The fibre acceleration

Published on the 11/04/2014 | Written by Paul Brislen

Paul Brislen talks about why we can never have enough bandwidth and that’s not a bad thing…

There are a number of people on the internet who seem to think the idea of building a fibre network to three quarters of the country’s buildings is a bad idea. I can only assume they don’t use the internet today and if they do, they certainly didn’t use it when we were all on dial-up.

I’m reminded in many ways of the early days of ADSL broadband. Back in 1999 there were plenty of nay-sayers who couldn’t understand why having ‘always on’ access to the internet was a good thing. They couldn’t see the value in having a faster internet connection because their dial-up connection was good enough.

And in many respects it was. I worked from home on a dial up connection and then on an early ADSL1 service from Telecom that gave me 600MB of data to use every month. I managed to cope with that because in 1999 the amount of video content was limited, my applications (such as they were) tended towards the minimalist because the bandwidth constraints were so great, and nobody really used the internet for anything more than email and bulletin boards.

But I knew then that I wanted more and that if I had more I could do more. TUANZ put together a three-day session to discuss what opportunities lay on the other side of ubiquitous, cheap access to very fast internet speeds and we wrote a book (‘Survival of the Fastest’) all about what was, back then, science fiction.

Wouldn’t it be good if I could connect with all my friends as they were travelling around the place so I would know who was nearby so I could have a coffee with them? Wouldn’t it be good if I could put on a pair of goggles and see the Coliseum in Rome as it was 2000 years ago? Wouldn’t it be great if I could video-conference not only from the giant telepresence suite at work but also from my home PC?

We dreamt up the likes of Facebook, 4Square, Google Goggles and Skype but without any real thought to make them into real products (aside from Mark Billinghurst who now runs augmented reality company HitLab) but we knew that if we had access to good connectivity, these things would be possible.

A fibre network that connects most of us is the start of the future for New Zealand. It will change the way we communicate with each other. It will enhance our business opportunities. It will improve our health system, give us access to better education, redefine the way we as citizens interact with our government at all levels and hopefully a whole raft of things we haven’t thought of yet because we’re stuck in our 2Mbit/s world.

I could use a 10Mbit/s symmetrical connection today. I’d jump at the chance to get a better upload speed because suddenly I need it. Tomorrow I’ll be looking for 50Mbit/s and the day after 100Mbit/s. My home connection is no longer just something that I use – now my kids use it, my wife uses it, all our devices are constantly going out seeking updates and, if Google gets its way, my house will shortly be connecting to the world, not to mention my car.

In the next decade we’ll see 4K television become more accessible, we’ll see home automation take off, we’ll see the ‘internet of things’ become a reality and for all of that to happen we need fibre.

The problem as I see it is not that “nobody really wants this stuff” as some would have you believe, but rather that not everyone will have access to it. This isn’t a problem of the government demanding industry build a white elephant – it’s a problem of haves and have-nots.

I’d like to see technology become a key issue in the upcoming election. I want New Zealand to do better, to have more and to foot it with the best of them. It’s high time we had a government that saw the opportunity rather than the cost of all this.


Paul Brislen is the Telecommunication Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ) chief executive.

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