Walking on air

Walking on air


The launch of BigAir's WiMax wireless broadband service is opening the doors for its channel partners this year, according to managing director and founder, Jason Ashton. He talks to ARN about his ISP heritage and plans for the future.

What was your first job?
I worked in IT support for a large magazine printing company and then took on the caretaker IT manager's role for a couple of years.

What was your first start-up business?
I got together with some friends from university and started one of Australia's first ISPs, in 1993. I've been in the industry ever since.

What was the name of your start-up?
It was called Magna Data and we were pitching to businesses why they needed the Internet. We were going to organizations such as LJ Hooker and saying "we think you guys should get an email address and set up a website". We did the same thing with Fairfax and worked with them on their first online Sydney Morning Herald.

How did you progress to where you are today?
We built that business up and ended up selling it. I stayed on for a couple of years running it, but had been wanting to start something new that had less dependency on Telstra. We were using Telstra copper to deliver high-speed DSL [HDSL] to business customers. My business partner, Patrick Choi, came to me with the idea of building a wireless business that completely bypassed Telstra. That was in late 2001 and in early 2002 we got the business started.

What do you like about your current job?
I'm a die-hard technologist and I like the fact that we are masters of our own destiny in terms of our technology choices and services. Since we are independent from all of the other carriers we can build our own network using best-of-breed technologies. I also like being a part of a small dynamic company, which has a lot of good people with a common vision.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?
I guess the biggest achievement is trying to maintain a balance between work and life because that can be a really big challenge at times - especially when you're the founder of a start-up business.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry?
The skills shortage. The IT industry suffered a bit of negative PR around the dotcom crash, which probably turned off a lot of potential talent. It's been especially hard for the telecoms industry to shake that dotcom recession. Apart from that, there's not much I dislike - it's a fabulous industry to work in, you get to meet a lot of interesting people and it's very competitive, which pushes you to achieve more than you otherwise would.

What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
It's a tough one. I guess in telecommunications, it's the Internet. When we first got into the Internet business we were providing Internet services to clients that didn't even have an email address. Now I think the next phase has developed and we will move towards complete Internet mobility. The wireless revolution has just begun: we have seen what it has done to the mobile phone business. I think the same thing will happen with the Internet industry. You won't just have 20 million people connected to the Internet; you will have tens of millions of devices connected. Everything from your mobile phone to the digital camera to the stereo and TV will become a big wireless Web.

What is the main focus for your company this year?
On a technology front we have upgraded to WiMax. This represents a major step forward in terms of the capabilities of our network and the quality of the service we can deliver. The other thing is just continuing to grow the channel customer base and working with our partners to help them grow their business so they can take advantage of our WiMax network.

What do you do when you are not at work?
Over the last fi ve years I have been a member of a dragon boat team. We compete domestically and also overseas. It's enjoyable being a part of a team sport, which is quite competitive as well because we are trying to be the best. I also spend time with friends and family on a regular basis, try to stay reasonably healthy and go to the gym a few times a week.

What does dragon boat racing involve?
We have about eight boats alongside each other and each has a crew of about 20 and you race over 500 metres. We race during the Chinese New Year festival in Darling Harbour each year and there is also a state championship held at the Penrith Olympic rowing course. There is also a national championship that rotates in different locations each year. Our team is called Snatcch.

Have you won any awards?
We've won the national championships for a couple of years in a row and went to Hong Kong and won the Stanley Cup, which is a big event. We also went into the world dragon boat championships in Cape Town, South Africa where won a silver medal. We got beaten by the Russians.

Do you like gadgets?
I love gadgets and I've got quite a few. I'm a bit of a sucker for PDAs, iPods and flat screens.

What was your latest purchase?
On my home computer set-up I have multiple screens so I can keep an eye on what's happening at work. Before that it was a PlayStation. I'm waiting to buy an iPhone.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
I've always been fascinated by computers and communications and was exposed to them early on by my dad. They enable you to do things that you otherwise would not be able to do.

What is your biggest ambition?
To continue to get the most out of everyday with the business I am running and continue to help it grow. I also want a good work/life balance and get the most out of work as well as have a good network of friends and a close relationship with my family.

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