We tend to talk about broadband as a thing, as something we're not getting enough of, like sex. Broadband is too expensive. Broadband isn't available here. Broadband is taking too long to roll out. Actually, it's a lot like sex.
Instead, we should be talking about broadband as a way of describing what services we want. Broadband internet access. Broadband television. And so on.
At an Ericsson event recently, speakers presented a series of case studies describing projects that are delivering fibre to the home (FTTH, if another abbreviation is needed).
The case studies were from Europe and Australia and had several advantages over any such rollout here in New Zealand. Dense urban concentrations, for one, with over 60% of the population living in multihome dwellings, which makes life much easier for any network rollout. Government support is available at a number of levels, which means the average dwelling owner knows about broadband internet access and probably deems it more desirable. Having to pay for local calls is also a motivating factor in the uptake of broadband services, but more on that later.
In any case, the ability to attract customers wasn't made simply on the grounds of fast internet access. The key to a successful take-up strategy is offering a more mainstream approach that encompasses many different price points with a number of service levels, of which broadband internet access is only one part.
Here in New Zealand broadband has become synonymous with internet access. Surf the net faster and have an "always on" connection -- these are the two points of difference that are used to sell broadband access.
But that's only one part of the equation. Broadband, the adjective, can be applied to other areas and, according to Ericsson's Colin Goodwin at any rate, must be applied if the telco is to make money.
Broadband TV, for example, will attract far more customers than broadband internet. TV watchers don't care what technology the signal comes in on. They don't care if it's coax, aerial or fibre just so long as the signal is clear and they can watch Who wants to be a Millionaire without interruption. Here in New Zealand we have no competition in the pay TV space -- SkyTV has it all. Telecom is trialling video on demand but that's only at a very early stage of adoption.
Goodwin talked about a service called Replay TV, which, as he says would be better packaged as TV on Demand. Basically put, the national free-to-air channels keep a server full of programmes for three days and if you've missed a show you simply call it up and they play it at your convenience. It's a way of keeping the networks involved in the TV business without all that dangerous and messy personal video recorder stuff taking over the market. Having failed miserably to tape a TV show for a colleague just last week, I'd happily pay for such a service.
So we have broadband internet access and broadband TV. The final leg of the trio is free calling.
This is something of a tricky one in a country which already has free local calls. Nobody can offer a free service and compete with Telecom's free local calling, can they?
Well, yes they can, in fact. Telecom itself is in the throes of offering competition to its own voice network through its part in the Fonterra broadband network rollout. Fonterra is offering high-speed internet access, free traffic to and from its site, where it hosts a lot of farmer-friendly information, and also free calls to other farmers on the network.
Take an area like Northland where the free calling range is so small a call to your neighbour across the way becomes a toll call, and you start to see the potential for a "call anyone on the network for free" service.
Another thing standing between New Zealand and true broadband services is speed. Here we think of anything faster than 56kbit/s as being pretty good. Telecom sells JetStream Starter at 128kbit/s -- not worth calling broadband according to many folk -- and certainly not able to carry video. Goodwin is talking about speeds of 10Mbit/s to the home, ramping up to 100Mbit/s in the next few years.
Conversely we're talking about 512kbit/s to the schools and then not for a few years yet. We may very well have walked ourselves into a short-term dead-end trap that will prove very costly to, er, dig ourselves out of.