Is Our Internet a Data Highway or a Gravel Road?

After spending 14 hours on different planes and making it through immigration, I finally arrived at my hotel. It was a very typical business hotel—the room was well organized and in pristine condition. With such a long trip, the first thing I wanted to do was take a shower. I got in, but to my astonishment, the shower only provided a sparse flow of barely lukewarm water. This was definitely a big disappointment after such an exhausting day! I called down to the front desk to complain.

“Did you book our High-flow Warm Water Access plan?” asked a lively voice.

I was confused. “When I booked the room, it said that I get free water…and I need to take a shower now!”

“Well, for only $15.99, you can upgrade from the advertised Basic Water plan to the High-flow Warm Water one, and included in this low rate is unlimited access to water as well,” she explained.

Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep

My alarm clock was going off and I woke up in sweat. I had a terrible, yet unrealistic dream. What a silly thought: only getting sufficient water in a hotel if you pay extra. But is it really that silly?

In science, things you take for granted are called hygiene factors (see: Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory). Water in the bathroom is something you can expect—and you should. The same is true for electricity and heating. No hotel would charge you extra to have warm, flowing water in the bathroom. This is a basic need you can expect to be fulfilled every time you stay at a hotel.

When we talk about digital transformation, there is one basic but vital need: Internet access.

This year, I traveled to various places, including the United States. At many hotels, Internet access was not granted at all and, when it was, the free Wi-Fi was very poor quality. It was so slow that, sometimes, not even a news site opened. Most often, hundreds of users share a single DSL line (or even worse). At peak times, you shouldn’t even think about using the Internet.

When you log onto the Internet at a hotel, the first thing that pops up is the option to upgrade your connection. If you hope to have a good online experience, you’ll need to spend more money…otherwise you’ll be stuck with a slow connection.

The same is true for 3G or 4G when you are traveling. For instance, as a German in the United States, you can purchase a weekly or daily pass from the German Telekom. For 2.95 EUR, you get 24 hours of Internet access. That’s a great deal. But there is a downside—you only get 50 MB. After your 50 MB are used up, no Internet! You can, of course, buy another plan for 2.95 for and 50 MB. Let’s see what I can do with 50 MB. In a German magazine, I read that using Google Maps navigation will cost you 3.1 MB per minute. This translates to 16 minutes of navigation time. And depending on your route, this will probably mean less than 10 miles in a city.

Digitalization forces us to be online almost all of the time. We need access to email, Google Maps, social media, photo sharing, Dropbox, SharePoint, etc. Because of these, among other, things, Internet access wherever you are, is essential. If you have a poor Internet connection, it is hard to work at all.

If you live in a small village in Germany, it’s likely that you do not get the Internet connection you’d need in order to work from home. After some work meetings in Mumbai, I tried to answer emails in the hotel lobby before meeting the guys for dinner, and it was literally impossible. During my travels, I only have an adequate Internet connection 50% of the time. There were multiple times when I tried to download important PDFs or Excel sheets and they took forever.

Earlier this year, I was invited to be a speaker at the Financial Times Executive Briefing in Berlin. During this event, Cornelia Yzer—Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, Government of the State of Berlin—pointed out that the administration is not responsible for the Internet infrastructure in Germany. This is the task of Internet providers. Internet providers, of course, don’t consider it economically reasonable for them to have to provide high-speed Internet access to small villages. This domino effect led to a hilarious situation: that the inhabitants of a small village dug cable trenches for themselves to get connected to broadband Internet. Just a side note: even though the FT venue in Berlin was a 5-star-hotel, we had no Internet connection on our smart phones. We couldn’t even make a call using our phones!

Because of my travels, I realized that there is a huge gap between the need for quality Internet access and the reality that much of the world experiences. Even in countries like Germany or the United States, where you would expect 100% Internet availability, it is not the case at all. There are too many places where the flow of data is way beyond sufficient.

InternetSpeedMap

Source: www.fastmetrics.com/Internet-connection-speed-by-country.php, avg. bandwidth in Mbps.

Germany, for instance is not even listed in the top ten in Europe. It is evident that we should not take for granted that we should have access to reliable, fast Internet connections…. not even in Germany or the US.

Digital transformation is also all about mobile applications and the guarantee of the industry that we can work almost anywhere, anytime. I now understand that this is absolutely impossible in the state of things today, though the industry makes its promises. There are still far too many gaps, and it is frustratingly unpredictable while traveling.

In some countries, you will find many Wi-Fi hotspots that you can use for free. But our IT administrators and CIO strongly advise against using free Wi-Fi hotspots for business. This is because you never know who is running the hotspot and whether or not your data will be monitored—or even stolen and misused.

Let me summarize:

  • It is certain that not everyone in Germany is able to access fast Internet in their homes. This seems to be the case in the United States as well. Working at home is not always an option because of the lack of reliable Internet available. This is especially true when you live in a remote area.
  • 3G and 4G are still not sufficient—especially when you are traveling abroad and it is horribly expensive.
  • Yes, there is free Wi-Fi available in the United States (though barely in Germany). However, it is not reliable, as you never know who’s behind it.
  • When I used to travel short distances, I would ride the train to get some work done. We have highly sophisticated ICE trains in Germany. They are nice and tidy, and also comfortable. But you can barely use the Internet on a train. Not even with your smartphone. There is still no light at the end of this tunnel.

I wonder what impact this lack of Internet availability has on digital transformation. Digitalization is growing at a much faster pace than the development of the Internet. When I was talking to my fellow speakers during the Financial Times event, one of them said that the future lies in 5G Internet. He went as far as to state that 5G will make landlines obsolete. Today, 5G is not even ready, as Wired Magazine stated in a recent article:

Yes, companies like Verizon have promised to start rolling out experimental 5G services next year. But it’s going to take much more than a phone to make 5G happen. The next generation of wireless will require infrastructural changes that are likely to take years. […] For one thing, 5G isn’t a single technology or wireless frequency. The emerging standard—which technologists aren’t set to finalize until 2020–will include a mix of different frequencies, technologies, and approaches. And some of them will require radically new ways of building wireless networks.”

We definitely need to take this into consideration when we are planning our digitalization projects., especially when it comes to the usage of mobile applications that rely on Internet availability, and don’t provide off-line data. What’s the benefit of a CRM system that relies solely on an Internet connection and you find yourself riding on a train for five hours?

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When we take a sober look at the Internet today, we must say that it is, in many places, a gravel road rather than a data-highway. By the way, it was really fun to drive the Moki Dugway, winding 1200ft to the Muley Point. But it was slow—not a road I would choose if I needed to get somewhere quickly and reliably!

About Alexander

Alexander Buschek is passionate about Digital Transformation and the opportunities it gives businesses—especially SMBs. He is convinced that every business has to embrace Digital Transformation in one way or another in order to survive. The sooner a business begins its Digital Transformation, the better. He is the CDO, and CIO of Braunschweiger Flammenfilter GmbH, an international valve manufacturing company that employs more than 500 people in several locations worldwide. Before joining PROTEGO®, Mr. Buschek worked as an entrepreneur, consulting SMBs about their IT strategies, providing external project management, and overseeing various IT projects (e.g. ERP and CAD implementation and migration). Working with many SMBs gave him a deep understanding of this market.