When we imagine our future world, we don’t waste any bandwidth at all considering whether or not it will have ubiquitous connectivity. Of course it will. Whether we’re hoverboarding to our talking bus stops, monitoring a relative in her instrumented home, or indeed doing them both simultaneously, we assume connectivity.
Have we accepted connectivity as a universal good, assumed it is a universal service like postal deliveries? If we have, then like postal deliveries, we accept variation but do assume a level of universal service provision.
And therein lies the rub. What sort of “universal” provision do we imagine and what variation are we prepared to accept? In a world with a burgeoning number of connected devices consuming and producing tera, peta, zeta bytes of data not only will we need a different approach to the infrastructure supporting the technology but also the rules which govern which users and devices have priority. (Or should we allow people to pay to have uninterrupted data streams but risk ambulances losing signal mid-consultation with a hospital?)
Of course, there aren’t a complete set of answers to these questions or even a complete set of technologies to ask them. We are, however, moving in to a world where data visualisation enables more scenario modelling, trade-off visualisation and the measurement of outcomes against intentions. So imagine talking to your neighbours in front of a model of your village with all the masts in place to deliver hyper-fast connectivity. Imagine being able to move them and see the impact on your connectivity and the cost of implementation. Imagine, for a moment, that you can agree on the best solution. If you can do that at least you can hold the service provider to account when the connectivity is less than the promise.
Connectivity in rural areas will be more expensive to provide than it is in densely populated areas where advertising space can also be sold to subsidise it. But if we assume universal provision we need to address questions like; what is a minimum acceptable level of service, what is the best infrastructure to support connectivity and, crucially, what will it cost?
We at Ordnance Survey are proud to be able to support groups seeking to tackle these questions. We’ve seen how broadband speeds vary across the country, (even apparently within single buildings, see picture); we’ve analysed how to get fibre from ducts to front doors; and we are working with the Met Office and University of Surrey to better understand how 5G signal will be delivered. Where once it was acceptable to work off a map we are entering a new world of 3D representations and machine consumption of data.
In idle moments I speculate that we don’t really need connectivity in the real world, we can all just slip in to the virtual representation and hoverboard away.
Guest blog from Miranda Sharp, Head of Smart Cities Practice at Ordnance Survey for techUK's "Good to Great Connectivity for the UK" Week.