Problem with being first is you can’t stay there

News last week on Britain’s abysmal performance in the global rankings on broadband speed. Apparently Britain is 25th out of 66 countries across the world, dropping us one place over last year. It may sound dire but from my perspective we are victims of our own success. Britian, for one, has to deal with one of the oldest telecoms infrastructures in the world making substantial gains in performance difficult and expensive.

In the same way that Britain used to lead the world with the train during the industrial revolution, it can’t now due to the old and decaying infrastructure. I was told once that just to patch a road costs more than laying a new one so when you are dealing with an existing infrastructure that is being constantly used it is difficult to make big changes. The US for example was lambasted for many years with their inferior television network because they were first to the table while the Europeans waited for the more superior PAL technology.

So I would argue that being first to the table, which gave us the advantage back then, is holding us back now. Countries like Korea and China who are building this infrastructure for the first time are able to invest in the very latest technology whereas a complete overhaul of the UK’s infrastructure will cost in excess of £30bn. This cost will always be a difficult pill to swallow and even the Conservative party turned it down when BT first suggested it to Margaret Thatcher when it would cost less than £10bn.

Currently the market will make it happen with the launch of FTTC, FTTH and advances in ADSL technology but I envisage we will continue to remain low in the league tables until we have caught up with the developing nations.

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