Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is it time for a government mobile broadband guarantee?

The Australian government has an opportunity to expand its support for national fixed line broadband to include mobile broadband, spearheaded by the release of the Apple iPhone this week.

The phone is a revolutionary device and reports out of the US indicate that people using the phone are using internet data services 50x as frequently as on other phone handsets.

However with the release of telecommunications plans by Optus, Vodaphone and Telstra, there has been considerable backlash within online communities.

The general theme is that the data allocations are too small, and the cost of data much too high.

The view is stated sucinctly by Stephen Collins of Acidlabs in his post, The iPhone as social umbilical cord (and how Australian telcos don’t get it).

Mobile internet has to-date been largely a non-event in Australia. With the rollout of 3G networks, telecommunications providers have focused on providing content via walled gardens from selected media services. Data usage has been low as the cost of data has been high - often 10x the cost of fixed broadband.

The release of the iPhone and similar multi-channel handheld devices changes the game.

Services such as Twitter, Plurk, Friendfeed, instant messaging clients and other 'stream of consciousness' communications technologies are easily accessible via the device.

This turns the publisher -> consumer walled garden of current mobile internet services into a conversation - a multi-user <-> multi-user always-on social and business experience.

Unfortunately the launch plans for the product from all three telecommunications players do not support this type of product use, pricing data out of the reach of an always-on experience.

The Australia government has its Australian Broadband Guarantee program poised to roll-out for 2008-2009 in August. This program is admirable - it helps ensure that Australians have access to fixed wire broadband in ever growing numbers.

However much of the world is now beginning to substitute fixed broadband for more mobile solutions, via mobile phone or dedicated wireless networks.

In many developing countries expensive fixed networks are not being rolled out - instead they are rolling out wireless, which is cheaper and easier to deliver to remove areas.

For Australia to stay in the game, let alone remain an innovator, there is the need to take a longer-term view and support the mobile broadband industry.

How to do this
The first step is to understand the seachange occuring overseas and review what can be done in Australia to reduce the cost of mobile data.

The second step is to take steps - quickly - to reduce those costs, encouraging Australians to use handheld devices for the uses they are being put to overseas.

This will establish the environment for greater innovation in mobile broadband. These innovations will have global potential, helping Australian companies to competitively play on the world stage.

It will also, though increasing usage, deliver greater profits to the telecommunications companies.

Finally it can also be used to address some of the inconsistencies and inequitites in the fixed broadband market.

What's the alternative?
The alternative is for the government to let the market take the lead, locking in expensive mobile broadband solutions and leaving Australia a 'follow-me' country that adopts overseas technologies rather than innovating locally.

This outcome would be extremely detrimental to Australia's long-term future.

The internet is the nervous system of the world, allowing individuals and organisations to come together to create and share ideas, solve problems and build new businesses regardless of their geographic location.

If Australia is not embedded firmly in this nervous system it will become increasingly uncompetitive over time.

What's your view on the steps the government should take?

1 comment:

  1. An alternative to the telcos would be great. I am part of a campaign to get a co-op up and running:

    We will get a new mobile carrier if 10,000 people join with low rates and compatibility with new technology like the iPhone.

    Please tell everyone you know!