Strike up the (broad)band

Telecommunications in Australia, since deregulation in 1997, has undergone a dramatic transformation from an industry with limited choices to one in which there are now more than 50 companies licensed to call themselves carriers.

Capital equity providers have thrown themselves behind telecommunications projects leading to the rapid emergence of both new local players and foreign entities all vying for market share in Australia and throughout Asia.

Australian companies now have access to a multitude of different services running over many different communications platforms.

Unbundling of the local loop earlier this year was perhaps the most important development not only for the industry itself but also for Australian businesses and residential users.

But while optimists are tempted to label this gesture as evidence of true competition, the reality is that Australia is still waiting, and will wait for some time, before it has access to proper broadband services.

The Australian Communications Industry Forum mandated that Telstra open its telephone exchanges to any carrier wishing to deploy equipment facilitating high-speed data transmission over copper wire by August 31 this year.

This should have been the catalyst for Australia to join the rest of the world in the uptake of broadband, defined as services providing speeds of 2Mbit/sec or faster.

However, disagreements over the fee that Telstra charges for access to copper continue, perpetuating uncertainty regarding the ultimate cost of asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) services and therefore dimming its appeal at the board room level.

A technology designed to facilitate rapid data transmission over standard copper phone lines, DSL has, after a number of years, floated to the surface to become an exciting alternative to existing premium-priced, high-speed services such as ISDN.

The key attraction is that unlike standard dial-up services, ADSL offers 'always on' connectivity, considered the vital bridge between today's basic services and the provisioning of platforms to support the proliferation of profitable e-commerce initiatives.

But a number of carriers have complained that access charges make it difficult to win over subscribers just yet.

Until these change companies have many other options to acquire bandwidth from several different providers and in several different forms by terrestrial fibre capacity which is growing in volume in metropolitan areas, over the cable TV networks of Foxtel and Optus@Home or satellite.

According to Allan Horsley, managing director of the Australian Telecommunications Users Group, the decision is crucial as to which communications platform best suits an organisation's immediate needs while allowing for future developments such as wireless data.

"Communications technologies and the ability of organisations to make the right choices is already emerging as one of the key differentiators between successful and not so successful companies," he said.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde points out there are myriad options for companies to consider and they must choose the networks which offer the best opportunities for things such as simultaneous transmission of voice and data while allowing also for bundling of these and other services.

The big-ticket solution for convergence has for some years now been the promise of voice over IP (VoIP).

Heavily criticised as an inadequate platform for corporate communications, VoIP is emerging as a popular solution for companies seeking to consolidate services and costs.

"IP telephony is a satisfactory solution on a private network," Horsley said.

"For people who have their corporate network, IP voice is a very important solution for them to consider, especially given the demonstrated cost and performance benefits."

The amount of fibre in the ground has grown exponentially over the last few years to the point where Telstra and Cable & Wireless Optus now have real competition in the wholesale capacity market. Companies like Sydney-based Powertel and Perth's Amcom Communications have set ambitious five-year growth targets based on projected returns from their respective fibre networks.

Carriers like Davnet have established a powerful presence in the growing market for the last mile.

According to Clive Stein, COO of Amcom, "the availability of bandwidth is going to reshape the way in which services will be offered and delivered and will require a mind set shift."

Customers need to think about telecommunications services as solutions and not just products. They need to rethink their entire approach to tariffs, Stein said.

Seeking to address this issue, Amcom is developing a Web-based solution enabling customers to determine the exact amount of bandwidth required for certain applications and actually pay for usage by the minute. Called Boutique Bandwidth, it is a solution with no equivalent in the market, Stein claims, and one which may act as a catalyst for a shift in the way that bandwidth is bought and used in Australia. It has been suggested that futures trading in bandwidth will become a reality within the next two years.

One of the present drivers of this transition is the emerging applications service provider (ASP) market that is banking on the willingness of organisations to purchase applications, or pieces of software as they are required.

The short-term outcome of this could see a company invoiced on the same bill for all or part of an office productivity suite, as well as telephony services.

"It's a natural step in the evolution of convergence," Horsley said.

There are three essential elements to a successful telecommunications strategy today, Geoff Johnson, network and comms analyst at Gartner, believes. The first is that companies develop an understanding about what high-speed services are available. Secondly, organisations need to extend this knowledge to the development or improvement of virtual private networks. Thirdly, all this needs to be absorbed within the context of the wireless Web and how a company can position itself to take advantage of mobile data solutions both as a business enabler and a new platform for services delivery.

"Importantly, organisations must also learn to make critical assessments of the various platforms on offer," Johnson added, "especially within the wireless space."

The deployment of wireless data solutions throughout parts of Asia serves to illustrate the urgency with which Australia should address the matter if we are to remain a relevant trading partner, Johnson said.

The number of people using the Internet part of wireless is minuscule in Australia at present despite its huge growth in Japan, where there are 20 million users - and Korea - with six million users.

One of the reasons for Australia's slow adoption of services such as wireless application protocol (WAP) is the fact that the three GSM (general system for mobile communication) networks here are limited in their ability to deliver true packet, as opposed to circuit-switched capabilities.

The upshot is that data speeds over GSM are ordinary at best. One solution the big three carriers are deploying is general packet radio service (GPRS), which promises to rectify this problem.

But despite these limitations and the subsequent grilling WAP has received over the last 12 months, there is evidence of its deployment as a genuine business solution in Australia.

Partly Telstra owned, Sydney-based wireless software specialist, Mobilesoft is in the process of completing a WAP-based order and dispatch system for Combined Communications Services, owner of the Taxis Combined cab company in Sydney.

According to Mobilesoft officials, the deal represents the first such deployment of a wireless business solution in Australia. It is expected to include a joint venture agreement to develop a new business targeting smaller companies that need a cheap, fast, remote communications solution.

The emergence of WAP and GPRS is expected to place substantial pressure on organisations to really understand what is going on in the telecommunications business.

"Communications and IT people will have to ensure that they get out and about and get educated about these issues and understand the potential for gaining competitive advantage," Horsley believes.

Right now there is a whole swag of interesting developments in wireless that will have "fascinating implications" for the business world, he added.

Companies like the Netherlands-based Webraska, which recently set up in Melbourne, have been working for years on technology enabling the wireless transmission to a wireless user of details about a requested service relative to the user's location. Few would disagree that the e-commerce potential for such a development is huge.

Competition within the Australian telecommunications market has reached intense levels with the recent arrival of carriers such as One.Tel and Hutchison and the anticipated arrival of AAPT, currently building its CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network.

The upshot is that the levels of innovation on the part of locally-based companies and a growing number of foreign entities should position Australia well for the future.

But illustrating how contentious the issue has become, a recent research paper from Gartner titled, Wanted: A broadband strategy to rescue Australia, estimates that even allowing for a highly aggressive strategy to accelerate development of a 'broadband economy', fewer than 20 per cent of Australian businesses will have adopted the technology by 2003. Based on the current rate of adoption and existing government policy this figure shrinks to around 3 per cent.

But Horsley believes this is a pretty dim view and argues that Australian companies have an immediate opportunity to prepare for the transition which he sees gaining critical momentum within the next 12 to 18 months.

"The unbundling of the local loop will have hugely positive implications for Australian organisations that will become apparent once proper cost assessments are conducted," he said.

One of the key developments expected to reappear next year is that old notion of videoconferencing.

"Despite several years now of talk about the viability of visual solutions for business you can walk into any videoconferencing room today and it will be deserted," Horsley said.

However, he says that with the introduction of broadband to the local loop and substantial falls in transmission costs, widespread corporate adoption isn't that far off.

"Australian companies should now be thinking about how they can take advantage of visual services," Horsley said.

"The broadband area next year will deliver tolerable visual services to people, providing for the first time an opportunity for companies to really address their travel budgets."

But while there remains the promise of greener pastures for Australia's telecommunications users, there are still significant issues to be addressed in terms of our preparedness to embrace the communications revolution compared with the US, Asia and Europe.

Gartner's Johnson is confident that we will get there eventually but delivers a strong warning against the "she'll be right-ers".

"The digital divide may threaten US social cohesion, but for Australia the issue has greater consequences.

"Without the necessary broadband infrastructure, many e-business initiatives which would normally be imported from North America or Europe will simply not run adequately compared with countries with cheaper and plentiful bandwidth."

In short, Johnson believes there must be more aggressive lobbying of the government and carriers to deliver the necessary infrastructure.

"Networks are an essential infrastructure for any service-oriented economy; broadband network availability has become the basis for defining comparative advantage."

But as anyone charged with managing the complex matrix of a corporate telecommunications strategy should know, there is much more to the equation than speeds and feeds.

"Not only are there more choices to navigate, but as organisations become more reliant on communications, contingency planning in the form of operational support systems (OSS), for instance, are now, necessity," according to Jeff Mills, managing director of Objectif, the now independent communications software company formerly part of Cable & Wireless Optus.

After all, a ship's anchor 63km off the coast of Singapore shouldn't really be able to impact the flow of the global economy as occurred last month when the part Telstra owned SEA-ME-WE3 cable was severed.

Buyers Guide - compiled by Lauren Thomsen-MooreDetails as supplied by vendors by deadlineADC Singularit.e is an operational support system (OSS) framework for real-time customer contact, service and network management in a multi service network environment.

Key components of Singularit.e include: Singl.eView, Singl.ePath, Metrica NPR, a network performance management reporting solution and Metrica SLA, a service level agreement solution.

Pricing: on application

Contact: (07) 3218 8888

www.adc-oss.com

Call Time Solutions

ComTime

The ComTime solution provides

contact centres and enterprises with communications and interaction

management capabilities through

computer telephony integration (CTI). ComTime is a Windows NT-based platform from Interactive Intelligence and provides the functionality of an IVR, ACD, predictive dialler, Web Server and PABX, via one system. The 'soft-phone' environment allows users to view a graphical phone and call queue on the workstation, and dial, transfer and

connect conference calls by drag-and-drop operations.

Pricing: on application

Contact: 1300 134 252

www.calltime.com.au

Computer Sciences Corporation

CSC provides consulting, systems

integration and outsourcing services including: BOSS (Business Office

Support Systems) an e-business solution based on a self-care proposition extending to the mobile environment. mDiscovery enables service providers to shift from wireless/fixed operator to an "always connected" mobile business operator.iBase is a set of pre-engineered application and infrastructure technologies, which provides a platform that optimises investments for building e-business and m-business solutions.

Base 2000 is a satellite network management system used for carrier and enterprise gateway system operation. IP Billing is an open architecture able to deal with raw usage information from multiple sources.

Pricing: on application

Contact: (08) 8343 8808

www.csc.com

FaceTime Communications

FaceTime offers an integrated, scalable platform allowing Internet contact centres to handle inbound instant messages and e-mails. FaceTime Instant Customer includes: Instant Messaging, Chat, E-mail Management, Supervisory and Management Tools for access to business intelligence to plan and manage Web traffic. Implementation can be done in less than one week.

Pricing: Implementation fee of $1000; $250/agent/monthContact: (02) 9512 3939http://www.facetime.comGlobal One Communications Global ATM offers geographic coverage and supports multimedia network applications. Cost-effective switching capacity for high-speed voice, data, video, and Internet services has been developed, for doing business in all countries - on a single connection. Global One backs this solution with a Service Level Agreement. Features of this managed solution include: access speeds from 1.5Mbit/sec to 155Mbit/sec; transport support for multimedia applications; flexible service categories.

Pricing: on application

Contact: (02) 9290 9000

www.globalone.com

LCR Telecom

LCR Telecom delivers a Least Cost Routing (LCR) system that selects the most cost-effective route for a telephone call to anywhere in the world. The company's system places an LCR device between the organisation's PABX and the external carrier network to select the most cost-effective carrier of quality to reach the call's destination, based on a rates table that is downloaded daily from international and major Australian telecommunications companies including Telstra, Cable & Wireless Optus, MCI WorldCom, WorldXchange, Global One RSL Com and Primus.

Pricing: on application

Contact: (03) 9808 1599

www.lcr.com.au

Multelink

SmartPhone offers users the best price for fixed-line-per-minute long-distance and international call charges.

The SmartPhone system automatically selects the best call rate from 27 telecos. Updated call rates are downloaded to the SmartPhone automatically ensuring customers can take advantage of new special offers and promotions from telcos.

The SmartPhone unit connects to a standard telephone and power socket and uses standard cabling and connectors. Only one SmartPhone needs to be installed for all lines and handsets within a business to access the lowest per minute rate.

Pricing: the SmartPhone is sold at cost through direct mail for $449 plus $65 for connection and a monthly $5 service fee for updating the latest call rate offers on the phone.

Contact: 1300 655 218

www.multelink.com

Objectif Telecommunications

Keystone is an order management

system to manage customer orders in a controlled and repeatable process throughout an organisation on either network platforms or external systems with a supporting engine that allows constant change to the processes. It is a convergent product, which means it can handle any product configuration, and translates commercial orders to the necessary technical service orders for the relevant platforms. Each delivery process for the selected products can communicate with various legacy systems independently.

While pre-packaged components are available as ready-to-go systems, Keystone can be used without its catalogues and libraries of prepared tasks.

Pricing: on application

Contact: (02) 9955 8484

www.objectif.com.au

Seagate Software

eTelecom Solution is designed to deliver a comprehensive system to

consolidate data from a variety of communication channels. It transforms large amounts of meaningless data into valuable business information that can be used to perform extensive, flexible ad hoc reporting and analysis.

Pricing: on application

Contact: (02) 9955 4088

www.seagatesoftware.com

Syrinx Speech Systems

SpeechMaster technology incorporates next-generation features such as artificial intelligence and fuzzy logic. It is designed to alleviate peak calling times to call centres by using a natural language engine to determine what a caller wants and then answering the specific query by drawing on data stored in a company's enterprise databases.

Pricing: on application

Contact: (02) 9779 5555

www.syrinx.com.au

Tivoli Systems

Tivoli NetView provides scalability

for a comprehensive distributed

network solution, along with the flexibility to manage mission-critical

networks. Tivoli NetView lets customers handle TCP (Transmission Control

Protocol)/IP networks, display network topologies, correlate and manage events and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) traps, monitor network health, and gather performance data.

Pricing: on application

Contact: 13 2426

www.tivoli.com

Unisphere Networks

Unisphere Networks' ERX Edge Routing Switch delivers next-generation IP infrastructure for service providers deploying high-speed Internet connections and value-added IP services.

The ERX also offers new revenue-generating service policies such as IP quality of service, virtual private networks and service level agreements. Unisphere supports ASIC-based, channelised OC-3/STM-1 and OC-12/STM-4 optical interfaces, allowing the ERX to increase subscriber numbers connected per point-of-presence (PoP).

Pricing: on application

Contact: (02) 9025 3710

www.unispherenetworks.com

WatchGuard Technologies

WatchGuard Technologies enables multi-site Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to be turned into a three-step process with VPN Manager 2.0. It automates the setup, management, and monitoring of multi-site IPSec VPN tunnels between an organisation's headquarters, branch offices, telecommuters and remote users.

Pricing: starts at $1913 for managing one to four Fireboxes up to $15,385 for an ulimited licence of the VPN Manager software.

Contact: (02) 9968 4522

www.watchguard.com

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