tl;dr The best thing I think that could be done for accelerating smaller startups in Tech City could well be to persuade providers to provide Fibre to the Cabinet and/or Fibre optic broadband.
Today Mike Butcher gets to talk to the GLA about the importance of broadband to the tech startup industry in London and I just wanted to add a few of my comments.
We’ve all heard the horror stories in the past about how long it takes to get a line installed, how slow the broadband is. Some of us even have the war wounds to prove it and have had to go to some quite ridiculous lengths to get almost acceptable broadband at an almost acceptable price.
There is a product which could fix many things quite simply. That product is Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) or Infinity as BT call it. It’s a patch onto the existing copper network. For the majority of the distance the signal has to travel it does so over fibre optic. It comes into the home/business on the conventional existing copper wire with conventional but slightly upgraded socket. It has some of the distance from cabinet issues which are analagous to distance to the exchange for conventional ADSL and ADSL2 but the quality is more than good enough for early stage startups, and those in my opinions are the ones we really need to help. When you’re out of angel/early stage you can afford a leased line, before then it’s impossible/very risky.
It is available domestically in many residential areas in London and is available in places such as Oxford. I know this from experience as our office runs very well on FTTC. Using commodity speed testing tools such as Speedtest.net we regularly get ping times of 15ms, about 36Mbps down and about 1.6Mbps up. We’re about 100 yards from the cabinet we’re connected to. We had to wait about a month for it, we’re on a 12 month contract and it costs about £36 pounds per month. The theoretical maximum is 38Mbps. There is an improved version which is being rolled out in some places which gives 76Mbps.
We’ve found it’s fine. On days when we’ve had four people in our little office working on a soon to be released product it’s coped just fine. No one has complained, nothing has slowed down and Spotify has carried on playing. I’m guestimating you could probably support a team of 10-20 on it comfortably.
One of the biggest fallacies that floats around about business needs of startups and broadband is that of symmetry. That you need or want as much bandwidth upstream as you have coming down. I have no idea why in the majority of tech startups this would be the case, especially as more and more startups move more and more of their infrastructure to the cloud. I can see that media businesses would need symmetry, but most startups aren’t media businesses.
With source control there are significantly more downloads than uploads when you have a team size of greater than one. When you deploy you tend to only do it to one place only and even in continuous deployment situations you aren’t constantly deploying, especially with deploy tools such as those on AppEngine which only push the changed files. We’ve noticed no problems in this so far on FTTC.
Email within companies much of it is more about download than upload, when you’re working with cloud email providers such as GMail and you send an email to the whole team, download speed is more crucial than upload speed. Very rarely will everyone reply exactly at once. The same with document hosting and calendaring.
All you really want is fast uploads and faster downloads. 1.6Mbps is pretty good for uploads.
The current situation in Tech City for small companies comes down to this:
- On one hand you can accept poor quality highly contended ADSL or at best ADSL2 and spend less upfront. You’ll have a shorter contract and a lower monthly bill, but be constantly frustrated.
- On the other hand you can spend some of your hard earned investment on the upfront install costs for a leased line (large sum of money), wait a fairly long while (about 3 months) for it to be installed and then pay a significantly higher monthly cost for it. If you grow and you need to move then you’ll have to do it all over again and you may have to try and negotiate your way out of a contract.
In both cases you will probably wonder a lot why your office connectivity is slower than what you have at home and in the latter case will ponder if it’s worth it, or if that spend is significantly reducing your runway or what resources you could have bought in instead of it.
Or you could move. We did, not for the broadband, but it’s working out well on that front. We can’t really claim we’re a part of Tech City any more though.