Groundhog year

It normally would be a time for new resolutions, but at the start of 2005 we must realise that the old ones must be resolved first.

commentary It normally would be a time for new resolutions, but at the start of 2005 we must realise that the old ones must be resolved first.

One year has gone, and another lies ahead but still, issues from yesteryear -- 2004 -- seem to circle. IP telephony, the current state of the IT economy, and how much spam you manage to attract are some of the left overs still lurking about. Along with the big question -- how long it will be before you have broadband access -- it looks like these issues might be here with us until this time next year.

Not surprisingly, the topic of broadband generated the most feedback (and outrage) last year. In a developed, (mostly) first-world country such as Australia, people expect to be able to obtain fast access to the Internet at a reasonable cost. The first time I covered this topic, suggesting Australia was somewhere at the bottom of the broadband barrel, there was a number of online replies reflecting the frustration at the current situation. From Perth, an anonymous poster wrote said "broadband in Australia is a joke".

Our government is ignorant of the need for Australia to invest in broadband. Returning home to this country from Europe, it feels like I have stepped into the last century. In Brisbane, one reader wrote: "Maybe we should get them [the government] to watch for the smoke signals instead [of setting up broadband]. Australia would then be world famous for developing a set of protocols for smoke signals!" Comments even came from as far south as Tasmania: "In regards to broadband we are stuck in the horse and buggy days."

Returning home to this country from Europe, it feels like I have stepped into the last century.
Not a great deal has changed, especially outside the major cities. Even within major centres, as I was corrected by one reader, there are a number of limitations imposed by Telstra that prevent a large number of telephone subscribers accessing ADSL. New service providers such as Unwired, which use wireless to avoid the "last mile" issues and Telstra's local loop monopoly, offer hope but they won't have a large impact in the short-term. As the infrastructure was only completed in August last year, there hasn't been much publicly available information on subscriber numbers, but the service purportedly is capable of delivering broadband access to more than 3.5 million people in Sydney and has been proven overseas.

In regional areas, other wireless-based initiatives could break the current deadlock, but the same geographic challenges that prevent Telstra from increasing their ADSL coverage -- their inability to make a profit -- will also hamper new entrants to the market. As the likely timeframe for full privatisation of Telstra becomes shorter, there is no better time to continue lobbying for a focus on the right infrastructure.

On a related note, another reader from Sydney beieves it won't be long before we can use VoIP technology to avoid current telephony charges: "With the advent of true wireless broadband now being deployed, VoIP won't be far behind. That will then provide actual competition to Telstra's 'last mile' monopoly and mean we are finally able to dump the continuously rising line-rental fees." Since then, Engin has been launched in Australia, offering cheap local and long-distance calls using a normal phone handset. This service does require broadband, and in many cases (like with ADSL), the only way to get broadband is by paying for a phone line that includes untimed local calls. Still, it's a step in the right direction.

Another topic that sparked a brief but fierce debate through 2004 is the relevance of IT to compeitive advantage, and thereby profitability. Many of the opinions and responses to this topic addressed the semantics and restated the different arguments. As one person wrote: "One more time: it isn't whether IT is important or even vital, it's whether you can differentiate a company enough by IT for it to be worth developing new IT. You must keep up-to-date, but do it by taking advantage of whatever the market offers, not by forging your own path." What do you think?

I'm predicting 2005 will be the year of yesteryear, as the same issues of broadband access, Telstra's policies, and spam -- with the occasional pinch of outsourcing controversy -- repeated. Hopefully someone will disagree. It gives me something to write about.

Oliver Descoeudres is marketing manager at network IP/Internet network infrastructure builder and solutions provider NetStar Australia. He can be contacted at or on 02 9805 9759.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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