Mark Goldberg

Don’t prejudge the solutions

Homes don’t subscribe to fibre. People subscribe to high speed internet, which is sometimes delivered over fibre. It can also be delivered over a host of hybrid technology solutions.

I have made this point before when I wrote:

Most people define problems in terms of solutions. Many people say that they need nails when what they really need is to hold two pieces of wood together. The difference between defining problems in terms of requirements versus preordaining a solution.

This principle came to mind again this morning, when I read about the challenges being faced by Southwest Airlines in delivering reliable on-board WiFi service to its passengers. There are generally two ways to connect an aircraft to the internet (neither involves a 3,000 mile long spool of fibre): from above via satellite; or, from below using air-to-ground (ATG) mobile wireless. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Satellite provides coverage over oceans, but has higher latency because of the tens of thousands of miles covered on each leg of the connection. ATG uses towers on the ground and somewhat conventional cellular technology with antennas pointed up, so that a dozen and a half or so towers covers virtually all of the air routes within Canada. But ATG doesn’t work on overseas flights.

Airlines need to make technology choices for each of their aircraft. The on-board equipment requires Transport Canada and FAA approvals with separate certification for every model type of aircraft, and the equipment cost is non-trivial. Most airlines have separate fleets of aircraft for their North American and overseas routes, enabling more flexibility in choosing the best solution, depending on the requirements.

The key: define requirements on terms of what is needed for the particular application, not in terms of comfortable solutions.

I have written before that many people say that they need to buy some nails when they go into a hardware store, but what they really need is to hold two pieces of wood together. There are a lot more possibilities that can be considered when you define the problem in terms of requirements, not solutions.

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