Do you know which is the UK’s first gigabyte city – be patient and wait for the punchline…it’s worth it?

Silicon Fen Cambridge, the nation’s answer to Silicon Valley?

Perhaps it’s Manchester, given the recent explosion in digital companies in the Greater Manchester area?

Surely it’s London: with tech giants such as Google and Facebook choosing to invest in the city?

The crown should actually be laid on the head of Peterborough:

  • Which was the UK’s first gigabyte city (2013)
  • Was awarded the World ‘Smart City of the Year’ in 2015.

Some might be surprised to learn that Peterborough has a city-wide fibre network which connects hospitals, schools and a growing number of commercial customers.

WARNING to those who are uncomfortable travellers in Byte-land…. the city offers the organisations and people of Peterborough a 1000-megabyte (Mbps) connection for both upload and download … in plain English and to give this unfathomable fact context, Vodafone recently announced that it is taking on Virgin Media and BT Broadband with its:

  • Superfast 1 package (25Mbps) and
  • Superfast 2 package (55Mbps).

1000 vs 55 … if this was boxing match, the towel would have been thrown in.

End of story?

Actually no: the problem is that:

  • Armed with our smart phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, digital TVs, etc we all demand the right to total connectivity, anytime, anywhere, any device (20 years ago, who would have thought we would be watching the darts live on our phone?)
  • So do the other 7.6bn people in the world – do you know there are almost 1.3bn people in India and almost 1.3bn mobile phones
  • By 2050 there will be 11bn of us, all demanding connectivity – and, given the fact that 80% of us will be urban dwellers, what is now an inconvenience will be a debilitating commercial and domestic handicap.

Does the answer therefore lie in the streets of Peterborough and Chattanooga Tennessee - one of the first cities in the world to roll out a full fibre network?

Or does it lie in 5G, 6G, 7G, etc?

Perhaps this is one of those Sony Walkman moments – the arrival of an unprecedented technology?

I recently discovered the existence of Li-Fi – the transmission of data using light waves rather than radio waves (i.e. Wi-Fi). Why is this important? Because light waves travel over 1,000 times faster than radio waves. Plus, every LED light bulb can be deployed as a transmitter (think router).

Greater urbanisation means more homes and places of work … more light bulbs … better connectivity and Eureka, the growing needs of the global ‘connectivity is my right’ population are met.

However, (yes, this silver lining has a cloud), there are two mountains on the road to Nirvana:

  1. Li-Fi development appears to still be at quite a nascent stage
  2. In a cursory flick through the Government’s 2017 Industrial Strategy White Paper, I noticed that £176m had been earmarked for 5G and a further £200m for local area fibre networks.

Why nothing about Li-Fi?

Who knows, perhaps one-day Professor Harold Haas, the grandfather of optical wireless communications (i.e. Li-Fi) will stand, shoulder to shoulder, in the pantheon dedicated to people who changed the course of history, next to Louis Pasteur, Henry Ford, Emmeline Pankhurst and Clive Woodward.