Voice is broadband's killer app

I've been thinking about a recent FryUp I wrote.

I’ve been thinking about a recent FryUp (my online column — subscribe here) I wrote. I know, I should have been thinking about it before I wrote it, but hey, life can get complicated, you know?

I mused briefly that voice could be the killer app broadband appears to need. Residential users are staying away from broadband in droves. Faster internet access and always-on connections aside, there isn’t any reason for them to upgrade.

I’m sad to say it comes back to a point the head of TUANZ, Ernie Newman, has repeatedly raised. The kiwi share obligation and its replacement, the telecommunications share obligation, are throttling demand for broadband by making dial-up so cheap.

It’s probably too late now to try to “artificially” increase the price of dial-up so as to make broadband look better, so we have to come up with an alternative strategy.

There are two things that I try never to think about when it comes to telecommunications. The first is toll calling areas. Toll calling areas that are set by geographical boundaries made perfect sense when the network was analogue. Calling someone close to home was vastly cheaper than calling someone far away.

Today, however, the dynamic is quite different and the price difference, I believe, isn’t that great. However, we’re stuck with these old-fashioned toll areas that mean for a large number of people living outside central city areas, they get free calls to relatively few others on the network. This is particularly so at the extreme top and bottom of the country — the Far North and Southland.

The telcos realise this, which is why the new service providers that are popping up include a voice component that is dirt cheap. Even Telecom is getting in on the act, promising to discount toll calls between Fonterra farmers who sign up for the broadband service being jointly developed by the telco and dairy company.

This is to take the edge off any move by Woosh or the other wireless upstarts who are approaching the issue of voice in a manner similar to cellular services: one price to call users on your network, another to call those off it. Simple and Woosh will be rolling it out in Southland as part of Project Probe, launched last week.

That’s a great incentive to move to Woosh because the other thing I hate to think about with telecommunications is the cost of my line rental. I object to paying a line rental fee as well as paying for JetStream, because it smacks of being charged twice for the same service.

Telecom does offer a lower line rental for those customers who have competition in their suburb and also for those who are willing to pay for local calls, but even then it’s $25 a month for a line that runs through the ground.

If you want a technician to come out, that’s extra. Telecom’s competitors don’t have to worry about such things. They can offer a single price for broadband and throw in the “line rental” as part of that. That will put the cat among the pigeons and no mistake.

I was going to talk about the impact of voice over IP (VoIP) as well, but that will keep until next week.

Brislen is Computerworld’s online reporter. Contact him at paul_brislen@idg.co.nz

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