15 August, 2010

The Broadband Shock

Melbourne Herald Sun, 14 August 2010

It was a shock, two years ago, when the national broadband network was launched. $43 billion - so much money! $2000 a head! But after some agonised questioning, I concluded we didn't have any choice. It was either fork out, or go sit on the dock to watch the world boat depart without us.

Well now I've been shocked all over again. This time by the threat to discontinue the project two years down the track. We'd be left sitting on that dock, appropriately surrounded by stacks of bananas.

This news came through as I was working on a piece about convergence. This is where the media, tools and mechanics of industry are all coming together - at a spectacular speed.

Internet marketing and on-line shopping are already old hat. Even grandma is ordering her knitting patterns on the net. There's been a spectacular growth in remote working - even very large companies have their virtual offices, with employees working from home or their cars much of the time.

The amount of data passing within and between businesses has grown exponentially. Really, think about the way that you do business now. If you compared it to ten years ago - you'd probably wonder how anything ever got anything done back then.

The media growth is incredible. Pay TV threw down the gauntlet fifteen years ago, now offering over 100 channels of entertainment and news. After a very long pause, conventional broadcasters finally responded and formed the Free TV group. Government released more licences and suddenly we have the growth of free networks - ABC 2,3 and News, 7Two, SBS Two, Go!, One, and others.

Fast coming up is Internet TV. Channels like Boxee.TV (is it a channel? We need a new name.) give you access to thousands of TV programs instantly. Already debate has started - is ITV going to take up too much Internet space? How big will our internet pipeline have to get?

Certainly, in year or two, 100Mb speeds will be the norm around the world for commerce and communications. Which draws the question again, where would we be if we were still stuck in the copper age?

As regulations loosen up we see even further convergence. Telcos around the world are offering internet TV with their broadband packages. Cable TV providers are offering phone accounts and interactive services.

In the US they are already calling this new era TV2. Listen to Allen Weiner, of research firm Gartner Inc: "New stakeholders, such as telco providers, web search engines and portals, and new media titans, such as Apple and Microsoft, make for a crazy quilt of businesses and competitors looking for a significant stake in the future of TV." And they'll all be jostling for a piece of that data pipeline.

But never mind entertainment, what about your business? Most companies need to be connected into huge national data bases for stocks and supplies.

Just-in-time inventory management is no longer the preserve of car companies and big corporations. Now every business has a degree of JIT working, warehousing managed centrally, minimum stock investment on the floor.

All of us in business know the inadequacy of the communications network we have now. So hands up anyone who thinks that present problems, and future requirements, can be satisfied by a bit of tinkering and improvement to our copper network?

Regardless of the weather, I don't think you'll find a single raised hand in Collins Street or Pitt Street.

We now have the last week of an election that makes a Shakespeare play look like soap opera - just count the bodies littering the Forum. But let's keep focussed on what matters. Not next week but for the next ten years. So let me urge the political parties to put away the game plans and take a long cool look at where this country is going and what it will need to get there.

It's not the politics that matters, it's the hard reality of this country's future.

No comments: