For several years now, Intel's Philip Cronin has been one of the most vocal critics of local broadband provision. In the second part of an in-depth interview with ARN's Brian Corrigan, he argues the creation of a high-speed national network is essential if Australia is not to be left behind on the global stage.
Why do you think the provision of broadband is so important?
One of the reasons I have been so vocal about broadband, and I had almost run out of voice before the recent political announcements, is that it will be the motorway of the twenty-first century. This country has been slow in building it and the slower we are the less we will be able to compete on a world stage. There are countries ready to go past us.
There are about 4.5 million homes connected to the Internet in Australia via dial-up, broadband, DSL or whatever and 3.5 million not connected. The broadband initiatives that are coming through from the Federal Government and the Opposition will lead to the connection of those homes. As people get fatter broadband pipes they will invariably buy better systems and demand content. That is a home play.
On the other side of the equation are the million small businesses in Australia that currently have DSL or dial-up connections. As broadband becomes competitive and available in wider pipes, they will start to look at content delivery via managed services and ASP models. The opportunity for the systems integration channel is in that segment.
So you start to see the significance of this change both in the hardware, because our job is to make sure people are buying the latest systems, but also for those providing services and support. A classic example is the healthcare industry, which has been crying out for capability for ages. That will now start to move into a realm where x-rays can be transmitted from one state or even one country to another, onscreen diagnoses can be provided for a patient in the Northern Territory by a doctor in Melbourne and at each end of that is a systems integrator doing something. The opportunity in the next 3-5 years is probably that the Australian market is going to grow significantly in those key areas.
You mentioned the development of a high-speed national network making it onto the political agenda. Are you confident a large percentage of the 3.5 million homes that are not connected to the Internet will sign up if it is built?
Yes, it's a given because the argument is so compelling. The challenge will be what comes across it when you do it. One of the reasons a lot of people haven't signed [up to an Internet service] is content and the delivery of it. If you are on a dial-up line out of Dubbo, it isn't pretty. In the metropolitan areas, broadband is available but some people don't seem to be prepared to be prepared to pay for it. I get the sense that they think of it as a utility that should just be there. There's a job for the telcos to market their product so people feel they need it.
At the home level, you are seeing choice from people like Optus, Telstra and so on but there's still a fair bit of infrastructure work that needs to be done. Pricing is something else that will need to be addressed. Increasingly, demand is coming through to parents from children that need to be connected because they don't want to be left behind. They are seeing IT being used increasingly in the school system and many of them are coming home to houses that don't have it. The pressure point will come.
What about mobile broadband technologies?
If more and more people have notebooks they will want to be mobile. We are going to put 802.16e [WiMAX Mobile technology] in notebooks from 2008 and more users will want to know where they get a connection. We are continually working with the Government, NCITA and the telcos. Just getting the broadband agenda on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review, The Australian and The Age on the same day was the happiest day of my life from a technology standpoint. Finally we have come out from the dust of the back rooms and here it is front and centre.
A lot of the notebook manufacturers were showcasing smaller form factors at Computex this year. Will that help develop the mobile market?
I think so. Mobility kicked off in 2003 with Centrino but the latest addition starts to talk about more battery life, more flexibility and a reduction in power. [This year's] Computex started to show the roadmap of these products and I don't think one [form factor] will get in ahead of the others. What we will see is a wider range of product options because we are seeing the ultra-mobiles at one end of the spectrum and the big gaming notebooks with 20-inch screens at the other. We are starting to see the segmentation of products into certain markets. However, they are all mobile and aimed at a customer who wants to move around. We are going to see demand from customers driving product development.