Horsley's Comment

We should commend the introduction, announced this week, of number portability for 13, 1300 and 1800 numbers. This development means that we now have the infrastructure, systems and processes in place to allow customers using expensive services to shop around and switch from their existing provider to one offering a better deal, without sacrificing their existing - very valuable - numbers.

This may have at least two foreseeable consequences. First, as a result of greater competition, prices generally may fall. Secondly, we may see the entry into the marketplace of new providers offering innovative new services. One likely candidate is voice-recognition. By next year, we could see call centres able to provide this cutting-edge service.

Within a year, we might see between ten and twenty new providers offering this and other innovations, as opposed to the mere handful today. For businesses, this means that they should recognise the new range of choices available, review their business needs, and start getting quotes from telecommunications providers.

The damage last week to the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable off Singapore has proved instructive indeed. It turned out to be carrying a large percentage of Australia's Internet traffic to the rest of the world. To Telstra's credit, much of that traffic was diverted to other routes, and within 24 hours more or less normal service was restored. However the accident demonstrated once more the vulnerability of a networked world, and highlighted the value of the newly-commissioned Southern Cross double cable from Australia to the US. This new route is a timely addition to Australia's telecommunications capabilities.

The damaged cable will be repaired soon, but the incident points to the need for all players - carriers, ISPs and business users - to recognise that failures will inevitably occur in the future, and to plan enough redundancy to ensure reliability of service. Business users may justifiably expect carriers to provide redundant paths, but they can also safeguard their own interests by splitting their traffic over more than one provider.

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