TECH NOUS: Broadband Wagon

According to Tim Hemingway, local country manager for global networking giant Cisco Systems, New Zealand is about to lose its chance to catch the ‘knowledge wave’ because our take-up of broadband technology has been somewhat pathetic. We have slipped steadily to 20th out of the 30 OECD members in terms of broadband penetration at around two percent.

This ranking contrasts starkly with our historical positioning as early adopters of new technology.
Broadband has the potential to transform the way we live, learn, work and play. It is the capacity to deliver internet access with continuous ‘always on’ connection, and the ability to both receive and transmit digital content or services at high speeds. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) “high speeds” means transmission capacity faster than primary rate ISDN (ie 1.5 or 2Mbps).

With continuous always-on connections and high speed, two-way capability enabling voice, data, graphics and video-rich applications, true broadband is the key to the next generation of communications and internet services. So it’s not surprising that many countries are aggressively encouraging its implementation. The Americans, for example, have set the goal of making an affordable 100Mbps broadband connection available to 100 million homes and small businesses in the US by 2010.

Hemingway says the stumbling blocks in New Zealand are the traditional service providers who are still trying to make as much use of their investment in assets like aged copper plant. “Both here and overseas the impetus to build broadband onto the mobile networks has been killed by the ludicrous prices they paid out for 3G spectrum resources.” Hemingway believes that to remain competitive as nation, we need to shift to “always on, high-speed internet access” in both the home and at work.

As anyone who regularly connects with the web will know, ‘dialling-in’ can be slow and laborious. Not only is living in broadband-restricted world handicapping our ability to communicate, it’s also creating vast inefficiencies.

Permanent connection makes an enormous difference to user’s experience according to Hemingway. “Always-on internet is like having tap in the house that provides an instantaneous connection to the world,” he says. “It allows users to book movie tickets, download recipes, check the morning news, and generally make everyday events quicker and more convenient.”

In New Zealand wireless is preferred by many as the platform to deliver broadband internet access, because costs are lower and the delays minimal. The industry wireless standard 802.11 is already being widely deployed in the enterprise market and in some service provider models. “They can leapfrog the 3G model giving users more bandwidth without being lumped with their portion of the spectrum charges,” says Hemingway. “People forget that the 802.11 standard includes roaming and handover between ‘cells’ and this year New Zealand will see voice capable networks using 802.11 products.”

The quality of service issue is being addressed and products allowing up to four times the bandwidth will be delivered without the need for copper wires. Currently the majority of broadband connections deliver less than 2Mbps.

Hemingway says always-on internet access, whether by wireless, satellite or cable, would radically expand our possibilities for access to greater education, telemedicine, entertainment and e-commerce. “We are at the crossroads, and the path we take as nation this year in the quest for greater high speed internet access will impact this country’s economic development for years to come,” he says.

Glenn Baker is editor of e.Office.
Email: [email protected]

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