Nortel MD challenges Probe plan

Nortel's New Zealand managing director is warning that Project Probe could become a white elephant if the government isn't careful.

Nortel's New Zealand managing director is warning that Project Probe could become a white elephant if the government isn't careful.

Rob Spray says while Probe, the government's regional broadband extension programme, is a worthy cause it runs the risk of putting the cart too far before the horse.

"Full credit to the government for sponsoring it certainly but you can't point to a developer who is building an application, it's funded, they've worked out it's going to run for so long and this is how it'll be paid for."

Spray says without the input from content providers and application developers Probe runs the risk of building a network before anyone really has a use for it.

"Take WAP. I have a WAP phone and it's useless. Nobody I know uses WAP. Yet the idea, the technology is a great one, there's just no content or application to speak of."

Spray says if WAP had been developed hand-in-hand with content and applications it would be far more widely used today and Probe could put broadband in the same category.

Spray also believes wireless connectivity is evolving so quickly it will soon supplant wired solutions in most cases.

"3G will be deployed in the next 3 years and that offers 2Mbit/s to the handset. Fourth generation technology will roll out in five to 10 years time and that will offer 50Mbit/s. That will change everything."

Amos Aked Swift managing director Tony van Horik, who is leading the Project Probe development team, says he agrees with some of Spray's concerns.

"In some respects he's quite right, there aren't the applications about today that are needed."

Van Horik says, however, that it's not part of Project Probe's brief to develop such applications and that a more industry-sector specific approach is needed to populate the network.

"There's an opportunity there for industry sectors to build the applications they need and want. The Ministry of Education is already doing this and so is Health but I would expect organisations like Federated Farmers to step up for agriculture and so on."

Van Horik says the really interesting innovation will come from left field, from parts of the industry nobody is expecting.

"We've got a farmer's wife in the middle of nowhere who speaks five languages. She's suddenly able to take on translation work using her broadband connection which she wouldn't be able to do with dial-up, she simply wouldn't have put up with it."

Van Horik says nobody has developed an application for broadband in New Zealand yet simply because there's no market for it and he has high hopes that the development community will soon be called upon to provide for a broadband network.

However Spray says that approach can be hazardous.

"The 'build it and they will come' model is being seriously challenged overseas. You have to build the network and the applications in step or you risk getting into trouble."

Project Probe tender winners will be announced by the middle of July. Eleven regional tenders and one national satellite tender are still to be awarded.

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