Ultra, super or sloooow?

I try to keep and eye on the broadband scene and subscribe to regular email newsletters from Thinkbroadband. Their April blog looks at how Superfast and Ultrafast broadband is rolling out across urban and rural Britain.  http://blog.thinkbroadband.com/2016/04/uk-hits-90-superfast-coverage-but-what-about-rural-uk/

It shows Superfast and Ultrafast broadband moving ahead, but still a lot of pockets where much slower speeds are achievable. In Peggs Green, Leicestershire, we are able to get fibre courtesy of Superfast Leicestershire BDUK. However we’re so far from the fibre-enabled cabinet we are quoted a top speed of 12Mbps so hardly superfast, and not worth going to the hassle to upgrade from 5Mbps we get on ADSL. I guess we will go to fibre eventually as the ADSL performance is actually getting worse – more people using it for streaming TV and music – or a policy for downgrading ADSL – who knows?

It’s fairly easy for the bean-counters to cross off the exchanges and cabinets that are upgraded, but ignore the fact that even semi-rural businesses and residents are a long way from the cabinets and the distance issue over copper (or aluminium) still applies.  Despite receiving frequent mailers from Virgin offering amazing speeds, they won’t drop a cable down our lane.

It’s definitely looking like a 2-speed society, not just for businesses – and there are a lot of small and micro-businesses in rural areas – but also for ordinary people. Website developers are increasingly assuming availability of bandwidth in their design with moving “slider” banners, full-page photos in the background and pop-ups. When I started web design in 1999 we considered background images out of the question with most people on dial-up connections. (Under 30-year-olds email me for an explanation of dial-up!)

There also seems to be a move to TV delivery via the internet. Look at  BBC3. It certainly suits many people who don’t have a permanent or long-term residence and therefore have no TV-license, for commuters on public transport etc. and it’s great to be able to catch up on programmes you’ve missed, or to take control of your TV programme consumption via on-demand services like i-Player. However, people in rural areas with no or slow broadband and probably patchy mobile coverage too are going to be disadvantaged. Broadcast seems the logical delivery for a central service to many, distributed consumers rather than piping the same stuff, once for each active consumer, over a limited network. Despite the exponential increase in broadband speeds, this does come at a cost which the public / private arrangements used so far may not be able to sustain long-term.

Public policy-makers should not assume everyone has access to high-speed broadband however much it may suit their budgetary projections.




Power crazy

We depend on electricity to drive our busy lifestyles. There’s hardly an activity we engage in that doesn’t use electricity – either mains or battery.

But what happens when the power supply stops. Not just a major power-out when a storm blows down a pylon but the not-uncommon 5 or 10 second blip?

  1. My oven, set to turn on to have my dinner cooked and ready when I come in, loses its programming and the clock time and I have beans on toast.
  2. My mother’s telephone talks to her (in an American accent) to tell her there’s been a power outage. She then calls me to tell me a lady called on the phone but she couldn’t understand what she was saying.
  3. Mum has an air-filled mattress which is supposed to continually change the pressure during the night. Yup – when the power blips it sounds an alarm – Mum rings me … I get no sleep.
  4. The security lights all go crazy (each one has a different protocol so some come on and stay on and on others the PIR stops working)
  5. All the security alarms in the neighbourhood start wailing.

With so much computing and control intelligence on tiny and cheap chips that don’t use much power and battery technology improving all the time why can’t these devices be more clever. When the mains power cuts out why can’t they switch to battery mode and monitor the situation and when the power comes back on put up a nice message on a cheap little screen? No unnecessary interruptions, no cold dinners when there’s just a short break in power. I guess there would need to be an option for some kind of audible signal for people who can’t see very well.

We really need some intelligence in the design of everyday equipment and their user interfaces. It could make life so much calmer.