Barking up the wrong tree?

Barking up the wrong tree?

We might be living in a mobile world by the time a high-speed national broadband network is finally built

Last week saw the Federal Government extend the tender deadline for a $4.7 billion national broadband network (NBN). You can bet this won't be the last delay in what is likely to be a very lengthy process.

However, as much as many potential users would like to see construction start tomorrow, the delay is well justified given that the two would-be winners of the contract have slammed current documents for not providing enough information. Let's hope the delay leads to a more informed decision and the building of the best possible network.

In the meantime, Telstra's rival in the tender process (formerly known as the G9 consortium even though there are only eight companies in it following AAPT's acquisition of PowerTel) rebranded itself as Terria, much to the delight of local journalists. The name is a high-brow reference to Terra Australis (unknown land of the south) but there was a definite 'terrier' theme running through the coverage of its name change. As a result, the consortium has so far been depicted as 'barking' and 'nipping/snapping' at Telstra's heels.

No doubt if Terria is successful in winning the national broadband network tender we can expect to read about it 'cocking a leg' and 'marking its territory'.

While it lacks the vast geographical challenges of this sunburned land, it seems the UK is doing a much better job of getting broadband into 'rural' areas (admittedly, those who have done some travelling around the UK will know most of these are little more than an hour's drive from the nearest city). So much so that the communications regulator, Ofcom, issued a report last week that said more rural homes (59 per cent) had broadband connections than urban homes (57 per cent). I wouldn't hold my breath for those stats to be repeated here - high-speed national network or not.

I was hosting some panel discussions on the D-Link stand at CeBIT last week, which included a session on mobility. The main focus was developments in mobile technologies but the final topic of discussion was whether wireless will ever completely replace wired networks. BigAir director, Jason Ashton, said fibre would always be needed somewhere in the network but posed some interesting questions about the need for fixed, high-speed national infrastructure.

For example, the government is aiming to deliver 12Mbps to 98 per cent of Australians over the NBN but mobile WiMAX (a service BigAir will be selling) promises burst speeds of up to 40Mbps. With only 52 per cent of homes in the developed world having fixed phone lines today, a number that is falling all the time, it seems likely we'll all have mobile devices that deliver high-speed content sooner or later.

If that happens, fixed line national infrastructure will become a big white elephant. And depending on how quickly it happens, Terria or Telstra could be left howling at the moon in frustration.

Brian Corrigan is the editorial director of ARN.

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