Telstra is exploiting its domination of the local telecommunications market to thwart the widespread adoption of ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) technology in Australia and protect its lucrative voice communication businesses, according to several industry experts.
ADSL allows high-speed Internet and voice services to be delivered over voice-grade copper cabling, at data rates of up to 8Mbit/sec.
Denis Mullane, acting managing director, Converged Business Next at Telstra, told Computerworld the telco is currently testing the technology across 100 homes and businesses in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Toowoomba, and next year plans to incorporate more users to increase its adoption.
But industry consultant Paul Budde claimed Australia is running several years behind the rest of the world because Telstra wants to protect its profitable voice market.
"All [the global ADSL adoption] is driven by competition [and] in Australia we don't have that level of competition."
Budde said Telstra needs to complete a four-year, $4 billion upgrade of its network before it can accommodate ADSL.
He commented: "Telstra is delaying [the rollout] to keep prices as high as possible and to get its network up to scratch."
Ian Fewtrell, managing director of Cabletron Systems, said that in other countries, including the US, ADSL is an "accepted means of communication -- like picking up a telephone to make a call".
But he said although the technology to implement ADSL is ready, it is "dependent on Telstra offering it to the market".
However, Mullane disputed suggestions Telstra was deliberately holding up the rollout of ADSL.
"To say we are behind is a very ill-informed opinion -- we are checking processes and computer systems before we go to a commercial launch."
He added ADSL will only be able to reach users up to 3.5km from exchanges.
"This is not a technology for the bush," Mullane warned. "There will be some customers that cannot be provided with ADSL, [but] we expect 90 to 95 per cent coverage for those who are within the urban areas."
A Telstra spokesperson said a final ADSL trial will be completed in June 2000 and the technology will be launched commercially during August, but would not reveal how much access would cost.
However, Sam Rahme, manager of Alcatel's carrier data division, said: "The best indication of pricing will be [Telstra's] cable modem pricing, which is about $65 a month."
Fewtrell claimed Cabletron had teamed with Alcatel to successfully test the technology and the vendors have now released products supporting it locally. Fewtrell said the technology could "reduce costs significantly and increase input enormously".
Cabletron and Alcatel tested ADSL for interoperability using Cabletron's SmartSwitch Router 250ADSL, which will be marketed globally as the Alcatel Speed Touch Office.
Maryanne Taylor, a spokesperson for Alcatel, said the vendor will also work with Telstra and other key telecommunications carriers in Australia to push the technology.
Taylor said Alcatel has delivered ADSL equipment to British Telecom, Singapore Telecom and a number of other carriers in the US and Europe.
She predicted ADSL will be "the first point of call for Internet access by 2003".