Chicken or Egg – Broadband or PSN?
February 11, 2011 in Adrian's tech blog
As Local Authorities around the country are beginning to scramble to prepare for the BD-UK competitions, a question seems to be hanging over everyone and is largely going unanswered: Which comes first – the PSN or the broadband?
A good number of local authorities are rolling their internal networking needs into the wider infrastructure project, which is tending to result in a PSN process leading the strategy and a fairly traditional procurement exercise ensuing. But its not clear to me that this is always the best approach.
Certainly the public sector is normally one of the biggest customers of broadband in any geography, and knowing that there is a willing anchor tenant certainly improves the business case but using the PSN as the basis for the procurement isn’t quite the same thing – the combined weight of the SME and consumer markets are considerably larger than the combined weight of the public sector, so procuring the network in the image of the smaller stakeholder doesn’t seem to make sense.
The case for broadband infrastructure can be made with or without the immediate custom of the public sector, while the existence of a next generation infrastructure will certainly make the procurement of a PSN easier and more powerful. Adding the promise of public sector business alongside that of local businesses and domestic customers helps the case – it doesn’t make it alone.
So if the public sector is seen as one of the stakeholders rather than the lead, how does this change the approach?
For any number of reasons, the procurement of a PSN means a traditional procurement exercise with a single county-wide winner. There is a relatively small pool of possible winners, all from the more traditional end of the market – it would be unlikely that Rutland Telecom or Vtesse, for example, would seriously consider bidding for a PSN contract, yet they are two of the most innovative network operators in the UK today and have demonstrated their ability to provide the kind of platform on which a flexible and high-speed PSN might be based.
Each locality will need to adopt its own approach, reflecting local needs and opportunities, as it prepares to bid for BD-UK cash. This may, in some areas, lead to a single big contract being awarded but its not the only approach, and its not one that easily meets the diverse needs of many geographies.
A more nuanced approach is likely to lead to some kind of framework, made up of a variety of providers coming together with a diverse set of stakeholders, each with their own needs and capabilities.
One such approach might adopt the LEP process, with communities or parishes that naturally associate with each other joining forces as combined elements in a county-wide framework.
- Some of these areas will have money to invest;
- Some may be happy to sign pre-orders as collateral;
- Some will dig the trenches;
- While others will race for infinity.
Such a framework will attract a wider range of bidders, greater scope for investment, and a more creative solution able to optimise every inch of every county.
A PSN built on such a rich and diverse infrastructure, based on known and existing standards, will generate a greater scope for service transformation and the development of stronger partnerships with local people and businesses.
For me, the broadband comes first – the PSN is one of its anchors.