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With Broadband Growth, Do Country Leaders Have Their Heads in the Clouds?

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/Europe/International by

LONDON, July 26, 2010 - With the world moving toward cloud computing where services and data are delivered over broadband networks, many experts are concerned that countries are setting minimum bandwidth limits too low for future participation in the global economy.

These concerns were raised at a recent announcement by the U.K. government when discussing its objective to provide universal access at 2 megabits per second by 2015 – three years later than had been pledged by the previous administration.

Critics said 2 megabits per second was inadequate today and likely pathetic in 2015, given the rapid expansion of services delivered remotely from cloud computing models designed to share information technology resources efficiently between multiple consumers.

Cloud computing is the emerging model for delivering services as a utility to consumers and smaller firms in particular, mining common expertise and resources to cut costs and deliver expertise that otherwise could not be afforded. But like other utilities such as electricity, water and gas, cloud computing requires an efficient delivery network operating at the right capacity.

But it is not just cloud computing driving minimum bandwidth needs upward. At the same time, many professions such as architectural design and medicine, require bit rates of at least 4 mbps to transmit large image and video files, and in some cases for remote collaboration via video conferencing.

“I think the U.K. should be looking to a minimum of 8 mbps,” said David Palmer, senior product manager for networks and connectivity at Star, a provider of managed services. “Unless this is done, we will see the digital divide between rural and more densely populated areas become even greater. Already we are seeing services at 40 mbps or even 100 mbps in urban areas over [fiber to the home].”

A limit of 2 mbps would prevent architects and other firms needing regularly to exchange CAD (Computer Aided Design) files from allowing staff living in remote areas to work from home, putting them at a significant disadvantage in the digital economy of the future, said Palmer.

“Today they have to buy expensive ethernet circuits, when they could be using cheaper broadband connections,” Palmer said.

Many architecture firms have adopted wide-area network acceleration techniques in an attempt to cope with limited bandwidth between their offices and home workers globally.

For example, Woods Bagot, one of the largest architecture firms in the world, is using acceleration technology from Blue Coat across its WAN to increase the rate at which files are transferred through various techniques that ensure the link is being as fully utilized at all times as possible, and that small bundles of data are packaged together to reduce latency. The technology allows the firm to share large amounts of information internationally.

Inevitably, WAN acceleration techniques are also being incorporated in these emerging and growing cloud computing services. Application acceleration specialist Riverbed has developed a version of its WAN optimization system to run on the shared computer infrastructures of cloud networks, designed to optimize bandwidth on a larger scale.

But while these measures will help, ultimately it is never possible to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, and so there will always be a minimum requirement for universal bandwidth provision - and this will be a rapidly increasing target.

Philip Hunter is a London based technology reporter specialising in broadband platforms and their use to access high speed services and digital entertainment. He has written extensively for European publications about emerging broadband services and the issues surrounding deployment and access for over 10 years, with a technical background in ICT systems development and testing.

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