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Friday, 12 August 2011 14:53

To believe we need 100Mbps you have to have some vision

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It's a question that has been asked a thousand times since the Labor Government unveiled its $43b NBN plan promising 100Mbs to the 93 percent of Australian homes and businesses that would be connected to fibre: "What will we use all that bandwidth for?"

And it was asked again to a panel of IT industry luminaries on Tuesday at a Trans-Tasman Business Circle lunch in Sydney this week: "What are some of the ideas coming into your minds as to what you will be able to use that kind of capacity for once it is available on a broad basis."

As with so many of the 'answers' to this question,' not one member of the panel was able to come up with a convincing application that really needed that kind of bandwidth. All the applications mentioned could easily be supported with widespread availability of the kind of bandwidths available on today's networks.

First up was Peter Westerveld, CIO of Minter Ellison Lawyers, who said: "A lawyer is a trusted advisor for a business and'¦to become a trusted advisor, to be able to easily connect with people is essential. So anything that can be done to make that connectivity easy and better than it its today especially on a global basis is very important to us, especially on a global basis. "Hardly convincing and of course the NBN will do nothing for connectivity beyond Australia's borders.

Next to have a go was Glenn Archer, first assistance secretary, Policy and Planning Division, AGIMO. "It opens up enormous opportunities in terms of how we build service delivery platforms and offerings for citizens'¦We know the Internet is now their preferred channel for dealing with Government. We also know that where citizens have access to broadband they find it easier and more effective'¦One of the problems we have today in the way they build web services is that they are constrained to the lowest common denominator so they tend to be very 'skinny'. When we have a pervasive 12Mbps across the country it completely changes the dynamic."

Jim Hassell, NBN Co's head of product development and sales, also focussed on ubiquity rather than speed. "The challenge is being able to get to a wide range of offices and customers that don't have high speed links'¦It is being able to provide a consistent response to customers wherever they may sit."

CONTINUED

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He got a bit closer when he said "There is the stuff that we know about and the stuff that we can guess about and a whole bunch of stuff we have no idea of that is going to come along in the next nine or 10 years."

So when it came to the Q&A I put it to the panel that nothing I had heard made a convincing case for 100Mbps. While that did not produce any definitive answers the panel did make a much stronger case.

Hassell said: "Historically the speed of the Internet has grown 40 fold every decade or so. So I don't think we have any idea what [100Mbps] will be used for. Digital cameras now have pixels orders of magnitude greater than when they first came out. And that content is being passed around'¦And every other device is going through a massive technological change and the data they are sending through the Internet is increasing by orders of magnitude'¦The average size of a [medical imaging] scan five years ago was 20MB, the average size today is 200MB.

"And think of the number of devices that are being attached. When I first got my broadband connection a decade ago at about 512kbps it went straight into the computer. Now we have eight devices in the home connecting to the Internet."

Archer invoked another historical precedent. "In 1993 I was a systems engineer working for Apple Computer and on a stage presenting the very first launch of QuickTime," he said. "It gave a postage stamp sized video. After that I got a question from the audience: 'Why would I ever want to watch video on my computer?'

"So there is a degree of faith here. We know that when you build something so enabling as high speed broadband and make it pervasive and ubiquitous it will change the types of services that governments can deliver."

And he added: "Perhaps the technology that is going to make the greatest use of high speed broadband is cloud. We know that cloud is gong to be as much a game changer to the operation of government and enterprise as the Internet and if you do not have high speed broadband you don't have cloud."

Much better. And those are the sorts of responses that are needed to counter the persistent critics of the NBN. Especially those in the Federal Opposition. They need to be reminded that the decision to build the NBN in its present form is essential a leap of faith; a belief in the vision that however much bandwidth is available applications will emerge to use it. And that there are ample precedents to support this belief.

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