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Death by fiber optic: why Internet buffering is set to be a thing of the past

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Ausgrid Photos

Hyperoptic is the internet service provider doing what no one else dares to do. Invest in infrastructure.

Moore’s law, true to its premise has soldiered on.

It’s allowed us to house hardware in our pockets containing more processing power than the Apollo computers had to first take man to the moon.

Yet as technological innovation edges beyond the realms of what was previously possible, there’s something holding us back.

All the operating power in the world is no substitute for poor bandwidth.

A lack of fiber optic infrastructure is the reason.

It’s left the UK sitting 18th in the Akamai 2014 average internet speed rankings. Seeing Brits clocking an average of 10.7 Mb/s and placing them behind Ireland, Latvia, Norway and Romania.

Only Japan come close to the crowned kings South Korea’s blistering average of 25.3 Mb/s.

Everyone selling broadband is doing so on the same old outdated telephone copper wiring that BT put in the ground 100 years ago

South Korea’s consistent policy of deregulation contributed to their top spot.

The South Korean government, ensuring barriers to entry remained low for new internet service providers, ramped up speeds through fostering competition whilst maintaining liberal regulation.

A change in the rankings could be coming.

The first lady of broadband

One woman with a history of disruption is taking the fight to the 17 nations above the UK. Her angle of attack has been to invest in fiber optic infrastructure.

The daughter of a computer professor, Dana Tobak jokes how she didn’t exactly dream of running a broadband company, but instead just fell into it.

Not bad for someone whose been nicknamed ‘the first lady of broadband’

“One of my friends” explains Tobak “had just sold a broadband company in Sweden…And said, how about we start up a broadband company in the UK? We’ll just bring the fastest broadband.”

Along with Boris Ivanovic, Tobak set up Be Un Ltd in 2005 and was among the first providers to bring 24 Mbit/s speeds to consumers when others where providing less than one.

“The journalists said why would anyone ever need speeds that fast? And its brilliant now being some 10 years passed that point and finally seeing that people are getting it” Says Tobak.

Selling Be in 2006 for £50 million pounds, Tobak and Ivanovic split up until they joined forces again in 2010 to create Hyperoptic.

Unlike other internet providers, Hyperoptic is investing heavily in fiber optic infrastructure to bridge the gap that stands in the way of progress.

“Everyone selling broadband is doing so on the same old outdated telephone copper wiring that BT put in the ground 100 years ago…what we do is build new fiber optic infrastructure. We put in our own cabling that goes into individuals’ homes, and in essence because of the quality of that infrastructure that is built for data applications, not telephone calls. It means we can offer superior product.”

They offer gigabit speeds.

Time to start investing in fiber optic infrastructure

Fiber optic infrastructure needs investing in if the UK wishes to challenge the internet speed rankings.

Slow speeds are exacerbated by something known as the ‘last mile’ problem.

The issue results from connecting homes to their nearest internet terminal.

Terminals are usually situated at the bottom of your road and take the form of an inconspicuous looking box covered in anti-climb paint.

Speeds from internet providers to these cabinets may well be fiber optic. But the cables making up the ‘last mile’ to your home- are for the most part copper.

And for the majority of internet service providers, changing this would be an exorbitant investment.

Known as fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) it’s something that BT and other service providers have been heavily criticised for.

It’s meant that most customers don’t receive the speeds they are paying for.

Unencumbered by such problems and now in 100,000 homes across the UK, Tobak was able to build a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service from scratch.

“We don’t have that legacy of a pre-existing networks that we have to do anything in particular. We got to choose which technology we were going to employ.”

Investing in fiber optic infrastructure becomes particularly pressing when you consider that 90% of the data ever created was done so in the past two years.

And with 4k on the horizon, expect this to grow exponentially. We’re closing in on unchartered territory.

Tobak couldn’t help but feel optimistic about the future. Signalling it with a subdued sense of excitement.

“To be a part of the ecosystem that is building the next generation of connectivity, internet of things, people being able to do e-health. All of this can only be enabled by having the proper connectivity.”