By Sarah Falson

CANBERRA: VoIP providers and the Australian Electrical and Electronic Manufacturer’s Association (AEEMA) have both welcomed the federal opposition’s proposed $4.7 billion investment in the National Broadband Network, saying it will facilitate growth in the communications market.

The plan, announced last week by opposition leader Kevin Rudd, proposed that up to $4.7 billion in public funding would be used to build a fibre-to-the-node network delivering a minimum speed of 12Mbps to 98 per cent of the population.

MyNetFone, an Australian-based voice over internet protocol (VoIP) provider, and Skype, the world’s largest VoIP provider, both say the future of communication relies on the internet.

“The key to developing the VoIP market is getting equal broadband service around the country. If everyone can access broadband, then this will be the best type of market,” said MyNetFone technical director, Rene Sugo, whose company will soon launch a range of next generation communication services including voice, video, and ‘presence’, which allows the caller to ascertain if their friend/colleague is available before they place the call.  

Skype vice president for Asia Pacific operations, Scott Bagby, agrees that the internet is the key to communications moving forward, and also suggests that the growth of  ‘disruptive technologies’, or different ways people enact with each other rather than face-to-face, is one of the primary reasons the internet is growing so quickly.

“Online collaboration and connection are the primary drivers of future internet growth,” he said, estimating that 44 per cent of the time users spend on the internet is devoted to communicating.

Skype will also roll-out some new services this month, including a user-generated directory called SkypeFind which allows users to post business findings on the website, as well as to view and comment on other people’s recommendations, all for free with a Skype account.

According to the AEEMA however, our government may have left it too late for Australia to become a “knowledge community”.

“The government must take a leading role to provide the broadband infrastructure necessary to drive Australia’s productivity growth forward,” said AEEMA chief executive, Angus M Robinson.

“If Australia is to be at the forefront of software and content development for communications-based industries, it is likely to take [the] industry 10 to 15 years to establish the appropriate broadband infrastructure.”

A consistent, reliable, high-speed national broadband service is as important to the country as other essential infrastructures like water, electricity and gas, said Robinson.

“All homes and businesses should have access to high speed internet connectivity at affordable prices. In the emerging era of ubiquitous computing and the new information economy, communication infrastructure is a key enabler and should be viewed as another utility,” he said.

Robinson points to the Singapore government’s recent promise that every household will soon receive ultra-high speed internet of symmetric 1Gbps or more, free-of-charge.

“While it is recognised that Singapore has a much higher population density than Australia, the fact remains that developed economies are now competing on the quality and capability of their essential ICT infrastructure.”
MyNetFone, which supplies a VoIP service with no lock-in subscription fees, supports the roll-out of high-speed internet, but doesn’t think Australia has missed the broadband boat.

“It’s never too late,” said Sugo.

“Of course an updated broadband infrastructure would take a long time to build, but this just means we should start doing something sooner rather than later. A good, open broadband infrastructure is essential in developing the VoIP market and other multimedia services.”

AEEMA is currently lobbying the Howard Government to commit to a timeframe to migrate to the next generation internet protocol version 6 (IPv6), which will be able to better handle Australia’s growing internet usage demands. According to Robinson, IPv6 is the way of the future.

“Broadband will be the catalyst for a whole new range of emerging products and services around the globe. Mobile communications and hardware convergence will create new user markets and a market for software and content – areas where Australian ICT is already strong and provides leading solutions,” he said.

“Federal, state and territory governments have a clear and urgent mandate to co-operate to drive installation of a national high-speed broadband infrastructure network.”