Betting on the Internet is daft if it doesn’t work

How disruptive can disruptive tech be when the internet doesn’t actually work?

Blain’s Morning Porridge – 30th September 2021: Betting on the Internet is daft if it doesn’t work

“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

This morning:

Reader warning: This is a very short and personal porridge. It’s already been a busy morning juggling trains, meetings and some not so great coffee…

I wasn’t expecting to get round to writing the porridge this morning. I was on the train to London preparing for a meeting when I decided to take break and catch up on the financial media. I’ve been trying to follow the dollar, rates and US politics and will write something tomorrow once we know if the Government shuts-down or not.

First up was Cathie Wood of ARK explaining how new tech; DNA sequencing, robotics, energy storage, artificial intelligence and blockchain technolog, will drive a deflationary boom as they get cheaper with greater adoption. I may reckon ARK is massively overvalued – but I value their views. The success of all these technologies depends on our ability to actually innovate and use them… (BTW – I think I have a use for Blockchain… anyone want to fund me a couple of trillion to make it happen?)

Then, reading the ever-excellent John Authors on BBerg, he had a great line: “it’s a bad sign if you take any interest in the plumbing in your house, or the strength of your internet router. These things could only possibly interest you if something were going wrong.”

It was a lightbulb moment.

Regular readers will know Internet Routers – along with Southwest Trains – are the bane of my life.

After 17 Virgin Media site visits and 20 different reasons why our broadband isn’t working – including one Engineer saying it’s our obsolete TV that’s causing the problem (it’s a one year old Sony state-of-the-art set) – we are still in the trenches vs the Beardy Bollox’s Internet Service.

We have a Virgin Broadband Box thingy and its sort of driving the TV and streaming services. We’ve upgraded to the maximum download speed and capacity, but if we plug in our two home computers it starts to wobble. We explained this to another engineer, and he shook his head and explained why running computers off a home internet connection wasn’t helping – mumbleswerving about bandwidth and other gobbledygook. Fortunately, She-Who-Is-Mrs-Blain had hidden the shotgun cabinet keys.

Now I do understand that broadband and wireless works across a spectrum of bands divided into channels and most of these are duplex – one-on-one links which can service one device at a time. But I also understand – from reading lots and lots and lots of glossy brochures about disruptive tech funds that the Internet-of-Things (IoT) are critical for our future, and depend on wireless, bluetooth and internet connectivity – apparently. Who knew?

We tried to replace Virgin with BT – but BT’s installations team didn’t seem to understand the basics of connecting their cable to their cable head (at the end of our drive), before installing their box. 5 times smiling BT engineers arrived with new broadband boxes before staring forlornly at the unconnected cable we’d carefully laid under our new drive to plug into their cable head.

After 3 months we gave up and cancelled. The next week we came home to discover a happy team of BT navvies digging up our newly laid drive to lay their own cable connection. No one had called to say they were coming or to ask if it was convenient, and despite telling BT we’d laid the cable, they laid their own anyway. That will be the subject of a wholly new porridge about corporate stupidity – although they have said they will make the damage good.

Yesterday I got a phone call from Virgin – asking if we were satisfied with the service. I said no. She was actually interested to know why – which is very unusual. I explained that despite the extra bandwidth oomph and speed the system was still unstable. I then went on to explain that we had Internet of Things (Iot) devices – ovens, dishwashers, toasters, heating, lights and the all-important doorbell and associated security cameras – and we still could not get these to communicate over their broadband without crashing it.

“Ah.. well there you go then.” Virgin guarantees to deliver the contracted for internet speed to our Virgin Box, but no cable company will apparently guarantee it will work with your devices. Running multiple IoT devices, computers and such off a broadband isn’t what they contract to deliver – therefore our problem.

Anyway – all the above is digression.

The key issue is the disruptive Tech economy we are all confidently invested in – doesn’t actually work…. Unless you can employ a very expensive consultant to programme all your IoT devices…

So… what chance of widespread consumer adoption of new tech when the stuff doesn’t work…?

On the other hand… I really can’t work out how a connected toaster, dishwasher or washing machine is actually going to improve my life?

Toodle Pip for now..

Out of time, and sitting in the office doing my day job….

Bill Blain

Strategist, Shard Capital


  1. Hi Bill,

    Enjoy getting to read, thanks for writing. As an inexperienced human (read young) here on earth, I enjoy reading your columns and hearing your perspectives. On this note, I would add that a major component of useability is familiarity. While I am not a huge fan of all the IoT devices, I can’t get myself to spend $30 on a light bulb I can change colors from an app on my phone… I like white light and I have never started my washing machine from an app though I have the ability to, many of my peers use these items aggressively.

    As we look forward, I think we see that folks my age and younger have dramatically increased familiarity with IoT than our parents and continue to increase adoption. The tech is becoming increasingly more usable, used, and familiar – a strong tailwind for the coming innovation from my seat.

    Anyhow, keep up the interesting writing, and especially the book & movie quotes – I often find myself learning about new books/films after googling an interesting quote at the top of a letter!

    Cheers, Stephen

  2. The little IoT thingies are in most cases pointless, but they shouldn’t be sucking up so much bandwidth that they cripple your whole system. I run 25 various devices (mostly computers, printers, scanners and cameras) comfortably on my average 75MBps downlink most times of the days, but things slow greatly when everyone in the neighbourhood is watching IPTV, streaming NetFlix et al; however, I am connected by cable to the service provider’s fibre.

  3. If your dns servers are slow, your internet grinds to a halt looking up addresses. In the USA this is often a problem. Up selling customers to higher broadband speeds is a natural outcome. Picking better DNS servers or running a local DNS caching service such as the PiHole can be a benefit and an inexpensive solution.

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