Creating a Next Generation Digital Infrastructure
Submitted by rurallaura 2010–07–09 16:48:37 EDT
Theme(s): Digital Infrastructure
In order to compete in a global economy it is necessary for Canada to develop a Strategy. That strategy not only needs to consider what policies, programs and regulatory frameworks are necessary but also what skills, education and infrastructure are required to ensure we have the necessary foundation to compete adequately.
Considering a model similar to Porterâ's Diamond of Competitive Advantage (The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Michael Porter, 1990) may be necessary to ensure that all the necessary elements have been considered. Building a globally competitive industry (or set of industries) requires many different factors which must reach a harmonious balance to help claim success. This balance reflects a system that has interdependent element which have to be evaluated together and in context to ensure that the resulting policies, regulations and programs can achieve the desired results.
One of the fundamental elements of a digital economy is a robust, reliable and highly available digital infrastructure. Such an infrastructure needs to be available to all citizens to leverage the creativity, innovation and ideas of the nation. In a ever increasing interconnected global society it is not enough to say that citizens need to move to locations where networks are in place. We need to create a network (or set of networks) that is widely available to all citizens so they can share in the benefits and advantages of a digital economy.
It is not a simple endeavor in a country as vast as ours, with dispersed populations and numerous terrain challenges to create such a network. Nonetheless we must review all the options and criteria and understand the opportunities and benefits that a connected society can offer to our economy and citizens. We need to leverage current investments, multiple technologies and resources to ensure we develop a comprehensive and fulsome strategy relative to delivering scalable and sustainable networks to all Canadians. While it may seem ambitious a minimum target for services should be 10Mbps to the home. Such a target can be reached. The network that meets such an objective must have the ability to scale at a affordable rate and in an efficient manner. We must focus on creating networks that can grow to meet future demands. We have to understand what investments may be available for use and create an open network focused on delivering the path and let service providers focus on services.
We need government to ensure that we can provide the opportunity to all Canadians regardless of location to participate in a Digital Economy and have access to education, health, government and endless other services as we progress through the 21st Century.
As we proceed into the second decade of the 21st Century we are grappling with the issues of a new era where we live in the Knowledge Economy. It is hard to know exactly what that is when there is still a need for the production of goods, which are not all necessarily dependent on this Knowledge Economy.
It is clear however that Canada is not a leader as we enter this new decade. While there are tremendous activities and businesses within Canada, we are not leading the Digital Economy from a global perspective.
In the document Improving Canada's Digital Advantage the government has posed several consultation questions in different theme areas. It is important to recognize however that the areas are not simply synergistic, they are dependent upon each other. How will we create the most effective participation in a global environment if we do not have all the elements active and healthy? For instance without a widely deployed, affordable network infrastructure how will we develop the most capacity to innovate, increase the spread of digital media and expand our base of digital content. Truly, the opportunity to create content is everywhere, but unfortunately the ability to access networks and share those opportunities does not exist everywhere. In addition, the affordability differences and performance differences between network operators and between rural and urban are dramatic. It will be important for the government to realize that while pursuing all theme areas is important to improving our digital economy, it is also necessary to look at the dependencies and plan accordingly.
A model such as Porter's Competitive Advantage of Nations might be an appropriate tool for the efforts Industry Canada is completing to structure their policies and program recommendations. This model was formulated after reviewing over 800 case studies globally to understand the patterns of success for industries within countries/regions.
A nation's competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade. Companies gain advantage against the world's best competitors because of pressure and challenge. They benefit from having strong domestic rivals, aggressive home-based suppliers, and demanding local customers.
Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review, March/April 2009
In this model Porter defines four broad attributes of a nation that as a system that establishes the playing field in which each nation operates its industries. The four attributes are:
- "Factor Conditions. The nation's Position in factors of production, such as skilled labor or infrastructure necessary to compete in a given industry."
- Demand Condition. The nature of home-market demand for industry's products or services.
- Related and Supporting Industries. The presence or absence in the nation of supplier industries and other related industries that are internationally competitive.
- Firm Strategy, Structure and Rivalry. The conditions in the nation governing how companies are created, organized and managed, as well as domestic rivalry." Ibid
One of the aspects that is important in this model is that the four attributes interwork and form a system that supports the nations industries and companies. There are elements in each attribute which are either influenced or directed by laws, policies or enhanced by government programs. In addition it is worth noting that factor conditions focus on elements related to skills and education as well as underlying infrastructure. Without the right mix and development of factor conditions it is hard for a nation to develop a competitive advantage in a global economy.
It is our thesis therefore, that without adequate broadband infrastructure, education and skills development on a national basis, it will be difficult for Canada to gain a global advantage in a Digital world. Satisfying elements within the other attributes are also required, however these foundation elements will be the basis for growth and development in the future.
Actionable Intelligence Inc. has selected to focus our answers on questions related to Building a World Class Digital Infrastructure.
What speeds and other service characteristics are needed by users (e.g., consumers, businesses, public sector bodies) and how should Canada set goals for next generation networks?
There has been extensive debate about what is required. International research indicates that there are different expectations of what is acceptable in urban areas, with less criteria for rural areas. This is questionable. Many of the largest advantages of the implementation of digital services will be accrued in rural areas. Displacing travel requirements and costs with the ability of high quality, reliable video conferencing (which includes education, health, business and government opportunities) is a business case in itself. Yet those costs are highest per user in rural areas where there is a greater distance to travel to acquire services and less practitioners/institutions offering the services.
In the document "Need for Speed" (The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, 2009), the authors provide the following chart relative to speeds required by users as follows
|Application||Upstream Speed||Downstream Speed|
|Medium Resolution Videoconferencing (640 x 480P)||384-1200 Kbps||384-1200 Kbps|
|Streaming Video (720p)||1.2 – 4 Mbps|
|Standard-Definition Digital Television (72Ox480 Interlaced)||4 Mbps|
|Basic HD Videoconferencing (1280x720 resolution)||1.2 – 4 Mbps||1.2 – 4 Mbps|
|Telepresence: High-Resolution HD Videoconferencing (192Ox1080 resolution)||5 Mbps||5 Mbps|
|Video Home Security Service||10 Mbps|
|High-Definition (HD) Digital Television (144Ox 1080 Intalaced)||15 Mbps|
|Telepresence: Very High-Resolution HD Videoconfaencing (576Ox 1080)||15 Mbps||15 Mbps|
It is clear to see that Telepresence requires 5 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth. While this seems reasonable, this is not the most common service purchased by citizens today. While some organizations and corporations may be capable of purchasing such services the cost is well beyond the means of most small businesses and home users. Yet telepresence is an excellent example of a service which could truly enhance the e-health delivery initiatives.
In fact most citizens today cannot purchase symmetrical services at all. And while many of us can purchase "download speeds up to" 6 Mbps or higher, many do not achieve that service level consistently or at all.
What speed Canadians need is that which will satisfy the basic service needs. But defining those needs is dependent not solely on understanding the entertainment industry (which has driven much demand to date for high speed services) but services related to health, education, and other businesses applications (also it is important to recognize that we are not able to accurately forecast all the potential future applications that may exist). More importantly it is more fundamental to ensure that any networks that are placed to delivery services can scale adequately with reasonable costs. This is especially crucial in rural areas where many people today lack the basic services which were being offered 10 years ago in urban areas. And in those ten years urban areas have seen at least 2 service speed step increases and are now being offered not only much higher speeds but all new technology. Rural areas have not even received some of the first technology. This lack of critical infrastructure has not only impeded the ability to compete (see Porter reference above) but has hastened skills and educational development opportunities based on digital literacy in many areas. The following demonstrates the types of services which Canadians are eager to have:
|Consumer and Business|
|IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)|
|Ultra High-Definition Video Streaming|
|Video on Demand|
|Online and Cloud-based Gaming|
|Smart Homes, Buildings and Appliances|
|Sharing High-Resolution Digital Images|
|Remote Computer Aided Design (CAD)|
|3D Graphics Rendering Server Farms|
|Remote Networkr Management/Managed Services|
|Virtuall Collaboration Spaces|
|Virtuall Sports (Sports at a Distance)|
|Intelligent Transportation Applications|
|First Responder Networks|
|Emergency Dispatch and Coordination|
|Webcast Agency Meetings (e.g. Congressional Hearings)|
|Remote Patient Monitoring|
|Remote Medical Imaging|
|Grid Computing for Medical Research|
|Education and Research|
|Digital Content Repositories and Distribution|
|*The Need for Speed, ITIF, 2009|
Canadians will need at least 10 Mbps to the home within 5 years and all infrastructures that are placed should be scalable to at least 25Mbps or higher with minimal incremental investments. Rural areas need to be prioritized (the current National program is making progress but most players make not be able to offer 5Mbps with equipment being placed) and not left to the will of service providers. There is almost no business case in rural areas for providers to place adequate technology. The Eastern Ontario Warden's Caucus applied to funds under Build Canada and will build one of the most advanced networks for rural citizens in North America and perhaps the world (Build Canada will provide $55Million, Ontario will provide $55Million, Municipalities will provide $10M and the remainder will come from private sector). All providers consulted indicated they could not build a network that is current in urban areas without government funding support. This network will support over 1 Million users and has targeted a speed of 10Mbps to the home as the minimum requirement.
Goals for Next Generation Networks – NGNs need to be scalable and deliver highest quality and reliable service. It is important to know the limitations of all technology types and the costs associated with placing technology. Upgrades/enhancements and replacements are always required, but some technologies are easier and more cost effective to upgrade. Making selections may mean higher upfront costs but create a network with a much higher life cycle and thus reducing the Total Life Cycle costs and creating the best return on capital. The Goals should be to create the most robust, effective network and solve delivery issues unique to the Canadian environment.
Steps to achieve goals – It will be necessary for Private sector and government to work together to achieve these goals. While dense urban areas provide the necessary revenue base to make sustainable and profitable businesses for providers many rural areas need assistance. Private and public sector need to work together to understand what and where the limitations are and the potential viable answers that may exist to resolve those issues. Public sector should look to many different models and sources of information. Internationally there have been many different approaches to placing broadband networks and some are driven by private sector and others are more similarly aligned to the P3 models. A model that is uniquely Canadian may be required.
Again the Eastern Ontario Warden's Regional Broadband initiative has had to grapple with fundamental issues such as existing infrastructure, competition in both carrier and ISP industry, how to best utilize government investment, contracting with private sector to meet goals and objectives and how to reach as many citizens as possible. Our endeavors have lead to new concepts in mapping populations/household density and how to best structure the network to offer opportunities for fair service competition. We have also had to consider multiple technology options necessary to ensure that as many of our citizens can acquire affordable services with minimum speed standards.
While some regulatory and legislative frameworks exist to protect consumers and citizens many were structured originally based on telecommunications networks that were monopolies and designed for universal services. The current services do not have the same history and therefore many of the situations are trying to fit the new square peg in the old round hole. We need regulation and other frameworks that can support a sensible and economically sound infrastructure (see Porter model above) and take into consideration issues with population density, terrain and technology limitations.
One of the basic considerations is the idea of a single delivery infrastructure with multiple service providers. In this country it would be considered ridiculous to have more than one road leading to every doorstep in all areas. In more dense environments there is more than one path to a single door, but at the end there is a single tributary. The analogy applies equally to broadband/internet. We require one provider to deliver the basic infrastructure to ensure that all Canadians can have access. There can be multiple service providers that can deliver key services over that path, paying the provider for utilization of the path. While this model is not unique to Canada our nation may have to evaluate it in context of the current network infrastructure, new ownership partnerships and technologies based upon household density and life cycle costing.
Steps relative to sufficient radio spectrum – In order to ensure we have sufficient spectrum it is necessary to analyze how much spectrum there is, what spectrum will likely be used and for what types of services (some frequencies are used primarily for long haul transport while others are used for access to the network). Secondly it is necessary to analyze what factors affect utilization. Building upon this comprehensive picture would lead to the opportunity to position a strategy relative to spectrum utilization that fits within the context of the Canadian environment and implementation factors which may be unique for us.
Without a comprehensive strategy focused upon delivering a specified set of services and applications it is difficult to know which implementation steps are best to support the goals. A strategy would have to know what types of infrastructure are available and when spectrum becomes a critical resource for service delivery.
How to best ensure rural and remote communities are not left behind – The reality is that rural/remote are already behind. Our programs to date have focused on delivering infrastructure which only offers the most basic of speeds defined as broadband. Some programs only incent certain types of technologies and have not had the criteria to ensure that the entire network is adequate to deliver services needed. Other programs while quoting sustainability have no criteria for life cycle terms and ensuring that providers have the profitability to reinvest. Without the ability to reinvest on their own, those providers and citizens will wait, and wait until a new program recognizes they are behind again and decided what is the best option of the day.
The first point here is that we should not believe that since rural users may seem less technology conversant that they require less speed, in many ways they require more than urban users. Thus the first – We should not be distinguishing user speeds based on location. In order to service rural areas we should be defining networks to the highest standards and expectations of life cycle replacement and affordability. Much like the concept noted above we should be developing the concept of a single delivery infrastructure and then having service providers focus on the delivery of applications. Today in rural areas we have all providers competing for very little revenue and all building independent capital networks. This has already proven to be limited, unstable and incapable of keeping pace with the urban counterparts.
In order to ensure that rural citizens and all the opportunities afforded to them are not overlooked we need more investment from government and more co-operation from private sector. The Warden's Caucus Regional Broadband program has recognized the uniqueness of the rural environment and the challenges that it faces. In addition to low population density the scenario is often encumbered by difficult terrain and obstacles such as trees interfering with transmission capabilities. This creates a picture of too little revenue for a very high infrastructure cost. Government investment is required because the Private sector has made it very clear they cannot offer to these markets based on the cost of capital required to serve them.
However, our project has also demonstrated that through open and transparent proposal process that private sector partners are willing to leverage their existing investments to create new network infrastructures that can be accessed openly by other providers to delivery end services (email, web, video, telephony, business applications etc).
The best method to not leave rural/remote areas behind is to recognize they are different and that different solutions are necessary. Rural areas offer benefits to all of our society and it is often citizens living in rural areas that have new ideas which can be leveraged in business and society. These ideas can be considered innovative in their own rights, as necessity is often the mother of invention. Strategies for rural areas should be modeled based on the needs, the environment/situation and taking into account what may be existing that can be leveraged.
The second premise to supporting rural/remote communities is to ensure that they are considered equal to their urban counterparts. The theory that rural users do not need as much is not only false but is likely the farthest from the truth. Our separation and distance are the driving factors to creating the strong need for very reliable and available communications systems. The opportunities that exist to integrate the ideas and opinions of rural citizens through the use of broadband technology are immense. The ability to reduce the cost of delivering services and accessing the knowledge of persons regardless of their location have not truly been measured and evaluated in the context of the benefits (regardless of contributing to business case or societal/governmental). As a nation we need to support our rural citizens and afford to them every opportunity to help in creating a globally competitive nation in a digital economy.
As mentioned we have chosen to focus our comments on the infrastructure. However, as noted in our introduction it is necessary to consider the relationship of all your themes and the dependencies they have upon one another. Proceeding with programs or policies in a theme area that is dependent on aspects related to a foundation that may not exist would not help satisfy the overall goal of Improving Canada's Digital Advantage. Indeed, we must take inventory of what we have, what we need and how to best to obtain our objectives in order to create all the necessary policies and programs in all areas that are fundamental to our future.