Under current government policy, only three per cent of Australian businesses and two per cent of consumers will adopt broadband technologies by 2003, figures which have damning implications for our national credence in the Internet economy.
This is the warning issued by Bob Hayward, senior vice president of Gartner, Asia-Pacific, at Gartner's Symposium/Itxpo in Brisbane. Hayward believes access to plentiful, cheap broadband services and infrastructure to enable the wireless Web are critical to the future of Australia's economy. "The rest of the world is moving very quickly in this direction, creating networked economies where business embraces the efficiencies created by ubiquitous communication," he said. "Australia risks being left behind if we lack the infrastructure to participate fully."
Telstra seems to be copping most of the flack for the sluggish rate of broadband deployment, an issue Hayward believes was highlighted when Microsoft chairman Bill Gates castigated Telstra MD Ziggy Switkowski at the Melbourne World Economic Forum. "He [Ziggy] was right to do so because if current government policy continues we'll see high prices, limited competition and consequential slow adoption," said Geoff Johnson, Gartner research director.
According to Terry Walsh, managing director of Cisco Systems, Australia/NZ, the cost of bandwidth in the service provider space, up to 20 times more than the US, is crippling Australian businesses who are trying to compete in the global market place. "We have a future ahead of us that could involve us being an entire nation made up of branches of multinationals and no Australian businesses if we don't move on this fairly quickly," said Walsh. "Just counting the number of people connected to the Internet and calling ourselves world leaders is no longer enough."
Hayward believes that while the wireless Web presents opportunities for technological growth in Australia and the Asia-Pacific, the lack of progress will impact heavily on e-business, enterprise remote access as well as digital TV and the wired home.
While the geographical size coupled with a small population makes rolling out a broadband infrastructure an economic nightmare, Lloyd Ernst, CEO of WebCentral, says to deploy the ASP model they currently have on the drawing board requires something more sophisticated than the standard Optus and Telstra lines.
"E-commerce in Australia is still accommodating to the lowest common denominator," he said. "I just bought an apartment in the middle of Sydney and I can't even get broadband. The best I can do is a 28Kb connection that keeps on dropping out. I can't even get cable. Even from a consumer point of view it's disappointing that they're still concentrating on ASDL models when what WebCentral is looking towards is the richness of applications that can be added with broadband and taking it to the small to medium businesses."
With a significant stake in the carrier market within the IP domain and recent deals struck with Telstra and PowerTel, Cisco's push for the deregulation of telco infrastructure and broadband access could seem a little self interested. And being an ASP who is looking to deploy some seriously rich applications WebCentral is certainly minding its pocket, but if self interest is driving the broadband cart no one seems overtly concerned. As an inevitability which has to be realised, broadband comes with a hefty price tag and if business interest is the only way to drive it to fulfilment then the risks are small compared with being left out of the Internet economy.