About 10 km north of Stockholm, the mighty district of Kista is situated. Kista is well known as the “Silicon Valley” of Stockholm and Sweden. Big corporations as well as young tech-savvy companies resides here and spin out innovations and new ideas that attracts attention both from near and far.
But Kista also has two much lesser known neighbors, Akalla and Husby, which are residential areas, mainly consisting of multi-storey residential blocks. If ever mentioned in the media, the pitch is usually about the integration problems with the many immigrants living there and other such stories. Far from having the “cred” or status that high-tech Kista has. Well from small things, big things one day come…
Back in the beginning of 1998 I headed a small team of consultants from Communicator Teleplan AB, that worked together with the residents of some of the housing societies in the Akalla-Husby area. The project had been initiated by some Internet enthusiasts1 that had an idea about building their own broadband network in the area. This was at a time when the only possible internet connection for private persons was with a 28.8 kbps modem over the telephone line. If you were a hot-shot and backed up by your company, maybe you could get a 128 kbps ISDN connection for big bucks, but this was essentially it when it came to private Internet connectivity.
So these residents were not the standard breed of consultancy services customers from large companies or federal agencies that we usually worked with. The meetings were held in small community locals in Akalla like the local public library, far from the lavish offices of our usual customers. One information meeting, open for all residents, was held inside a shopping mall of Akalla. It almost felt bad charging them the consultancy charges we did. But business is business and not charity… On the other hand the residents didn’t really pay for this themselves, the payee was actually the Stockholm city hall in form of what was called “Ytterstadssatsningen”, an initiative to improve the conditions of these in many ways neglected areas.
The enthusiasts we worked with had an idea about creating and managing their own network that they named the “Akalla-Husby Nätort”2, adding services on it, and “selling” access to it to Internet Service Providers (ISPs). They wanted us to come up with a more elaborated concept of how this could be done, both from a technical and from an economical perspective.
And we did. We suggested a Layer 2/3 Ethernet switched network with cat 5 or fiber 10/100 Mbps access to all apartments and small houses in the Akalla-Husby area. This would be a very natural choice today, but at that time there were no real references to this kind of networks. We calculated the investment cost and the yearly maintenance costs and proposed a monthly fee per for the participating apartments. We proposed that it should be organized as an economic association similar to what the already had for their common automated vacuum collection system for waste, “Sopsugen”. The investment were largely going to be handled by the “Ytterstadssatsningen” and everything was calculated at cost.
This latter I found quite interesting. If we had done the same business case, but now borrowed the money for the investment and set a monthly price with some surplus, I thought this could actually be a good business idea… This was at least a year before the famous company “Bredbandsbolaget” launched exactly the same idea in a much larger scale!
Our report found its way to among others Ericsson and Telia and we got some harsh feedback in that we had calculated much to optimistic. I think it was probably because these companies were used to work in a more incumbent context and with business customers that they could charge more money. Our actual calculated access costs were close to what has become the norm for broadband access ever after.
A couple of years later the Akalla-Husby Nätort network materialized in many ways along the plans we outlined. The network wasn’t actually “sold to the highest ISP bidder” but rather the running of it and maintenance of it was outsourced to an ISP that charged each apartment, but AHN probably got a good deal in this trade.
So the next time you drive by Kista, give a little thought to its smaller and mostly overlooked siblings just next-doors. And for a moment consider that at that time, almost 25 years ago, they were actually
on the absolute forefront world-wide in their plans for building
a modern multi-service residential broadband network!
1 The main enthusiast (or “eldsjäl” that you would say in Swedish) was Hans Ohlsson, who at the time of the blog post still seem to lead the AHN as chairman of the association.
2 For english readers, the name “Akalla-Husby Nätort” is a play with words in that “Nätort” rhymes with “Tätort”, and tätort means “dense residential area”. While nätort, a none-existing word, would mean “network residents area”, so the name would mean “Akalla-Husby network residents area”.
3 This picture is re-drawned on this page but the content is the same, also the text on the page seems to come from our original proposal.