Henry Ford once said that if he’d asked people what they really wanted, they would’ve said “faster horses”. It’s true that sometimes you don’t know what you want until you’ve got it. In the same way that it took people a while to get their heads around the idea of a car rather than a horse, it’s requiring a mindset shift for people to jump on board the ultrafast fibre wagon.
But we’re starting to see a shift in attitude about internet speeds, from ‘copper is good enough for now’ to ‘yes please – and the sooner, the better’.
True, there’s been some resistance to the uptake of fibre around the country and we’ve heard all the myths – ‘it’s expensive’, ‘it’s not that much faster’, ‘the installation is messy and will cost a bomb’.
None of that’s true though, and word-of-mouth reports from those who are experiencing quicker speeds are starting to shift perceptions – and increase demand.
Remember the old days of dia lup internet? You could actually walk away and make a cup of tea while that ‘ba-doinggg, ba-doinggg, eeeeerrrrk’ noise crackled away in the background. Downloading a 1MB photo was an event in itself.
Back then, it took some work to shift people off dialup and onto broadband (remember the days when broadband was considered progressive?!) but now nobody in their right mind would go back. People got used to working around the technology and it’s the same thing with copper – whether it’s ADSL or VDSL – at the moment.
Unless you’ve been having a really bad experience with copper, you often think that, well, it’s fine for now. Then the family comes home after work and gets online – some houses can now have over 10 devices connected, which is huge – and the mass slowdown begins.
But while copper is affected by the number of people using the network, fibre isn’t a shared experience. It doesn’t matter if your whole street is connected to fibre – you’re still going to get that speed.
It’s clear that perceptions are moving – and fast. Businesses in particular are seeing the benefits, such as forgoing expensive server systems and software in favour of the cloud, and that’s translating to greater profits and streamlined processes.
In some sectors, such as medicine, it’s opening up huge possibilities. Imagine a radiologist in a small town whose workload is overwhelming, who can now send files anywhere around the country in order to ease the burden, get a second opinion, or access expert knowledge. (And imagine trying that on dialup!)
And in the same way you don’t know what you want til you get it, you also don’t know what you’re going to need until it’s too late.
When we built the electricity system, nobody imagined we’d one day have hairdryers, microwaves and computers hooked up to it. It’s the same with fibre. The future is here already and it’s time to plug in.
Maxine Elliot is chief executive of Ultrafast Fibre.