The Economists Superfast Broadband Webinar – Mushy at Best

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The Economists’s Intelligence Unit sponsored today a free webinar on Superfast Broadband with telecom equipment provider Huawei. The instant grade for the webinar is Mushy and not because of the telecom delivery. On 3Mbs Rogers Cable in Canada, the reception was on the whole quite good – maybe 4-6 dropouts, but to my surprise no loss of continuity – talking points were interrupted but not lost.

No, the webinar fell short on 6 important points. First, after the briefest of  introductions, the technical aspects of superfast broadband’s competing technologies were abandoned. Yet new WiFi methods of delivery will be delivering 1Gbps speeds starting in mid-2013 thus challenging Fiber and Satellite delivered broadband for speed and reliability. And Satellite-based broadband also sees an oncoming technical revolution as well starting in 2014-2015 time frame. Yet webinar attendees were left unaware of these major broadband developments –  leave alone the salient technical trade offs.

The second major disappointment was the lack of  a slide projection screen during the whole webinar. Every IT presentation  worth its salt [think Apple’s Steve Jobs where the screen was room high or even Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show] has a  screen slide presentation facility used actively by speakers. None here. Yet the Economist has a wonderful Infographics Unit which produces daily graphs which are quite informative  On several of the questions raised during the webinar – a good chart or three would have been worth 10,000 words and greater understanding.

Third, the format with one leader tossing questions to three “experts” appeared to be a game of dodge ball – as two of the “experts” appeared enamoured of their wit in ducking the questions.

Fourth, the experts were not allowed to establish their bona fides. A much better approach would be to have 3-5 minute take by each attendee on a topic on Superfast Broadband – whats happening now and expected trends. Then after all 4 are finished then follow in the free ranging discussion.

Fifth, the free ranging discussion was as empty and desolate as  the Australian Outback. The  few info waterholes of real interest were  few and  far between.

Sixth, part of the reason for this dearth of content and direction, was the the very soft focus. Britain at first, then off to Africa and Australia. Followed by smatterings of  economic ROI analysis and then dabbles of legal and political implications. It was like a Bruce Chatwin travelogue without s super sharp thesis of what exactly Superfast Broadband was going to provide besides “fast”.

So what did the Economist accomplish with this free webinar? Well, now one knows to be wary of “free” Economist webinars. The quality of the information and discussion can be decidedly mixed. Two,  the Economist gets mixed marks on the facilities – the media delivery was above par as is the website interface, the camera work was average, but the lack of slides and infographics was a disaster. By about 1/2 of the way through the webinar I was half listening  [I came back a second time, and listened full time again – no better].  Instead I was clicking on some of the other freebies at Economist.com and they were, in contrast, compelling. Again, let me recommend the Daily Chart work.

Final grade for the Webinar – mushy and therefore not a passing mark.