Broadband access restricted by Govt: Gartner

Speaking at Gartner's Symposium/Itxpo in Brisbane this week, Bob Hayward, senior vice president of operations Asia-Pacific, said that just 3 per cent of Australian businesses and 2 per cent of consumers will have broadband access by 2003. The Symposium/Itxpo, held in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia, presents Gartner's research and analysis on the future direction of the world's internet industry.

"Access to plentiful, cheap broadband services and infrastructure to enable the wireless web are critical to the future of Australia's economy," Hayward said. "The rest of the world is moving very quickly in this direction, creating networked economies where business embraces the efficiencies created by ubiquitous communication. Australia risks being left behind if we lack the infrastructure to participate fully."

Telstra has revealed that its strategy is to provide broadband access over three ancillary platforms -- cable, ADSL and satellite. The telco started to roll out ADSL capability in late August, just 12 months after wide-scale deployment in the US. Cable has been available since 1997 and satellite broadband access began 12 months ago. Telstra predicts that the rollout will take about two years to complete, making broadband services available to all premises by the end of 2002.

During the keynote address at the Symposium, Hayward said that embracing broadband access would be advantageous to Australia's position in the internet industry. "Gartner believes that wireless access will have a significant and profound effect on e-business. In fact, it could even shift the current advantage away from the US. In three or four years, we see wireless as being the dominant means of accessing the internet, and more aggressively used in places like Asia and Northern Europe than in the US," he said.

Hayward said that Gartner predicts major upheaval in the IT&T industry, with wireless internet as the catalyst. A lack of progress regarding broadband technologies will negatively impact e-business, enterprise remote access, as well as digital TV and the wired home.

At the US component of the Gartner Symposium earlier this month Gartner claimed that by 2005 consumers will spend 20 times more on the internet when using a high-speed broadband connection than they do with traditional analog dialup modems.

The analysts predict that by 2004, 29 million US households will be broadband-enabled and that this will result in enormous purchasing power. According to Gartner, 25 per cent of US households will buy more than $US10,000 of goods and services over the internet and 75 per cent of these purchases will be through broadband access.

Hayward's address comes after Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' criticism of Telstra's managing director, Ziggy Switkowski, at the Melbourne World Economic Forum earlier this year. Gates castigated Switkowski for Telstra's slow broadband development.

Geoff Johnson, a Gartner research director, agreed with Gates. "He was right to do so because if current government policy continues we'll see high prices, limited competition and consequential slow adoption, resulting in less than 2 per cent of the general population and less than 3 per cent of businesses using broadband by 2003. That will see Australia lag far behind many other nations in Europe and Asia."

Kerrina Lawrence, a public affairs manager with Telstra, said: "Our rollout plan and pricing compare well to overseas services, contrary to some perceptions, including Bill Gates' comments.

"In order for Telstra to roll out a brand new technology, we have to do our due diligence and make sure that industry codes of practice and agreed operational procedures are resolved," Lawrence said.

"We don't believe that we are behind the rest of the world because we've done it in a staged and carefully planned way to avoid any new high-speed systems in the network degrading the existing service used by several million customers."

Telstra also stated that there is a risk of interference problems and customer dissatisfaction if the service is rolled out too quickly.

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