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Tackling the crippling problem of mobile not-spots the biggest internet priority in Wales

12 September 2017

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Tackling the crippling problem of mobile not-spots rather than faster broadband speeds would help to transform internet access in Wales.

Professor Alan Dix, an expert in human-computer interaction, says connectivity in Wales is worse than Tiree, the remote Hebredean island where he lives - with the issue of short drop-outs and glitches remaining the biggest frustration.

Small changes to the way mobile apps are designed would also improve the user experience in rural areas, Professor Dix will argue in a keynote speech at the biennial ITA conference in Wrexham this Thursday (14 September).

His talk ‘Communicating in Wales: design and architecture for mobile applications over poor connectivity’ is based on more than 30 years of research and testing mobile access on a 1000-mile walk around Wales in 2013.

Professor Dix, originally from Roath Park in Cardiff, said: “Although connectivity is likely to have improved over the last four years, the gap between Wales and the rest of the UK is likely to be the same.

“Most of the time whilst walking and at places I stayed on the way I felt lucky to get two bars of basic mobile signal and pretty much every area in North Wales was bad.

“The main characteristic everyone talks about is bandwidth - raw speed - and government pledges are phrased in terms of this.  Delay and jitter (variable delay) are also key criteria.

“However, if you spend time in a rural area you realise it is not the speed per se that is most problematic, but the reliability - short drops which are not long enough to be raised as an outage of service. These range from a few seconds to a minute, but long enough to break downloads/uploads, which are already slow.”

A recent report revealed that seven of the 10 slowest broadband connections are in Wales and Professor Dix says improvements will essentially come down to investment in infrastructure.

“Many problems can be resolved by relatively small code changes that have zero or minimal development cost,” he adds. “The problem is mainly that developers do not think about these issues while in Silicon Valley.

“But in the end good software design can only mitigate problems, not remove them. When it comes to connectivity, rural Wales suffers a double whammy - topography that makes it more expensive to provide coverage, and low density, relatively poor population that makes it not economically worthwhile to private companies.

“It is fairly unbelievable that in a country whose future success in the world depends on being a high-value knowledge economy, we regard internet access as a privilege of the rich.”

ITA17 runs from Tuesday 12 to Friday 15 September and is sponsored by Moneypenny and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

The conference draws together researchers and developers from academia and industry across all fields of internet computing and engineering.

Professor Dan Farkas, from Pace University in New York, USA, opened the conference on Tuesday with a talk on Geographic Information Systems and Spatial Analysis.

Find out more at ita17.net

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