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Free Beer and Bagels!

I’m trying to think of any product or service that gets piped into my house that’s free – but with the exception of air and domestic abuse I’m stuck. I pay for water, electricity, gas and TV so what’s so special about superfast broadband that it should be free like the NHS and education?

Jeremy Corbyn reckons it should be not just free, but also government owned. The roads are government owned but of course every car owner has to pay tax to use them. Railway tracks are government owned but we pay to use the trains on them. So why free broadband?

Those of us old enough to have been around in the days when the Civil Service ran the telephone service – the good old General Post Office (GPO) – can remember the utter shambles it was. If you think BT today is a shambles you’re right, but in comparison to when the government ran it it’s super-slick and efficient. Well I say the government ran it, it didn’t. A unionised monopoly controlled it for the good of its members. To pay for it the government just hiked the prices up every year. You can do that with a monopoly.

In London where I was a student recruit, there was a 6 month wait for a telephone line, network engaged tone on 2 out of 5 dialled calls and you never saw a field engineer after lunch. Promotion was by way of dead man’s shoes and “Buggins’ turn” regardless of how useless Buggins was. Nothing mattered because nobody cared about profit and efficiency; there was massive overemployment and underwork.

But this free beer lark is just from the nationalisation of BT Openreach, god knows I dislike Virgin, TalkTalk and especially Sky but they too have invested in building broadband networks (as have we) and it looks like they aren’t going to be compensated for losing their businesses.

And, by-the-way, hands up, who’s happy with the government having total access to all our data from use of the Internet?

A Quantum of Incomprehension

A new phrase for me this month was quantum supremacy; apparently it’s the point where a quantum computer can do things that a normal computer can’t. The reason I picked up on this is because google ‘accidentally’ leaked an internal research paper to NASA saying that their quantum computer – Sycamore – had reached ‘quantum supremacy’.

Google pitched Sycamore and the current world’s fastest super computer called Summit a maths problem and while Sycamore solved it in 200 seconds they calculated that Summit might get there in 10,000 years.

IBM is a bit peeved about this as it made Summit and they reckon that if they were given a couple of days tweaking they could get Summit to solve it in 2.5 days. So I guess they have a point, Summit can do it, so it’s not impossible, but it seems that it’s only a matter of time now that one of these machines does something previously totally impossible.

The other reason IBM are peeved is because they have their own quantum machine called Q System One – possibly the only comprehensible thing about it – and wanted the breakthrough themselves so there’s a squabble about whether supremacy has been achieved or not.

These quantum machines are built out of qubits and each qubit can be in two states simultaneously. Really, you might as well stop reading now because that makes no sense at all and it can only get worse. The head of IBM’s research lab tells us, “Imagine that you had 100 perfect qubits, you would need to devote every atom of planet Earth to store bits to describe that state in a normal computer [as zeros and ones].” Apparently 280 qubits needs every atom in the universe, which seems a bit excessive to me.

Anyway, Q looks cool, dark and handsome and has a brain (almost) the size of the universe. Didn’t you just hate people like that at school?

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