Youth is not really wasted on the young

George Bernard Shaw, the Nobel Prize-winning Irish polymath was ahead of his time in much of his thinking. As well as being a leading figure in the 20th century theatre, he was a freethinker, a supporter of women's rights, and an advocate of income equality. He supported abolition of private property and radical change in the voting system and campaigned for the simplification of spelling and the reform of the English alphabet. In 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He accepted this honour but refused the money.

One of his wittier and better-known observations was "youth is wasted on the young," a comment on the paradox of people's gaining greater understanding of the world coinciding with the physical limitations of aging. But before dismissing youth as feckless and uncomprehending of the real business world, the movers and shakers of the fibre business should reflect on the opportunity presented these computer-literate, bandwidth-hungry teenagers of the "noughties."

While trends in mobile telecoms take-up and usage appear to have stalled or at least reached a plateau (the 3G posse will have to do a lot better than they've done so far), broadband is all the rage and the service providers have only just started to dent the marketplace. The U.K. telecoms regulator in May was trumpeting two million connections—out of a population of nearly 60 million. This proportion of a few percent is typical of the take-up in most of the developed world, save a few extraordinary blips such as South Korea, Canada, and Scandinavia.

From last month's KMI Fibre-optics Markets in Europe conference, held in strike-bound Paris, I can report two positive trends that hint the industry is picking itself up. And these do not include the obvious one that the conference took place at all.

Number one is that hardly any of the presentations opened with the dread phrase "despite the downturn." If I never hear those words again it will be too soon.

Number two, a little more rare but measurable nonetheless, was the tendency for the speakers to refer to the stunning Website creational powers of their gifted children, usually just nine years old or younger. "They set up sites, they send music and movie clips round to each other. They couldn't live without a broadband connection," was a common anecdote.

More objective figures and statistics were presented by speaker after speaker, suggesting that today's Europeans were only taking the first steps along that broadband superhighway and that the implications for further deployment of metro and access fibre and associated switching equipment are positive. The generally passive conference developed more active characteristics when a debate blew up over how many kilobits constitutes broadband.

"How can BT define broadband as at least 128-kbit/sec when the South Koreans and Japanese can easily get 2-Mbit/sec?" demanded Neil Fairbrother, marketing director of the U.K.'s Neosnetworks.

And would our bandwidth requirements be met even if we could receive the fabled 2 Mbits/sec? Moore's law was invoked once again, as was the famous Bill Gates and his assertion from the dawn of home computing that users would be unlikely to need faster and faster PCs.

How much bandwidth a copper pair can support was another topic that provoked a mini riot (nearly). David Greggains, secretary of the U.K.'s DSL Forum had seen a report of Japanese research into 100 Mbits/sec over a copper pair. Sacre bleu!

But in the spirit of the generally positive conference, Greggains also had some good news for the fibre industry—concerned with the inevitable increase in demand for DSL services. Peer-to-peer activities—file-sharing of music and video will require more fibre to be deployed because of the "backhaul" (uploading) requirement. Three new iterations of DSL will all need more fibre to be in place: SHDSL for business; VDSL for video; and the soon-to-be-ratified ADSL2plus standard will all need more medium to support them.

While the attendees seemed to fully understand the principle of the fast-evolving DSL applications that should transform bandwidth demand, the general lack of familiarity with the practice of sending and receiving music, video, etc., suggested that a beneficial business opportunity could spring itself on the business—if the infrastructure is in place.

Vive la jeunesse!

Matthew Peach
Editor-in-Chief, Lightwave Europe
matthewp@pennwell.com

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