It's amazing how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. For all the talk of a brave new virtual ICT world, one ingredient remains key and upon which everything else is built – broadband!
It exploded into our lives at the beginning of the decade just as we were all getting used to ISDN (if you could afford it) and the screech of a modem as it tried to connect with the internet.
Don’t forget, we did have the internet without broadband, but we would surely not have had a ubiquitous internet unless broadband had become universally available and at the right speeds.
In the early days of broadband it was all about what it could do rather than how fast it did it.
Today it is all about speed — and the faster the better, with governments, including our own here in Northern Ireland, under pressure from businesses at home and abroad to make sure we keep up with places like Singapore or South Korea or the Scandinavian countries.
Words like ‘bit-rate’, ‘latency’ and ‘contention’ have become part of the commercial lexicon and understood relative to how slow or fast they make a connection down which data flows.
To its credit, the Northern Ireland Executive has taken the initiative and put together a MATRIX Telecoms Panel (part of the MATRIX programme set up to reinvigorate Northern Ireland’s approach to innovation and technology) that is expected shortly to report on the communications landscape — what we have, what we need and how it should all develop, over the next number of years.
These are important questions because the supremacy of broadband technology in the development of this economy is relatively undisputed. Even someone heavily involved in manufacturing is using the technology to interact with customers, project themselves into overseas markets, drive data between plants around the world, utilise cost-effective communications etc.
The ever-increasing demand for bandwidth plus the opportunities that bandwidth provides led to the Project Kelvin initiative where now Northern Ireland more than anywhere else in Europe is the nearest and fastest point to the United States. The very existence of such a superhighway has led to the possibility of Northern Ireland attracting jobs in financial services and multi-media.
Just take a look at what is happening in the Titanic Quarter if you have any doubt.
The pace of development is something that requires nimble government, where decision-making is made quickly against a known and agreed strategy.
And while it is often easy to knock our politicians and senior civil servants against a background of cuts and apparent economic inertia, the executive seems to ‘get’ ICT.
Their heads are in the clouds — and for the right reasons!