Businesses must wait for better upstream speeds on DSL

Telecom New Zealand Ltd. says business users wanting ADSL upload speeds faster than 128K bps (bits per second) are in the minority and it will continue to target the mainstream business market with rate-limited plans.

Earlier this month Telecom launched three new business-grade DSL plans, although they are all rate limited to the 128K bps upload speed. Telecom still offers the original full speed JetStream plans it rolled out in 1999 with upload speeds of up to 600K bps, but the price has remained unchanged since those plans were introduced. The price difference between the new rate-limited plans and the older full-speed plans is dramatic.

The fastest of the new plans, 2M bps download speed with a 15G-byte monthly cap, costs NZ$149.95 (US$106). The older JetStream 10,000 plan, which offers at least 2M bps download with the faster 600K bps upload speed, and includes 10G bytes of traffic per month, costs NZ$905.78 with an excess charge of 10.7 cents per megabyte.

The Commerce Commission appears to agree with Telecom that 128K bps is fast enough for business users. The Unbundled Bitstream Service (UBS) it defined last year also sets upstream speeds at a maximum of 128K bps.

Overseas, upstream speeds for business connections are typically faster than 128K bps For example, Ihug's parent company, iiNet, offers its iiBroadband2 "medium" plan in Australia with 12M bps download and 1M bps upstream speeds, with a 40G-byte monthly traffic cap, for A$70 (US$54) per month. Telecom's best DSL business plan offers 8M bps download and 600K bps upload speeds with a 30G-byte traffic cap for NZ$2,417.78 each month.

However, Telecom's head of internet and online marketing, Chris Thompson, says faster upload speeds aren't important to most business customers. "It's easy to over-estimate demand for niche products like that."

Thompson won't say whether Telecom could increase the upload speeds in the future. "We don't comment on future plans but we're targeting the plans where the market is, and currently the vast majority of new sign-ups are in this area," he says.

But several customers who have contacted Computerworld New Zealand are frustrated by the 128K bps upstream limit.

"I need to send data as well as receive it and frankly 128K bps isn't even broadband," says one engineering user who did not wish to be named. He routinely receives CAD design files on his broadband connection but cannot send them to others because of the slow upload speed.

"I end up burning them to disk and carrying them in the next day. It just shouldn't be that hard," the engineer says.

Thompson says there is relatively little demand for such services in New Zealand.

"The growth is all at the entry level and to be honest, Telecom probably made a mistake with launching [the full speed JetStream plan] in the first place." Thompson says, adding the new business plans are targeted at the majority of New Zealand's small businesses, which need cheap, reliable internet access for email and web-surfing and not for file transfers of this type.

"If that's what they want to do they're going to want a more managed service anyway so we'd look at things like leased lines or a more high-end solution."

Another user describes the lack of movement on pricing in the past six years as "ridiculous".

"Why any business would use a DSL plan from Telecom, when for a few thousand more setup cost you could have a frame relay connection with Orcon and a 512K bps duplex dedicated pipe almost uncapped for less than NZ$1,000 per month, is beyond me".

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Ernie Newman says the business need for greater upload speed is important. Users wanting faster uploads may be a minority, he says, but that doesn't mean their requirements should be ignored.

"Most business do have a higher download requirement than an upload but there are some that do need more. It's always going to be niche but it's a vitally important sector of the business community."

Newman says businesses like publishing or engineering would both benefit from having access to greater upload capacity and to shut them out of the gains to be made by using broadband is bad for the economy as a whole.

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