Cottonopolis to Digipolis
The new ultra-high speed digital networks that are coming to Manchester will transform the way we live and work. Access to them and the data they provide will become as fundamental to our daily lives as the Victorian infrastructure that the city is built on. High speed connectivity will be as vital to the next generation as water, energy and transport networks were to their grandparents.
This was the conclusion of a recent high level discussion on Manchester: the Next Generation Digital City, and The Sharp Project is at the heart of that vision.
Sue Woodward, director of The Sharp Project was on the panel of speakers alongside Dave Mousley of Red Vision, Brendan Dawes of Magnetic North and Chris Smedley of Geo, the company which is laying the fibre to the premises (FTTP) network in The Corridor area of Manchester, which runs south of the city centre from St Peter’s Square to Whitworth Park.
Dave Carter of Manchester Digital Development Agency kicked the session off, with a presentation emphasising that better digital connectivity fostered talent, diversity and growth – all crucial factors in building a successful city with a thriving community. Manchester has always been at the heart of communications revolutions, explained Carter, from railways and canals to airports, and this one is no different. The Cottonopolis of the Victorian age can become the Digipolis of the 21st century.
Successful innovation is identified time and time again as a key driver in the global economy, and the FTTP testbed soon to be available in East Manchester will make it possible for “back bedroom innovators” to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, Carter added.
FTTP connections are symmetrical, unlike many current broadband packages – you can upload and transmit as much data and at the same speed as you receive it. It fundamentally changes the way we use the internet from something we consume to something we can contribute to, explained Chris Smedley.
Dave Mousley highlighted Mofilm – a global company with a Manchester base – as an example of the kind of service that would grow in the future. Mofilm enables creative people from anywhere and with any background to make content for mobiles which can then be bought by big brands. Nokia, McDonalds and Hagen Daz have all used the service as part of the online and viral marketing campaigns.
This business model – which has user-generated content at its very heart – is exactly the kind of business that can only flourish with the high speed, reliable connectivity.
As head of Red Vision, who are innovators in CGI, Mousley added that his own business is set to take full advantage of the new technology available. With primary creatives based in the UK, he relies on an army of freelancers based around the globe to meet deadlines when a project is commissioned. Previously his business was hampered by the poor infrastructure available, but Red Vision is now signed up to be one of the partners in the global virtual super studio (LINK) based at The Sharp Project, enabling them to take part in a “follow the sun” production process. Their work can carry on round the clock, with significant implications for their competitiveness and the bottom line of their clients.
All members of the panel saw huge opportunities for young people. The generation of digital natives is far more adept at grasping the potential of new technologies than their parents. Sue Woodward spoke of the need to challenge traditional education, and give greater freedom to young people who know more about how to use technology than their teachers. She emphasised the role that The Sharp Project will play in education, acting as a facilitator to bring together young talent with entrepreneurial companies through its Sharp Futures programme.