Superhighways trumped by dirt tracks

Superhighways trumped by dirt tracks

Summary: Don't forget to remove your international "dirt track" as you build your domestic superhighway.


Don't forget to remove your international "dirt track" as you build your domestic superhighway.

It's all well and good having an information superhighway costing billions, or tens of billions in Australia's case, but have we removed all of the blockages for its effective operation?

As I have toured New Zealand in recent weeks, I have become concerned and frustrated by capacity constraints in our broadband network.

This is especially so where services are free, such as in provincial town libraries or in CBD centres like Auckland and Hamilton, where free Wi-Fi is offered, and hordes of net-hungry freeloaders come online, pushing the speeds down to "not fit for purpose" levels.

You may recall last month when TelstraClear offered free or unmetered broadband one weekend and there was similar chaos, with speeds down to low levels, especially for information from overseas.

I said that such problems helped build the business case for better cable links from New Zealand to overseas.

Since then, we have seen growing concern over our international links, with talk of New Zealand being an "internet ghetto".

It's all well and good having superhighways running across the country, but if the link to overseas is a dusty, single-lane track, then New Zealand will still have capacity constraints, especially for international traffic, which much of our content tends to be.

It's not just a matter of getting your Guardian or Wall Street Journal instantly, but when firms increasingly use cloud computing, such roadblocks could be costly for New Zealand, as it develops its IT economy.

I tried contacting a couple of people yesterday to see how real the issue was, but much of the country remains on holiday. Certainly, the worries and concerns are real.

I would hope that as he pushed through the ultra-fast broadband (UFB) network, New Zealand's former ICT Minister Steven Joyce realised that creating superhighways in one area might just create congestion and blockages elsewhere. Since he was also Transport Minister at the same time, I would expect that he would be familiar with the principles and analogies involved.

I can only hope that his successor, lawyer and Canterbury farmer Amy Adams, is similarly aware.

With the government spending $1.5 billion or so on its flagship UFB and rural broadband initiatives, it is essential that all works swimmingly when completed, otherwise the government will be left with egg on its face.

Thus, extra investment in the variety of planned cables looks essential to ensure that such projects happen, and the UFB works most effectively.

The government has said that eventually it will run Crown Fibre Holdings, which handles the UFB investment, on more commercial lines. As the newly re-elected government prepares to hock off some of the remaining "family silver" in its program of "partial privatisations", selling all or part of Crown Fibre Holdings could be the way to pay for extra investment in the various international cabling initiatives.

And as Australia builds its own NBN superhighway across the length and breadth of your great continent, it also might want to consider its own connections to the outside world, for surely it has "dirt track" international links, too.

Topics: Broadband, New Zealand, NBN

Darren Greenwood

About Darren Greenwood

Darren Greenwood has been in journalism, not all of it IT, since the days of typewriters and long before the web spun its way around the world.

Coming from Yorkshire, he can be blunt, and though having resided in New Zealand, as well as Australia, for quite some time, he insists he is not one of the 'sheeple!'

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Remember that the NBN is far more than just about the Internet! Local high speed connectivity allows for local high speed connectivity! You don't need International connections for Telehealth, or Remote Teleworking, or Remote Classrooms, or even Cloud services (one could say that it would be a positive to local cloud players if the National Network was let down by the Inernational Links).
    Besides, we have far more capacity on our International links than we need right now (sorry Tasmania!, we know you are getting screwed getting back to the mainland!)

    Please don't add any more fuel to the anti-NBN whingers by mentioning something which is a fringe issue.
  • You are not giving sufficient credit to the power of ISP-held caching technology. HDD storage is cheap as chips nowadays (why do you think the likes of google and facebook don't ever delete ANY of their users data, even when the user has finished with it or "deleted" it), and therefore having Terabytes of storage for caching any video that is even remotely popular for australian/new zealand users is not only financially viable it's commonsense. Virtually all bandwidth hungry net use can benefit from caching (P2P through Layer 7 interception, youtube, akamai content, netflix, etc etc) and therefore the international link is not a problem.

    The only thing that needs to happen is for the backhaul links across NZ to move from current 10Gbits to 40/100Gbits links so that an ISP has the ability to offer that ultra-fast cached content to it's users.
    • Actually normally I'd say maybe you are right about hard drive storage being cheap as chips (if you are talking generic sata drives and not enterprise models) however with the recent floods in thailand prices are 2 to 3 times higher than previously. So for the short term it isn't the cheapest proposition. That said in a few years time we might be back to normal again and perhaps some people may have access to the NBN by then.
      • HDDs for caching are premium price models, as they have to endure far more thrashing than domestic ones.

        It is likely that their supply will proceed unabatted as the cut-throat domentic priced models would be (should I say are?) sacrificed for the more lucrative enterprise ones.
  • We stayed recently in Daylesford, a country town in mid-western Victoria.

    We are on Telstra 4G in Sydney and regularly get 10Mbps down and 11Mbps up.
    Using our portable NextG devices with >10Mbps modems in Daylesford, we got
    • (didn't save it all)
      ... 100th down and almost none up.

      Us city-dwellers are used to relatively low-cost high-speed broadband forget that anyone more than just a few kms away is relegated to using just above dialup speeds.

      It is not helped that the ROI for country communication infrastructure is in decades, not years compared to the city. But unless we spend upon the country communication to make it viable for city businesses, cities will be saddled with very expensive non-communication infrastructure costs, mainly because they are already overcrowded.

      Let us keep the cities for those industries that require physical closeness to the rest of the world, and leave the REST of the country for those that only need to be virtually close.
  • Cheers everyone. I agree that for local transmission of data, international links will not matter. Thus, telehealth and the like will still be fine and such services have been trialled in New Zealand.
    However, a smaller land like ours will have a much greater share of content imported from overseas so those international links will matter, especially if the country also tries to market itself as an international data storage repository.
    I do not see this as an argument against NBN and similar systems, but when governments are spending massive amounts of taxpayer cash, they have a duty to all of us to get it right. This means dotting all the eyes and crossing the ts and preparing for eventualities like this.
    Darren Greenwood