optimistic? In a word, no. I live in a neglected rural county where landline broadband connection is a joke because of legacy copper. Most people around me suffer a 200kb connection for which they pay full price. I pay extra for a through the air radio broadband connection but that is limited to 2mb.

The government has promised to throw millions of pounds into getting fibre optic connections to rural communities but as with most things that involve national and local government it has been little more than a talking shop for more than 12 months.

I have no doubt that eventually rural communities will enjoy fast broadband connections but I am pragmatic enough to realise that by the time it comes to where I live it will be used for streaming my funeral wake!

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Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.