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Don't take your eye off the game

Why Telstra's new national Next G wireless network is just a sideshow.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor
commentary Telstra's new national Next G wireless network is one of the most exciting developments in the Australian telecommunications scene this year. But it's just a sideshow.
Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
The real game is clearly in the next generation of fixed broadband networks.

Telco analyst and broadband evangelist Paul Budde said it all when he wrote these words soon after Telstra launched Next G last Friday:

"While Telstra has been saying 'we are listening to our customers', I haven't heard any of them asking for yet another mobile network. Instead they are not asking, but screaming, for better fixed broadband services."

This has been your writer's experience also, in ZDNet Australia's particular area of business technology.

Yes, ever-greater numbers of business customers are demanding mobility services. The popularity of the Blackberry, in addition to the ongoing migration of apps like Siebel and SAP onto smartphones bears witness to that trend.

However a far greater concern from businesses is that in many locations basic fixed broadband services are not available.

For example, according to recent research conducted in South Australia, approximately one-third of businesses located in two of Adelaide's largest council districts, Onkaparinga and Marion, would like broadband but just can't buy it.

Now Telstra is clearly aware of this fact.

Despite all the noise on Friday about how Next G would eventually provide for all of the nation's broadband needs, Telstra is quietly working behind the scenes on better fixed broadband.

On Friday, both Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo and BigPond chieftain Justin Milne mentioned an upgrade to Telstra's existing HFC cable network.

Milne later told APC magazine Telstra was working to improve the backhaul and speed of various routers in that network, in addition to getting access to more multi-dweller units such as apartment blocks, which have historically proven problematic.

But that's not all.

The Australian newspaper reported this week that Telstra was finally planning to launch ADSL2+ services on the back of the hardware the telco has had in its network for some time.

Telstra currently only offers 1.5Mbps ADSL services, but ADSL2+ will allow speeds of up to 24Mbps. The move will finally bring Telstra up to speed with rivals like Optus, Internode and iiNet that have been selling ADSL2+ for, in some cases, more than 18 months.

In the top-end enterprise space, Telstra's awareness of the demand for fixed services is also evident.

On Friday, the group managing director of Telstra's enterprise and government division, David Thodey, spent some of his own presentation talking up the Next G wireless network.

However he quickly moved on to discussing the ongoing migration of enterprise customers to Internet Protocol-based networking (IP), and away from legacy technologies like frame relay.

"We're already seeing 38 percent growth in that core IP revenue, and that is putting an incredible amount of opportunity and also stress and strain on the business, because you're transitioning customers," said Thodey.

"Remember, these data networks are the lifeblood of corporations," he added.

In other words, the meat and bread of Thodey's business is still in being able to deliver stable and fast fixed networks.

Businesses can expect to see Telstra hyping up Next G in the next few months. But don't forget to keep your eye on the fixed market too.

How important will Telstra's Next G network prove to the broadband-starved nation? A drop of water in a drought or a tsunami? Drop me a line directly at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au or post your opinion in the talkback field below.

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