Written by Philip Magson
Spare a thought, in this new year, for those souls unable to share in the joys of the superfast internet revolution. Prior to December 2014, that was the situation in Dundee and other parts of eastern Scotland – until the completion, late last year, of a roll-out initiative aimed at delivering superfast broadband to over 29,000 homes and businesses.
The £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Project has seen over 2,700km of fibre-optic cable laid between 39 exchanges – which should boost internet speeds, not just in Dundee but in locations from Angus, Fife and Perth & Kinross, to a blistering 80Mbps. The numbers look impressive on paper, but why should they be considered good news?
For those of us already converted to the message, it’s easy to take the speed and access superfast broadband provides for granted – but users in remote locations, in some cases a mere 5km from an exchange, often find themselves unable to connect. In a professional landscape where slow or poor connectivity can quickly turn into loss of custom and reputation, that presents an obvious problem for business users. A 2010 report on ‘next generation connectivity‘ suggested that speeds of 40 to 50 Mbps would represent the norm over the next few years – since fibre-optic speeds are now outpacing that, it’s easy to see how rapidly poor internet can put your business at a disadvantage.
Without talking down to my slower-connected peers, I simply can’t imagine how I would continue to meet the needs of my clients without fast, reliable broadband. Superfast fibre-optic broadband allows me – and my Shackleton colleagues – to stream news, check and edit documents online, back up and protect data, and Skype locations across the globe – sometimes simultaneously – all as part of a normal business day.
Perhaps most significantly, superfast broadband lets businesses take full advantage of the cloud and the spectrum of services it offers: from Google Apps and Office 365 to Windows Azure and Dropbox. Whether you’re relying on cloud servers or secure storage, your applications will need a data capacity which would grind old, copper-wire ADSL phone connections to a halt. Hardware access is a consideration, too: I want my smartphone to be able to accomplish a range of work-tasks, and so do my colleagues, who have their own devices. Accommodating a range of personal devices makes even a small-business’ internet connection crucial to its professional functionality.
While it’s easy for me to trumpet the necessity of superfast broadband, I’m aware that it’s still a service that costs money – but it’s here that roll-outs like the one in Dundee bring another positive: competition. BT has made no secret of its desire to bring broadband to remote localities in Scotland, but the more coverage there is, the more choice users will have in their ISP and the harder companies will have to work to win their custom. So far, the Digital Scotland roll-out has generated huge commercial interest, creating hundreds of jobs – hopefully, its most exciting results will be seen in the years to come, as businesses prosper thanks to a new era of connectivity.