Some state funding may be found to establish a New Zealand Next-Generation Internet, but government wants “private” initiatives to shoulder most of the responsibility.
But there is no early indication that such development partners – in reality likely to be predominantly research establishments and universities – see setting up a gigabit network, at least through the major centres, as a significant problem. Those who heard associate communications and IT minister David Cunliffe’s address to the InternetNZ Festival of Technology last week, espousing the government's view, certainly saw a lot of benefit to be gained.
If we’re looking for a value proposition, says Larry Podmore of the Canterbury Development Corporation, we need look no further than the billions of dollars-worth of research contracts that New Zealand establishments could collaborate in with overseas centres of research, if we have the fast and reliable communications to link with them.
“Fast” means not only high-bandwidth but low latency, speakers from the floor pointed out, and it means consistent level of service. Trying to control a scientific instrument over a long distance means signals arriving dependably without unusual delay.
John Hine of Victoria University illustrated the difference by comparing it to taking cargo from one end of the country to another. You could have large lorries or trains carrying a lot of bits “but if you’re going to have to offload the bits on to a ferry then load them back on the other side, you’ll get a hell of a latency; it doesn’t matter what the bandwidth is”.
While research, and the classical model of funnelling research results down into profit-making industry, provide the carrot for NGI, the stick comes in the form of a new digital divide, Hine says. “That’s the divide between our research community and others in the OECD.”
NGI promoters, however, are talking in terms of months for a basic network; some of the fibre is already in place independent of appeal to the telcos. A stretch of cable between Wellington and Palmerston North belonging to Tranz Rail is available already, says Hine. This could be the first leg of NGI, providing a demonstration facility to excite interest in building the rest of the network.
We need to get out of the mindset that bandwidth is a scarce commodity, says Net Impact’s Simon Riley, a major NGI consortium participant. “Bandwidth is cheap and endless; it’s not like airline seats or roads.”