The managing director of the Australian branch of global software giant SAP has declared the Federal Government's flagship National Broadband Network project a "wasted investment" because it doesn't focus on wireless technology.
Global companies such as IBM and Google have backed the predominantly fibre-based NBN as a crucial enabler driving productivity gains around the nation, with Google chairman Eric Schmidt going so far as to state at a conference in Spain several weeks ago that the project meant Australia was "leading the world" in understanding the importance of fibre.
However, in a speech on Tuesday to a lunch held by the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia, first outed by the Australian Financial Review, SAP Australia managing director Tim Ebbeck wasn't as keen on the initiative.
Ebbeck noted that while he was "a great supporter of improved ubiquitous broadband for Australia", the final mix of wired and wireless technologies used in the roll out "must be tweaked", and the total cost of the project must come down, which was fuelled by the use of wireless instead of fibre.
"A National Broadband Network that is not delivering mobility as its principal connection approach is, in my view, wasted investment and opportunity," Ebbeck said, according to a copy of the speech distributed by SAP yesterday.
The NBN will use wireless and satellite to service a small portion of Australia's population, but the overwhelming majority will use fibre. Most technology experts, including those from the major mobile telcos themselves, have agreed over the past few months that Australia will need both wireless and fixed broadband in future to be able to fuel its information and communications needs.
The SAP chief said, according to government agency Infrastructure Australia, that there was currently a "priority pipeline" of $82.8 billion worth of projects to improve Australian infrastructure which needed funding. This did include broadband, but also a national freight network, adaptable and secure water supplies and a national energy market.
"Frankly, I am tired of all the discussion being focused on the broadband network," said Ebbeck. "It is not the most important of these infrastructure requirements, as supportive as I am of ubiquitous broadband with a strong wireless focus. I contend that water and transport infrastructure are the top priorities out of the list of seven."
Ebbeck highlighted increased corporate adoption of the Apple iPad — which the German company is rolling out to its staff globally — as well as other enterprise mobility solutions as evidence of how technology could enhance productivity in Australia's economy.
Other themes of the executive's speech included the need to better capture benefits from the mining boom — which Ebbeck said had masked poor performance in the rest of the economy over the past decade — as well as the need to populate the country with skilled workers to sustain growth, and for organisations to welcome technology-fuelled innovation to increase national productivity.