Broadband, what businesses in Sydney really need

There is a lot of talk about NBN not being available for businesses and all the problems this is causing. Which is understandable, businesses of any size can make use of more bandwidth, but I think the problem is being presented in a too ‘cut and dry’ case – it’s really a lot more complicated than it is being presented in the media.

Where is your online business ‘heart’?

This is really the core of problem – businesses really require bandwidth for services they provide to a group of consumers, be they internal (employees) or external (customers). If they have all this in the office then they need a bandwidth capacity to cover the expected peak usage from outside, straight to their office. BUT if they have their services operating in the cloud or what is called a Co-location facility (Colo) then peak bandwidth is not determined by the bandwidth available to their office.

I’m a strong believer that anybody who is serious about running any form of service on the Internet does NOT do it from their office. Unless the office has redundant hardware, redundant power facilities and a high level of security, operating any live service out of your office is just asking for trouble. So given this the need for really high capacity broadband to a business office (unless you have 100’s of employees) is rather mute I feel.

So why are businesses shouting for broadband?

Businesses usually use more bandwidth than a consumer – its that simple. large files, combined with backups, video conferencing and other services all compete down the Internet connection for bandwidth – which an ADSL quality connection is not able to support, it will just fill up very quickly – even if you are right next to the exchange. So businesses with a large office need more than ADSL, but a small business will usually operate quite well on ADSL (if they have their online services in the cloud). Yes, it is not instant, but do you really need it to be?

I suppose the real question is, why was the NBN planned to be connected to consumers first? I suspect a large dose of political imperatives were involved in a form of ‘bandwidth for votes’ – given businesses can’t vote. But even given that the case for a consumer facing dedicated broadband infrastructure to the home actually gets less over time.

What! You say – we should have broadband everywhere!!! – and to a certain extent I agree, but the NBN is not the way to do it. Rather technology is moving ahead at such a pace, and especially with wireless Internet access, that the need for fixed line high speed broadband actually decreases over time. Another factor is that the amount of video data that can be compressed down a given bandwidth link keeps improving; for instance Google has a new encoding for video which squeezes 3 times the resolution down the same bandwidth.

Another factor is that what is the point in downloading movies then watching, why not watch them as you download them?? The bandwidth to do that only needs to go as fast as to the play the movie within its duration of playback – a lot easier to achieve and cheaper to set up in house (you don’t have to store it).

The other problem I have/had with the NBN rollout is if they are rolling out to consumers first, when exactly are businesses in Australia going to get a good look in to provide services to those on the NBN? Seems an ideal way to ‘cripple’  local businesses in the face of international competition – who already have the infrastructure they need set up.

So what is really needed?

If I had the reins of power I would be doing the following:

  1. Targeting as a priority wiring up dedicated business centers (like Norwest) and providing an access point into every single building. The exact wiring up to businesses within each building I would leave to resellers who would provide different level plans and be mandated to pass on cost savings.
  2. Remove the GST component off all networking and wireless communications devices (yes mobiles go GST free) for 5 years. This will provide an incentive to invest in networking infrastructure and encourage people to get onto the latest hardware.
  3. Either take over dark fibre or lay  new fibre to all population centres over 5,ooo people. Most will have fibre already existing due to pre-existing digital telephone infrastructure and its quite likely that dark fibre will be available (no fibre is laid as a single strand). If Telstra makes a lot of noise, legislate them out of the way.
  4. Invest in mesh wireless networking, and put standards in place to make it a reality within Australia – this means you don’t have to be right next to the local access point onto the Internet, rather your traffic can ‘hop’ by your neighbours to and from the access point. Very resilient and able to operate in harsh environments and over long distances if set up right. Of course this requires a degree of trust, hence the standards to enforce that.

Radical I know, but we need to leapfrog ahead in technology, and the current NBN is based on technology over 15 years old. One only has to look at how the Internet is being consumed (you reading this on a mobile device?) to see that the writing is on the wall for fixed wire Internet access in the majority case.

Also businesses more and more are going ‘mobile’ – people work from all sorts of odd places, be it at home,  on the train, the bus or even the local coffee shop! Also given the processing power one can pack on your pocket these days, you are not really at a disadvantage to those tied to their desks, you can do everything they can and quite likely more…

We need to be more ahead of the times

I don’t just see the need to force an expensive technology solution on a population who are moving away from fixed line by the cart load; this is a global trend and we should be ahead of it, not behind it. Leave fixed wire for those businesses who really need the high bandwidth it provides, just ensure they can get to it if they need it.