Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ten cities for Wi-Fi MANs

The UK chancellor announced in his budget today a commitment to funding wifi in the ten largest cities in the UK.  Of course, at this point there's no details on when and how users will get access to these MANs (Metropolitan Area Networks) - note he didn't say "free wi-fi" - however I think this should be applauded as a powerful investment in the IT infrastructure of the UK and is another boost for WiFi itself as the future of wireless networking, especially as discussions over 4G carry on their slow path (see previous blog entry "WiFi Nearly Everywhere" ).

Of course, I could moan that they are ignoring the rural areas (and, no doubt I will), but honestly where did we expect them to start? It has to be the largest cities.  Though he offers £50million for smaller areas too, so no doubt rural areas can bid for a part of that.

So, good work Mr. Chancellor.  Vendors - let's get this stuff installed.

Other cities/towns and yes even villages take note and its time to consider investing in Wi-Fi like you do in street lights and pavements, what about a solar-panel and wind-powered unit to sit on the top of all of our churches "surf and pray"?  The rest of us should keep buying Wi-Fi enabled devices, use our devices wherever we can, applaud those organisations that offer Wi-Fi services and march together to the always-on community we know is the future.


See below for the chancellor's statement:

To be Europe’s technology centre we also need the best technology infrastructure. 

Two years ago Britain had some of the slowest broadband speeds in Europe; today our plans will deliver some of the fastest – with 90 per cent of the population having access to superfast broadband, and improved mobile phone coverage for rural areas and along key roads across the UK.
But we should not be complacent by saying it is enough to be the best in Europe when countries like Korea and Singapore do even better.
So today we’re funding ultra fast broadband and wifi in ten of the UK’s largest cities.
Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and London.
My HF for Brighton Kempton asked me to help small cities too – no doubt with his own city in mind.

I agree. £50m will be available for smaller cities too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Banks - the next victims of the Internet?

Quiz of the Day:

What did eBay do for local newspaper small ads?
What did Amazon do for bookshops?
What did Amazon do (again) for music shops?
What did Wikipedia do to Encyclopaedia Britannia?
What is YouTube increasingly doing to TV broadcasters?
And when musicians can sell their music directly to the fans, who needs record companies?
How about the Internet generally shining a massive light beam on any organisation that is inefficient and charging its customers more for a product with little differentiation from their more efficient competitors?
You could add Google and Facebook compared to the advertising model of TV companies and, of course, the news web sites are busy eating their own lunch and killing their paper-based parents.

OK, so you've read this all before; the Internet is great, Nigel's loves it, it changes everything, no old business model is safe, be aware and either embrace the new reality or be run over...

Meanwhile, in retail banking it seems nothing has much changed for hundreds of years.  We trust our banks to take our salary each month, they hold it for us and pay us a pittance while if we want to borrow they charge us a high interest rate and pocket the difference.  As I know people who used to or still do work in the banking industry (and having had a recent debacle with my own bank that took 3 hours on the phone before they grudgingly admitted they had lost some of my money), they seem blind to competition at the moment, paying each other nice fat bonuses, annoying almost everyone in the world in the process - will the Internet run them over?

Some people think so.

Just think - you might be sitting with money in your account earning 1% in interest and next-door to you lives someone else who wants to buy a car and is about to pay 15% to borrow your money from the bank you've just deposited in.  Could we do something more efficient than this?  What if someone can connect you and your neighbour together more efficiently?

For a few years, there have been a few peer-to-peer lending organisations, basically doing to banks what eBay has done for unusual items - if the seller and buyer can find each other and cut out the middle-man then it should be cheaper (a smaller spread between lender and borrower), so the borrower pays a lower rate of interest, the lender gets a higher rate of interest and everyone wins (except the banks).

Distintermediation wins again.

So, I tried it.  Now I'm not going to say whether I am a borrower or lender, however I have joined the ranks of the largest UK-based P2P lender - Zopa and have to say it seems to be working a treat.  This will be a new market to watch; like eating the first oyster, whoever was first to lend was a brave person, but Zopa has now been trading for 7 years, has lent over 178Million pounds and claims to have 2% of the UK personal loans market.

The clever bit is that even though they make the underwriting decisions, the money is actually lent from the  lender to the borrower, so if Zopa were to fail, they don't take the money with them.  The danger, of course, is if their underwriting decisions are not robust enough it is your money that they are lending.  On the other hand, they publish all their previous history on their web site (ask your bank about its lending to the sub-prime market, Greece etc. and see if they give you a spreadsheet of their losses - No? Somehow I thought not), so if they publish everything and have nothing to hide that in itself should give us confidence.

So, I guess I should add in the disclaimer that I am not a financial advisor and am not making any representations on behalf of Zopa or anyone else (the next two P2P lending companies in the UK are Funding Circle and Ratesetter and there are a few others too), but hopefully they will be successful and challenge the banks to be more efficient in their lending, who knows - we could see the gap between borrowing and lending rates fall and the world will be a better place for all.

The odd thing for me is that the people protesting about the banks behaviour over the last few years just seem to be waving placards and not promoting something to take the place of the banks, though perhaps I have missed it.  Not that this is a political blog, but if they wanted to make an impact, perhaps they should put their financial affairs in this type of place and either borrow or lend to Zopa or other P2P lenders themselves.

For more info, see for yourself here:

Friday, March 9, 2012

A personal example of Big Data crunching

I saw Stephen Wofram's blog entry where he published analytics of his life for the last 33 years of emails, telephone calls, calendar entries etc.

At first, some people may wonder whether this has any benefit and what the data analytics are for, but I think it shows firstly the sort of data that can be graphed and (having always loved graphics more than text myself) the greater benefits are from seeing visually any long-term trends and allow the individual to decide whether to change some things that they do (emails on a Friday night, perhaps).

For the rest of us, it has information too.  For example, there have been discussions on when to email or tweet for maximum impact, with a large dataset we could see when users tend to be at email already and also when other emails aren't being sent, perhaps both can help show the most productive times.

We can see when meetings are set - knowing a target's norms allows you to fit in with them.

Changes in behaviour over time can also be shown - personally I'd love to know what percentage of emails I bother to open, what number I read on a mobile device and whether I do or don't download the images - I am sure the percentage of fully-read emails has reduced over time.

I think in the workplace one very useful piece of data could be the ratio between meetings and "non-meetings", I wonder sometimes how some people manage to achieve anything at all if they have 6 back-to-back meetings each day, as there's so little time to actually perform the actions agreed.

So, though reading his blog may at first make you wonder whether it is useful, I think its a great indication of what can be gleaned and if we multiply that data by every individual in an organisation, it can show the best time for internal meetings, the best way of communicating, the types and methods of communication being used - first get the data, then analyse it, then look for patterns and make the difficult jump between facts, data and information.

Of course, he has the benefit of using the same systems for many years - for most of us bouncing between jobs and various email addresses, phones etc. we probably don't have the data itself.  So, step one is to make sure the data is being tracked and archived, even if we can't work out how to extract the value today, that may come in months of year's in the future.

Someone once said, the best way to find a needle in a haystack is to remove all the hay and what you are left with is the needle.  Step two is then crunching the numbers and looking for the patterns that are useful.

Call me a geek, but I think its rather fascinating.