Can “Breakout Nations” use ‘leapfrog’ innovations?

31 07 2012

Chris van der Hoven writes:

The UK government is debating whether speed, or access to broadband are more worthy uses of tax payers money. They compare connectivity speeds between the UK and Western Europe, but… …Dr. Peter Cochrane (ex-CTO of BT) says that’s not a useful comparison. He has recently travelled to various countries around the world – notably the USA and Korea and says THEY are the proper competitive benchmark.

Connectivity is incredibly important and an example used by Dr. Cochrane is Cloud Computing. Basically, access to super fast computers would become imminently affordable to start-ups and SMEs through Cloud Computing. This is enabled by connectivity and could be an engine for growth. Start-ups and SMEs are energetic, creative, risk taking and exploratory in their endevours. They are not held back by the processes, policies and governance required to reduce errors and improve efficiencies – as so often true in established firms trying to lock out competition through improved business model fit. So, as a platform for national growth, the UK government could do well to focus on both speed AND access.

To put the speed contest into perspective though, Singapore already has 1Gbps, the UK is targeting more than 100Mbs and South Africa manages 10Mbs average. Mobile was used in most of Africa to ‘leapfrog’ inadequate hardwired telephone cable infrastructure. However, mobile speeds are well behind fibreoptic solutions on speed. Thankfully, some breakout nation governments are making sure that connectivity investment is bundled with other infrastructure investment. Hopefully the Lekki Free Trade Zone and the Eko Atlantic City developments near Lagos in Nigeria will demonstrate the benefits. Research shows a correlation between fixed infrastructure investment and per capita growth in GDP. This was demonstrated in Africa by Mauritius with per capita GDP growth of 9% in 2000 and in the global recession only down to 4.11% in 2011.

The rise of CGi in the film industry and the sudden appearance of Bollywood demonstrate the global impact of technology. In rural communities (especially where poverty is high and literacy low), there are numerous empowering prospects for the use of very similar technologies. Remote medical services, security through networked CCTV, YouTube style instruction videos in local languages to help individuals and communities with access to government services, all require access and connection speed to be usable. There are also a miriad of disruptive opportunities – serving new customers with low cost, accessable and simple solutions – if only the bottleneck of access and speed can be overcome.

Currently, investment in connectivity in Asia, Africa and South America is largely concentrated in urban centers. In more remote areas, users pay up and use mobile dongles with their laptops and Amazon Kindle users with 3G connectivity have no problem as long as they are within range of mobile towers.  Given the scale of investment required for fibreoptic over longer distances and for less dense populations, I rather hope that at least 10% of R&D spend is going into connectivity technology that could potentially ‘leapfrog’ fibreoptics?

To see one of Peter Cochrane’s articles check out:;content




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