The year of living dangerously

commentary The year 2006 was one of extremes for the Australian telecommunications sector. For most of this year the nation stared ravenously at Telstra's carrot of a national fibre to the node broadband network that would finally deliver the sorts of speeds we will need for the coming wave of Internet services.

commentary The year 2006 was one of extremes for the Australian telecommunications sector.
Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia

For most of this year the nation stared ravenously at Telstra's carrot of a national fibre to the node broadband network that would finally deliver the sorts of speeds we will need for the coming wave of Internet services.

At the same time, nobody could agree on just how the dang thing should actually be built and operated.

Telstra used the issue continuously as a stick to beat the federal government and competition regulator over the head ... but achieved virtually nothing with its campaign for regulatory reform.

This pattern was repeated all over the sector in the last 12 months.

Telstra's major rivals formed a group called the G9, and claimed to be preparing an alternative fibre to the node blueprint. But eight months after the group first went public with the idea, the G9 has not yet put a formal proposal before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The long-expected consolidation in the telco sector also did not substantially materialise, although moves in the period around tier two carriers iiNet and AAPT were closely watched.

Of course, this year's news was not all bad, although it was still extreme.

Telstra pushed Ericsson to the limit to deliver on its promise to build a massive new nation wide 3G mobile network in the minimum possible time. The vendor came through in just 10 months ... but I bet some of Ericsson's engineers are still recovering from the gruelling 24x7 schedule.

Then there was Telstra's move to finally launch ADSL2+ and uncapped ADSL1 services, allowing millions of broadband customers Down Under to speed up their broadband from a maximum of 1.5Mbps to a potential of 8Mbps.

Telstra's rivals didn't stand still either in 2006. The likes of Optus, iiNet, Hutchison, Vodafone, Internode and more continued building out network infrastructure at a speedy rate as they continued to challenge the incumbent's dominance.

All this activity has led to a situation where all levels of customers have more choice in where to place their telecommunications spend than ever before.

In the enterprise sector, the convergence of voice and data networks hit an extreme fever pitch. Virtually every chief information officer and IT manager your writer spoke to this year was eyeing off telephony and other services based on the Internet Protocol.

Going back a year, many people were still holding back, citing cost or technical reasons.

And of course the ongoing entrance of smartphones into the pockets of executives made many more people "extremely" annoyed with their addicted family members who couldn't break the so-called CrackBerry habit at home.

Despite the onset of the silly season, change in the telco sector is showing no signs of slowing down. Your writer expects that 2007 will follow 2006 and be remembered as a historic year in the timeline of Australian telecommunications.

What was the biggest thing to happen in 2006 in Australian telecommunications? Drop me a line directly at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

I'd like to offer sincere thanks to the many readers who responded to my columns over the past year -- I have enjoyed the privilege of corresponding with you and wish you a great Christmas and New Year break.