Turners Auctions and e-cast restricted by bandwidth

New Zealand needs to stop saying "it is too hard", says IT manager

Bandwidth restrictions, an inconsistent broadband service and data caps are making it difficult for local companies to deliver online services to customers.

In 2006, Turners Auctions launched “Turners Live”, a software download that lets buyers participate in an auction live, via a streaming service to their PCs.

The online auction system brings the physical auction event to the buyer’s desktop, says Tofigh Alizadeh, IT manager of Turners Auctions.

Turners Live has grown significantly since 2006 and now represents 20% of vehicle auction transactions, he says.

However, the efficiency of the online offering is dependent on broadband service in the customer’s area, Alizadeh says.

The criteria for participating in Turners Live is simple, he says. Customers need access to the internet and to reliable and fast broadband to watch the streaming video, listen to the auctioneer and bid, he says.

“Broadband is the one area where we are a being let down,” Alizadeh says.

Besides speed issues, there are additional problems related to reliability and inconsistency of the broadband service, he says.

“We have customers who tell us that they can watch the auction one day and not the next,” he says. “The video-feed is perfect one minute and not the next. It is just frustrating when the customer is not getting a good service and there is nothing we can do to help them.”

Turners has worked with its solution provider and has recently launched a new generation of Turners Live, which offers new features and improved functionality. “We have put a lot of focus on making sure the streaming information is light and can adapt to the fickle broadband performance, but at the end of the day, we have to rely on broadband to deliver the services,” says Alizadeh.

“We have had to compromise and limit our offering and it is, basically, because of the poor state of the broadband reliability and speed,” he says.

New Zealand needs to stop saying “it is too hard” and do something about it, he says. “We need to invest in the future of this country.”

Auckland-based e-cast, which delivers video streaming services to the local business, production, government and education sectors, as well as the public, is also reliant on its customers’ bandwidth capabilities. Most noticeable for the company are bandwidth restrictions and data caps in the educational sector, says e-cast’s director of technology, Brian Oliver.

“I think the environment is improving and initiatives such as LLU are translating into investment in broadband by the tier-2 telcos,” Oliver says. “Resulting competition will help improve services delivered.”

E-cast’s content is primarily video, at high bit-rates, which translates into lots of data being carried, says Oliver. The company is “plugged in to the internet reasonably well”, through ICONZ and the Auckland Peering Exchange, he says. The biggest challenge is the bandwidth and speed at the customer-end, primarily for customers in the educational sector.

“The schools have two problems — speed and data-caps,” he says. “They need greater speed to view video — especially several users simultaneously viewing different videos off our e-cast-education service.”

Many schools have partially overcome these issues by building or joining “local loops”, he says. This helps for

connectivity between the parties, however, when they go outside of the loop, to the internet, they still need to go through their local ISP and are then subject to speed and data-cap issues.

This situation is holding back the way schools are able to use e-cast’s services, says Oliver. “For example, rather than limit access to e-cast education to teachers, it would be great if they gave access to students,” he says.

For schools and tertiary institutions to be able to fully take advantage of e-cast’s services, the ideal bandwidth would be a minimum of 100Mbit/s, and no data-caps, Oliver says.

E-cast, formed in 1999, is currently involved in two initiatives that could help reduce the hurdles for schools.

“We are looking at getting into the local school loops,” says Oliver. “Two examples would be the Nelson loop and the NEAL network on Auckland’s North Shore.”

The company is also in the starting blocks for a technical trial to connect to KAREN, he says.

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