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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 29/3/2004Deep in the bowels of Manchester, something is smouldering. A mile-long tunnel thirty metres below the ground catches fire -- how does a tunnel catch fire?

Monday 29/3/2004
Deep in the bowels of Manchester, something is smouldering. A mile-long tunnel thirty metres below the ground catches fire -- how does a tunnel catch fire? -- and hundreds of fibres are burned away. The result is a massive loss of connectivity across the city and large parts of the adjoining countryside, and a great many unanswered questions. Is the tunnel really part of a nuclear bunker network? Is it lined with asbestos? Can BT not back up a mile of fibres? Even hundreds of the things will fit into a modest sewer, after all.

It's this last question that's particularly puzzling. Not just landlines but mobile phone networks, data systems, broadband backbones, relays between radios and other services ran through that tunnel, meaning people who thought they had belts and braces -- ISDN fallback for their ADSL Internet feed, or a mobile phone as well as one in the hallway -- found everything had failed. You can and should make contingency plans for your main system going down, but when most of your options are later piped through a single point you're going to be vulnerable no matter what you try and do.

How many choke points like this are there in the UK networks? What happens if bad people find out and decide to blow them up? Has anyone got any idea what the topography of connectivity in this country actually looks like?

Things should get better once we get public wireless data networks up and running. Of course, these will probably use fibres to link base stations together, but they should be encouraged to develop and use high-bandwidth wireless point to point links to increase reliability.

Me, I'm keeping my ham radio licence up to date and my batteries charged. We don't need no feelthy backbone.