Opinion: We need to think in multiples on broadband

Even just multiplying what you currently use to incorporate more devices that access the Internet should lead to a conclusion that our current services aren't good enough

Speaking to Internode's carrier relations manager, John Lindsay, after the Opposition launched its broadband policy yesterday, I was struck by how often the debate around whether we need faster broadband than the market currently provides continues to ignore the concept of multiple devices, multiple users on one connection.

The irony was that as my team of journalists and I - four in total - watched the announcement broadband policy on ABC News 24 and then the ACS ICT debate on YouTube, we were constantly frustrated by the video feeds dropping out to re-buffer. This happened so often we were forced to close three of the four browsers to ensure smooth viewing.

We were, of course, trying to report on one of the biggest moments in this election campaign for ICT, but when the speakers were talking about broadband our own experience really drove home the point that regardless of whether you like Labor's NBN, the existing infrastructure isn't good enough. It's as simple as that.

We have a reasonable and committed 4Mbps fibre connection with a 20Mbps connection to the Internet provided by Optus. We weren't doing anything out of the ordinary - four journalists using low definition video over the Internet while the rest of our workforce of roughly 60 people went about their ordinary office tasks.

Yes, we could upgrade to a higher speed that is lower than the NBN's promised 100Mbps and one that matches the Oppositions somewhat 'oxymoronic' minimum peak speed of 12Mbps and have easily watched the four video feeds uninterrupted.

But as Lindsay pointed out to me, the amount of devices and people using any one Internet connection over time is only going to increase as is the weight of the data they consume. In our office we don't use VoIP or video conferencing, and we have strict policies around downloading large files and consuming multimedia.

Even if we just had four journalists constantly on the phone conducting interviews, using the Internet to do research and network with their contacts, while streaming our own multimedia to an audience on our website offerings we would really struggle to have a decent quality of service with 12Mbps and ADSL 2+.

And if we multiply the amount of people connecting over the service (i.e. our entire workforce), multiply the amount of data through increased consumption and creation of multimedia, and multiply the amount of "smart devices" such as Internet-connected smart meters, printers, and so on, the existing services that most SMBs utilise would not fulfil our requirements. And we haven't even factored in the potential of high definition video conferencing, cloud computing services, remote desktops or even 3D video.

The same can be said for many households where you might have smart washing machines (as Conroy loves to point out), fridges, TVs, electricity meters vying for bandwidth against VoIP, IPTV, healthcare services and "normal" net access. That's not all that unreasonable to expect but arguments that there is no one "killer app" to support rolling out fibre at 100Mbps are.

What is also unreasonable is for anyone to expect the existing services let alone the wireless technologies that the Coalition is now backing to support the multi-user, multi-device scenario.

So it's for this reason among others that many people like Lindsay and renowned analyst Paul Budde, are disappointed at the lack of vision and long-term planning coming from the Opposition. No-one says the NBN is perfect, but it does provide a very strong platform to support the multi-user, mutli-device scenario that is arguably going to be most common in future - particularly in the broad array of SMBs in Australia. Why not aim to multiply the potential of that platform?

And the NBN or any FTTP network provides a much greater economic stimulus of sorts to encourage the take up of online services and the purchase of smart devices and more consumer and enterprise electronic / computing goods that utilise net connections.

Unfortunately, while the Opposition had a great opportunity to build on Labor's NBN and to really create a fantastic economic opportunity they squandered it on short-term political expedience. And many of us are left asking why would anyone want to buy more or newer devices/services that will only degrade the quality of your service? And why would an SMB want to continue to pay a premium on their Internet service so they can ensure they provide the highest levels of service online?

Because remember, the NBN or an equivalent should not just be about consumption; it also should enable the multiplication of the creation of services.

So the downgraded vision the Opposition has offered should not just be seen as a downgrade in cost and speed, it should be seen in the multiple effects across the economy.

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