Sir Terry mows through the broadband jungle

Broadband using the IP protocol is already of high enough quality, says a telecomms industry maven, but it will get better yet.

Broadband using the IP protocol is already of high enough quality, says a telecomms industry maven, but it will get better yet.

Sir Terry Matthews, newly knighted chairman of Ontario-based Mitel Communications and March Networks, says “as the procedures for deploying [broadband on IP] are made more of a volume production matter”, with commoditised components and standard procedures, quality of service will improve.

Some communications specialists have expressed doubts about the limited quality-of-service safeguards in the current IPv4, and improvements are slated for the forthcoming IPv6.

Continuous reliability improvement in the underlying physical connection technology of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) are improving reliability independent of changes to IP, Matthews says.

Asked for his view on the local argument about internet service providers potentially being held to the provisions of the Consumer Guarantees Act, Matthews comes down on the legislators’ side. “If they [ISPs] are supplying services which they promote as being of good quality, then they should damned well be made to supply that good quality. That’s what sorts the good companies out from the not-so-good ones.”

Matthews sees no flattening in the rising curve of broadband demand, even in the distant future.

Even when every business and individual has as much email, web, audio and video as they can comfortably deal with in a day, new processor-hungry and bandwidth-hungry applications will continue to be found, he predicts.

“That’s why I bought Mitel [the company name and its communications systems division] back from British Telecom last year; because there is a huge market for broadband replacement of enterprise systems.”

That broadband market is as promising in New Zealand as anywhere else, he says. “All the corporates here are looking at retooling.”

Matthews co-founded Mitel in 1972 with Michael Cowpland, and sold a controlling interest to BT in 1985. The Mitel name was originally Mike and Terry’s Lawnmowers, and was registered to sell a mulching mower, which never took off. Cowpland went on to found Cowpland Research Laboratories, which became Corel.

Matthews also founded Newbridge Networks, which was sold to European-based Alcatel in May 2000.

To provide attractive products and services for the expanding broadband market, Mitel and March are taking the Linux route, he says; “a robust networking design, based on a client-server model with Linux servers. Microsoft applications and networked video are assumed, and it’s all controlled by an applications management centre.”

One of the current and near future broadband hot buttons, particularly for March Communications, is digital closed-circuit video recording.

A big use of this will be in “dispute resolution,” he says, with video cameras in workplaces producing valuable evidence of whether an employee was involved in theft or other unacceptable practices.

He sees banks attaching a video file to the record of each automatic teller machine transaction, so as to be immediately able to say whether the person processing the transaction was the legitimate account-holder.

“Telehealth” is another promising field, with skilled doctors and nurses able to handle more cases and respond more quickly to direct requests for help from patients, through a video link to the patient’s home or a base for less-skilled paramedics.

These “solutions to the real problems of society”, beyond business and entertainment will be an important engine of broadband’s growth, he says.

Matthews was in New Zealand as part of a trip to Mitel’s Asia Pacific territories, and spoke with government and corporate customers and prospects.

The “new” Mitel started up in the region last year, but between 1979 and 1985, before the BT purchase, Mitel had a manufacturing plant in Wellington, which Matthews visited on a number of occasions. “So I feel I know New Zealand, and I like it,” he says.

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