KITBAG: Broadband: the waiting game

KITBAG: Broadband: the waiting game

Some say the new economy is all about revolution. In this respect, you could consider the dot-com hiatus of the past year a failed coup -- fresh-faced start-ups storming the money markets, temporarily gaining control, then seeing their power diminish as once-loyal supporters deserted in droves While a failed coup is nothing to write investors about, surely it rates higher than the so-called broadband revolution, which to date, resembles nothing as dramatic.

Broadband connectivity in Australia - criticised for its high cost and questioned on its necessity - has been thwarted by slow take-up rates in both the SME and corporate markets, as well as the consumer space. So what role the channel will play in the implementation and development of this technology remains to be seen. Nevertheless, broadband supporters believe the opportunities available for integrators, services companies, providers and developers will be many.

Laggards downunder

Criticism of broadband adoption in Australia has been widespread.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Melbourne early last year, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates berated Telstra's chief executive Ziggy Switkowski over the pace of the telco's broadband development and the high cost of subscriptions.

In October last year, Gartner released a report which claimed a lack of investment and poor government policy were holding back local broadband adoption, which would result in Australia trailing in the global technology stakes. The report predicted if take up numbers continued at the present snail-like rate, broadband adoption among businesses would be as low as 3 per cent by 2004.

A similar report released in November last year by IDC also said Australia would lose position in the IT and Internet fields due to its failure to adopt technologies such as broadband. However, in contrast to Gartner, IDC's outlook for high-speed connectivity was not all doom and gloom. It claimed decreased costs and increased speeds would see more than 2 million Australians sign up for DSL (digital subscriber line) broadband by 2004 - which it estimates will be more than four times the number of cable broadband subscribers.

Raising the broadband flag

Chris Flintoft, Telstra's broadband development manager, says the biggest impediment to broadband take-up in the business space has been a lack of awareness of its technological capabilities. "People don't understand what broadband is," he says, "and high-end applications have not been available to justify business investment in many cases."

Flintoft says it's the classic case of the chicken or the egg - businesses waiting for credible broadband applications to justify investment, with developers reluctant to commit to the development of such applications because of the low rate of take-up.

Nevertheless, Flintoft believes broadband adoption is set to take off, and says estimates such as those by Gartner are conservative and based on old value propositions. "A lot of estimates for how many people will be signing up to broadband are based on the value proposition of fast access to Web pages," Flintoft says. "But the introduction of broadband-specific content and services will drive up the adoption rate by introducing new value propositions which create greater take-up rates based on the quality of services and applications available."

Flintoft sees the greatest opportunity for the channel in the development and integration of these applications and services. And he says that as an aggregator of content, Telstra's role is to facilitate the development of content packages by working with developers, providers and integrators. In fact, he says, Telstra has worked with a number of companies on the development of broadband applications, including Fairfax's f2, content company Beyond Television, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Microsoft. And he tips a new Telstra marketing campaign aimed at driving broadband awareness in both the SME and corporate marketsCable and Wireless Optus (CWO), too, is working with channel partners in the belief that online transactions, and the development and integration of intensive applications, will be a driving factor behind broadband's take-up. CWO collaborated, for example, with Compaq and Tasmanian-based development and solutions company Turnaround to develop its transaction gateway, And it continues to look for better ways to integrate suppliers' technology needs in its business hub,

Factoring in content

Another so-called new breed channel company is Sydney-based content provider BecomeMedia. The company's co-founder and executive director Tim Trumper claims content will be a driving factor behind the adoption of broadband technology.

He says BecomeMedia is working with organisations that want to facilitate transactions on their Web sites. The company's clients include BHP, and Myspace, a home renovations Web site established by industrial giant Orica. And in February, BecomeMedia signed an exclusive deal with US content syndication company ScreamingMedia, which will allow it to offer editorial from 3,000 media outlets, such as Associated Press, Bloomberg and The New York Times syndicate.

Trumper says broadband allows organisations better access to content, which will encourage participation in high-speed environments. He said BecomeMedia was working with developers, integrators and aggregators on how best to provide content packages for various clients.

How do you do it?

Establishing the best way to deliver content across the variety of existing broadband options (see box) is a role integrators and services companies are expected to participate in.

Malcolm Seymour, the telecommunications' partner and value proposition development manager for global IT services company, CSC, says broadband, along with wireless, is one area CSC has labeled as very significant. He says it's critical that telcos, providers and developers partner with services companies to successfully overcome issues such as hardware and software compatibility, and security.

Putting its money where its mouth is, CSC is about to kick-off an internal testing program of a broadband IP multicasting system, which, if successful, will be outsourced to its clients. "Using IP multicasting, companies can deliver rich content without clogging up their LAN," says Seymour.

To Simon Gatward, the director of sales and marketing at IT services company Unisys, broadband is all about enablement. "Broadband enables us to provide applications and business functions that our customers want," he says.

According to Gatward, Unisys has been discussing broadband with most of its clients. "It's all about teaming with our customers and partners to work out the benefits to businesses, and the value accrued from the introduction of broadband," he says.

Just what that value will be worth to a particular business is anyone's guess. However, for the revolution to succeed, backing from the channel seems necessary. Otherwise the troops may be left without the needed armoury to overthrow the dial-up status quo.

Broadband services

ISDN: Integrated Services Digital Network is a set of standards for digitally transmitting data and voice over ordinary telephone copper wire, as well as over other media. There are usually two levels of service: the Basic Rate Interface (BRI), intended for the home and small enterprise, and the Primary Rate Interface (PRI), for larger users. ISDN PRI provides download speeds of up to 2Mbps.

LMDS: Local Multipoint Distribution Service is a broadband wireless technology which can deliver high capacity and cost-effective high-speed voice, data and Internet services. Its signal quality and reliability are comparable to conventional technology; but unlike fixed wire technology, LMDS does not require work on maintenance and construction.

Microwave: Refers to electromagnetic energy that is well-suited for wireless, high-speed transmission of signals containing large bandwidth. Microwave signals propagate in straight lines and are affected little by the troposphere or ionised regions in the upper atmosphere. However, microwave transmissions do not readily diffract around hills, mountains or large structures.

ADSL: Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line relies upon digital signal processing and algorithms to squeeze large amounts of information through normal telephone twisted-pair lines. It provides asymmetric transmission of data - 1.5Mbps downstream and up to 256Kbps upstream, depending upon the line length and line/loop condition. Telstra says its ADSL network will be available to 90 per cent of Australia's population by 2004.

Satellite: Designed to provide high-speed delivery of content from the Internet using the phone modem in your PC to initiate requests. As a result, satellite provides a high-speed data connection in one direction only. The service is "asymmetrical", requiring dialing up terrestrially for requests on the Internet. However, before a request leaves a PC, the provider's software attaches a tunneling code to the URL or Web site address. That code instructs the ISP to re-route the URL request to the provider's satellite centre. Once the request is received, the tunneling code is stripped away and the request is forwarded to the appropriate Web server. In turn, the Web server sends the information back, where the data is uploaded to the provider's satellite. The satellite then broadcasts the information to the PC via the receiver's satellite dish.Photograph: David Smedley

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