Proof that high-speed fibre is the “mummy” of all broadband

Nigel and Helen StrudwickNigel Strudwick, a member of the University of Cambridge, and his wife, Helen, associate curator of Egyptian Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, have found that the arrival of superfast broadband in their home village of Whaddon has provided a major boost for their studies and research.

Upgrading from internet speeds of 2 megabits per second (Mbps) to 53 Mbps has allowed them to collaborate on academic projects and work more closely with colleagues internationally. It has also helped with more day-to-day activities, such as completing tax returns and computer software updates.

Prior to the upgrade, both Nigel and Helen found doing any collaborative work or completing books with colleagues overseas and publishers in the UK was a real challenge. Nigel explains: “My wife had to complete an exhibition catalogue for the Fitzwilliam Museum shortly before our fibre broadband went live, and while she did some of it at work using the University network, she worked from home to be able to concentrate properly.  Getting 60-100Mb high resolution image files to and from the servers was pretty tough. We had to leave the download running overnight and even then, by morning, it would frequently have just timed out.”

Contrast this with Nigel’s own book which he has just completed, with the fibre broadband enabled. Nigel says: “I’ve been able to get extra images with ease, and I’ve been swapping proofs and drafts comfortably with contributors in the US, Egypt and the UK. The final files totalled about 250Mb and these were easily uploaded via Dropbox to transfer to the publisher. Now, the faster broadband saves us hours; we don’t have to wait anymore and doing collaborative work is straightforward. We will go to the computer for anything, knowing that we should get it pretty quickly, and we feel far more a part of the online world, and closer to our colleagues abroad. I also remotely supervise a student in Sydney, and the problem there is not the technology but the time zone difference!”

The fibre broadband is helping to support and stimulate village life in Whaddon, and around 70 per cent of households and businesses in the village have now made the upgrade, even higher than the county wide take up figure of 36 per cent which is also well-up on the national average of 24 per cent.. Nigel said: “I think our high take-up rate illustrates the importance of broadband to a small community, and one important side-effect is that people who need these facilities don’t need to move to get them. We are a well-informed village anyway with a strong sense of community, but the fibre means people can more easily get to our website or Facebook page as the new connections are so much more reliable and it just works so much better. It’s all about communication. One benefit of being late to the party is that we have better connections now than more urban communities as we have benefitted from recent technology changes. ”

People are now running businesses or working from home with ease. Nigel says: “I know some people who work from home a lot, and they can do their conference calls by video now, and use their company networks without problems. Home workers can now be a full part of their enterprise; VPNs [virtual private networks] work well for example, people can do tax returns online and farmers can do their required DEFRA returns online.”

Households in the centre of the village have gone from speeds of 2Mbps for uploads to around 53Mbps, and those further away from the cabinet at the far end of the village have gone from 0.5Mbps to a minimum of 16Mbps.  Speed and reliability are key to the high take-up figures and the villagers being able to do what they couldn’t before.

Nigel Strudwick says: “For those with families, having several devices online without any serious contention issues is just fabulous. Something that must not be understated is the reliability. We have had next to no downtime since installation, and drop-outs are a thing of the past for data, as is the ritual resetting of a router to try and speed things up. Combine speed and reliability and you have a winner.”

As Whaddon Broadband Champion, Nigel led the community’s campaign for better broadband, working closely with the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme to find a solution and he kept local people informed. Funding from BT, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative has enabled the programme to roll-out faster broadband in areas not covered by commercial broadband networks.

Nigel Strudwick continued: “The speed and reliability of fibre broadband is important for jobs, software updates, downloads, education, particularly homework and entertainment. All information is available quicker now, and the days of people running software updates all night only to find it’d hung up by the morning are over. But it’s important to understand that this is a complex civil engineering programme and there are many complications around where the fibre can go and when. Final speeds are dependent on the distance of a property from the cabinet.”