E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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I Think I May Have Just Experienced The Future…

Helsinki in the WinterAs I have just mentioned in my last blog entry, the last few days I have been embarked on my latest business trip, coinciding with a wonderful visit all around to Helsinki, Finland, where my good friends from IBM Finland invited me over to participate on the IBM CIO Forum event, with the rather innovative initiative of “Redefining Work 925“, and a couple of other events, and where, after being there for about three days, I think I may have just experienced the future… The future of a fully networked and interconnected world… Our world. And what it would look like altogether. And, yes, it’s much more exciting and brighter than whatever I could have ever imagined!

As a road / air warrior, I get to travel a fair bit and visit not just mainland Spain, but a bunch of other countries in Europe, and North America. I have yet to visit South America, continental Africa and Asia, although I know it will all come together eventually at some point, but if there is anything that Helsinki, Finland, has shown me in the last couple of days is that you can have more than a decent Internet connection, and for free!!, while you are carrying on with your work and personal life helping it become ever so much more engaged, participative and interconnected with the Social Web available out there!

In another blog post I will detail some of the highlights from my visit to Helsinki, what I learned and what plenty of other folks are doing out there in the area of Social Computing, but for now I just couldn’t help thinking about putting together this short blog entry to explain why my expectations on connecting to the Internet, for work, or personal stuff, will never be the same again after this business trip. And here is why…

Free Hotel Wi-Fi in Helsinki
That’s a snapshot of the free wi-fi connection at the hotel where I stayed those days in Helsinki. And this is the one from the free wi-fi connection at the Helsinki airport, which is even much more remarkable:
Free Wi-Fi at Helsinki Airport
For a good number of years I have always been complaining (Yes, I guess it’s complaining, because that’s probably what I have been doing all along…) about how poor the quality of wi-fi and Ethernet connections are in a good number of countries I have visited (US, Canada, Spain, France, UK, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Mexico, Netherlands, Hungary, Switzerland, etc. etc.) and on top of that how expensive it is for the quality of service that we get, even worse here in Spain, where the prices for ADSL, for instance, are some of the most expensive in Europe with the lowest bandwidth! And not just at hotels, conference venues, Internet kiosks, regular 3G connectivity, etc. etc., but also at our own homes! I was reaching the point of believing that we would have to get used to living through such poor quality standards of service with no remedy, waiting for our ISP providers to keep making big bucks while never delivering, and eventually give up on it all.
Here is another example. This week I am in Paris, to attend and moderate a couple of panels at the always enlightening and rather exciting Enterprise 2.0 Summit event and here is the current free wi-fi connection at the hotel I’m staying at, so that you folks can have a look into what it is like coming back to the harsh reality I have been exposed in the last few years:
Free Wi-Fi At Hotel In Paris
Ouch!! Well, see the difference? Maybe not! Maybe we should not get used to such poor quality standards on providing wi-fi connectivity, regardless of the venue. While In Helsinki, I certainly experienced the future. And it is just gorgeous and bright! It’s something that I never expected it would be quite shocking as it was, yet so rewarding and fulfilling. Have you ever heard about being empowered, as a human being, thanks to technology and the Internet, regardless of whatever you may be doing? Well, I experienced that! And so much more!
I met a bunch of wonderful friends over there, some of whom I have been wanting to meet up in real life for the last few years, like Esko Kilpi or Riitta Raesma; met other new friends like Saku Tuominen, Petra Sievenin, Harri Ohra-Aho, Marko Laukkanen or my fellow IBM colleague Ville Peltola, amongst several others (Too many to mention!!), who are working on some pretty amazing stuff related to the Social Enterprise field, yet for them that amazing pervasiveness of a fast and speedy Internet connection is a given. Well, perhaps it should be for us, too!
It was quite a liberating experience, to be honest, to be socialising in the true sense of the word, i.e. going to bars, restaurants, and whatever other hang-out places and find out that each and everyone of them had really good, decent, and FREE, Internet connections for their customers to enjoy while having conversations with your friends. Social, for me, while on the road, has taken a new meaning. One that I’m finding it hard to come to terms with it, because, usually, when I am travelling abroad, as soon as I leave Spain, I am in the dark, don’t have data, nor do I incur in the hugely expensive and abusive roaming charges that the European Union keeps doing nothing about to our mobile providers over the course of the years and it’s starting to become a rather frustrating experience.
Even more, when I suspect that Finland is not the only case where that pervasive Wi-Fi access and service have been phenomenal all along. Denmark would probably be also one of those exceptions at the same level as Finland in helping us all understand that things can be much different, once and for all! Like I experienced myself as well last Wednesday, while I was at the airport waiting for my connection to Helsinki and the free wi-fi was just as good!
Yes, I guess that expectations have risen to a new level for yours truly, with regards to what a Decent Internet Access would be like, specially, while on the road, since, after having experienced a new wonderful world of fast, quality connectivity, things will never be the same. In fact, I keep questioning myself with such an amazing connected experience with the Web how come there are so few Tech related conferences taking place in the Nordics? I don’t think it’s about the weather, although last week surely was quite another experience!, but I know, for sure!, that is definitely nothing to do with the availability and accessibility of Internet connection, because over there, it just rocks! And I just can’t wait to come back to experience the future once again, … And perhaps with a bit of nicer weather I may have moved over there altogether! 😉
For now though, here’s an interesting question I would want to put together out there for someone, whoever that may well be, to provide an answer to it, to close this blog post: What do we, human beings, need to do to get some Decent Internet Access over here in Western Europe? Where did we go wrong? Anyone care to venture an answer for that one? Clearly we do have leading examples like Finland or Denmark, so what’s stopping us from truly empowering us to fully live the Social Web the way it was meant to be all along for all of us: universal, pervasive, free access to information, knowledge, AND connections, i.e. the people? Is that just too scary? Anyone?
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  1. Right on, Luis! I just returned from Paris. Only wi-fi was in the bar: at 7 Euros/hour! Wired access in the room was 9 Euros/hour. And of course, my iPhone was not an option since cutting on roaming to access the net costs more than caviar at Petrossian.

    I tell hotels that for me, internet access is like water. Imagine a hotel not providing water — or charging $10 a glass for it. Unacceptable!

    How could we harness our collective clout to change the hotel policies? We need to let them know we’ll boycott them.

    I don’t have an answer for the telecom providers. That’s monopoly at work. Perhaps if the regulators recognized how they are stifling innovation.

    If we can come up with ways to bring Europe and the U.S. into the 21st century on this, I’m ready to man the barricades.

  2. Hi Luis,
    impressive numbers from Finland and not very surprisingly, bad news from Spain (I lived in Madrid, Barcelona and Tenerife).

    Sometime ago I read broadband became a legal right in Finland in 2009. This was in an Enterprise 2.0 report for the EU Commission DGINFSO.

    The last chapters are about the broadband penetration in the EU, this might interest you. Here goes the link and a quote:


    EU Commissioner Reding’s policy targets to have “internet broadband for all Europeans by 2010 and high-speed internet broadband for all Europeans by 2013” does not explicitly define connectivity speeds for the two goals. Generally, broadband is regarded as any speed in excess of 1 Mbps and high-speed broadband as a speed in excess of 30 or 40 Mbps.
    The broadband performance of a country can be assessed not just on its coverage and penetration levels. The ultimate aim for Europe is, of course, not the diffusion of broadband technologies per se, but, rather, to pursue the i2020 political objectives to boost the countries’ ability to promote social, cultural and political change, and innovation as well as to increase competitiveness and ability to grow.
    Europe’s Digital Competitiveness Report highlights how the broadband performance index clearly shows that – with just a few exceptions – countries with the highest rankings have a balanced combination of the different factors. Both Sweden and the Netherlands have high levels of broadband coverage and competition, high average speeds, relatively cheap prices, high levels of take-up of services, and a sound socio- economic context. Denmark, which is in third place, shares very similar features, but is lagging behind the others for what concerns competition. These three countries are also those with the highest broadband penetration rates.

  3. It’s a similar story in Australia, where major hotels charge for crappy internet facilities. It’s pretty much the standard over here.

    I’m doing my small bit to improve the situation by refusing to stay anywhere that doesn’t offer a free internet connection.

    I figure that the market has to demand free before we can demand “fast”, but one day we’ll get there.

  4. One thing … you say *free* but it’s not really free. The Finns pay for it with a pretty hefty tax rate – around 55% is the average tax burden on individuals once you add it all up (income tax, property tax, VAT, etc). The actual cost to provide that service is anybody’s guess but I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. Although, I’d love to have it … 😉

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