While networking solutions services are taken for granted in city areas in Australia, it is still a different situation when it comes to rural areas. Despite the more niche aspect of the outback market, networking vendors are going out of their way to bring the highest level of service to their customers.
It is a fact that most IT vendors spend their time and manpower servicing the major metropolitan areas, as this is where the majority of the business tends to be. While this may have been true for the longest time, the changing face of IT and Australia becoming more interconnected means vendors are continually finding new opportunities in regional or rural areas.
One vendor that found itself a market in remote regions, both in Australia and New Zealand, is Allied Telesis.
“In particular, we’ve experienced a significant amount of success with regional airports, food processing facilities, industrial plants and local councils to mention a few,” Allied Telesis Australia country manager, Scott Penno, said.
While there might be untapped opportunities in the rural marketplace, Ruckus Wireless country manager, Carl Jefferys, feels that the rapid evolution of networking technology has meant that vendors are always looking for problems to solve.
According to him, Wi-Fi by its very nature solves what he considers to be the two greatest challenges in regional Australia, namely coverage and connectivity.
“Wi-Fi technology is key in meeting these demands, especially the advanced ‘Smart Wi-Fi’ technology and wireless LAN, or WLAN, systems that are designed and manufactured by us,” he said.
As an example, Jefferys highlights how point to point wireless can link to the “last,” or furthest part of the farm, using Ruckus links at approximately 8km at 50 Mbps with no external antennas.
“This was never done before and was installed quickly, simply and cost effectively,” he said.
City Vs. Rural
One would imagine that meeting the networking needs of a rural community as opposed to a large metropolis would be much different, but while this may have been the case not too long ago, advancements in technology have meant that the gap has narrowed over time.
For example, Jefferys claimed that covering a farm with a large shed is not too dissimilar to a situation faced by an IT manager needing to cover a large warehouse, and it essentially comes down to support and how thorough it is.
“That’s where the regionally based vendor needs to be assured that the products and technology that they are installing offer solid support to the client 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
Having worked with resellers in regional areas, NETGEAR managing director, Ryan Parker, found that the technology drivers in regional Australia are very similar as those in the big cities, which again made the rural space not too dissimilar from the metropolitan one.
“In rural areas you have SMBs, local governments, and universities that are all interested in virtualisation and Cloud solutions, disaster and backup recovery, and buying tablets and getting on board the mobility bandwagon,” he said. “They have all of the same needs, the only thing that is different is broadband speed, but even that is being addressed as well.”
The Outback Challenge
With the wide open spaces in Australia, the biggest challenge vendors have found is distance. However, the days of vendors struggling to support rural clients are on their way towards being over, as Parker is convinced that any vendor in this day and age should have “no trouble servicing or supporting” both end users and resellers in regional Australia.
“If you look at our warranty programs, we support regional Australia and we can provide next business day hardware replacement on a Netgear product to all major regional centres in Australia,” he said.
Parker also feels that a vendor is only doing themselves and regional Australia a disservice if they do not have strategies in place to properly support them.
“Because NETGEAR is an SMB focused vendor, we’ve geared our business to support those types of resellers,’” he said. CBO Telecommunications managing director, Mark McGregor, also identifies “the tyranny of distance” as a hurdle in reaching a site in a timely manner, though other challenges such as remote monitoring and access to the equipment should also not be overlooked.
“You need to make sure your solution is designed for the worst case scenario in mind when dealing with specific location requirements, such as temperature and flooding,” he said. “Some of the solutions we’ve done in the southern part of Australia get tempered ice while temperatures in the north can hit 60C.”
For a vendor such as CBO Telecommunications, the rural market forms a very important of its business strategy, as it delivers most of its work outside of metropolitan areas.
“We see it as a great opportunity to deliver a first class service in an area that traditionally would not have access to such a service,” McGregor said.
He also adds that rural networks these days are not as disparate as they were in years gone by, and that the available technology and solutions used to integrate into the corporate environments can now provide an “office-like environment” in a remote area.
Allied Telesis sees regional and rural businesses being just as important as similar organisations in metropolitan areas.
“This is one of the reasons why we’re currently working with a couple of other vendors on a series of roadshows that will initially be run throughout regional Victoria and New South Wales, and potentially through other regional areas around Australia,” Allied Telesis’ Penno said.
Ruckus is also dedicated to delivering genuine communications improvements for the rural sector in Australia. “We are actively recruiting rural based VARs dedicated to and supporting specific regional locations to help us service this often forgotten market segment,” Ruckus Wireless’ Jefferys said.
According to Netgear’s Parker, The rural market plays an important role in Netgear’s business because regional Australia has similar needs to the vendor’s city based partners that it works with.
“When you look at the technology buying motivators, they’re aligned as well,” he said. “They’re looking for reliable, best in class technology that they can deploy for their customers.”
Parker also points out that they are looking for it to be affordable because rural Australia is “as cost conscious as any part of Australia,” particularly due to the natural disasters that they are occasionally faced with.
“Accessibility to training courses is also a challenge, so when they’re looking at technology, they’re looking for something simple to deploy and skill up on,” he said.