High quality, symmetric, low cost networks are the bedrock underpinning much economic and social activity.
We caught up with Malcolm Corbett, CEO of The Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), to discuss everything from connectivity goals to broadband and LTE.
For our readers who aren’t aware, can you provide an overview of INCA’s operations?
A) INCA is the trade association for the Altnet sector, the companies building new fibre and wireless networks. Our members include many of the best known companies in the sector including City Fibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, UK Broadband and a host of wireless operators. We also have some of the big brands like Sky and Vodafone.
The theme of Broadband World 2016 is ‘helping the industry achieve connectivity goals by 2020’. How do you view INCA contributing to this mission?
INCA members are building the new digital infrastructure networks. Over the next few years this is set to grow. There has been a clear shift in public policy and the regulatory environment, as consumers and businesses demand higher speed, ultra-fast networks – and more fibre to the premises. INCA members are making a big contribution towards those goals in cities and rural areas. Effectively the altnets are becoming a third competitor to BT and Virgin Media.
In your opinion what will we see next in the Broadband and LTE space?
LTE I’m less familiar with, but clearly it is increasingly valuable to people, simply because we want to have access to data on the move. LTE provides the bandwidth we increasingly need wherever we are. In terms of fixed broadband, I think there’s an increasing awareness that we need to have more capable networks offering better services at really good prices, and essentially that really means more fibre to the premises (FTTP). FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) is preferred by incumbents, extending the life of the copper network, whereas in general new entrants build entirely new fibre (FTTP) or wireless networks.
What are the things that excite you about the advent of faster broadband and internet connectivity?
High quality, symmetric, low cost networks are the bedrock underpinning much economic and social activity. I benefit from a 1gbs symmetric connection in my home/office from Hyperoptic. All of INCA’s small team works from home, so good broadband is essential to us as it is for many small businesses. What an ultrafast connection really means is everything just works, whether you are working, whether it’s watching a TV program or uploading files to slide share. With symmetric upload speeds Google Drive, Dropbox, SlideShare, Apple i-Cloud are now effectively on my desk. Fast download, equally fast upload and low latency are amongst the key attributes of a truly 21st century comms infrastructure.
By investing in these networks we improve the way we do things now, but also open up opportunities for completely new services and applications. That is really exciting.
What are three pieces of advice for someone working on a project with the size and scope of INCA, such as putting together a National Framework for Local Action?
The main project we’re working on at the moment is to develop a much more ambitious program for FTTP and high speed wireless services for the UK as a whole, that’s what we’re focusing on which is bringing together all our members, what that means in practice is what contributions they can make.
If you’re going to try and do something like INCA, if you’re going to set up any kind of association from scratch with a comparatively new sector of businesses then be prepared to be in a long start-up phase.
My 3 pieces of advice:
1. Be prepared to work very, very hard for very little reward, certainly in the early stages because you are doing something new before people even think it’s relevant.
2. You’ve got to have real belief in the mission as well, and it’s got to be a mission which for us is something that our members buy into. We live or die on the basis of our member’s as their association.
3. I think it’s important for any business to demonstrate how you are delivering real value to people who are the customers, in that case our members, and trying to understand how best to do that is not easy in the early stages. We’ve worked out what that means now and hopefully we are doing it.
What are the difficulties / barriers INCA experiences in its day to day operations?
The way we operate, we keep things very light. There are no huge financial liabilities on the organisation – e.g. we don’t have an office – we all work from home. In terms of day-to-day operations we have a very engaged board, so the INCA team includes paid and unpaid staff (board members) who are doing it for their interests and interests of the broader organisation.
As an organisation that operates on behalf of its members it’s really important to us that our members succeed. Seeing companies like CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, UKB and ITS growing is important to INCA. It has taken time to get the sector taken seriously but that is now happening.
What are INCA’s goals for the rest of 2016?
Our main goals for the rest of this year is to consolidate some of the progress we’ve made and to start to articulate a vision of where the UK needs to be in terms of digital connectivity in the next 5 – 10 years, and that is a more ambitious vision of where the UK needs to be than is currently discussed by BT certainly and to some extent government. I think we’re starting to push with the grain, certainly in terms of some of the things that Ministers and policy makers are saying, such as much more Fibre to the Premises – something which we support. For the rest of this year what we will be doing is starting to articulate and flesh out what a much more ambitious vision for the UK is and what digital connectivity looks like over the next few years.
What are you looking forward to seeing at the Broadband World Forum at the Excel Centre in London in October?
I’m very much interested in seeing Minister Ed Vaizey’s speaking at the main conference and also doing a Q&A at the conference we are running alongside BBWF. We’re running our own annual conference with the Broadband World Forum, which is the first time we’ve done that, so I think that’s going to be quite fun.
BBWF is a very important and useful event; I’ve been to several of them. I think it’s going to be interesting the extent to which some of the big vendors and service providers and operators are interested in learning more about this new alt-net sector in the UK is actually doing and is capable of doing, I’m really intrigued by the conversations that can take place between some of the big global players and some of the new guys.
I’m really interested in what conversations are going to take place between some of the big vendors and service providers and operators who attend BBWF, and the new guys to see what relationships start to emerge and discussions which lead to a better understanding of the sector, I think it’s a good opportunity, really good opportunity.
Broadband World Forum 2016
If you’d like to find out more about this year’s event, please visit the Broadband World Forum website.