Why Business needs the NBN’s super fast broadband.

This is not a politics blog, but I’m going to write something about the stated policy position of Australia’s Liberal Party on broadband.

In a nutshell, it’s an ill-considered, short-sighted and economically irresponsible position which will irrevocably stymy Australia’s business competitiveness for a generation.

Here’s why.

Australia is currently building a National Broadband Network (NBN). The stated goal of the NBN is to deliver superfast broadband to 93% of Australia’s homes, schools and businesses, with the remaining 7% (the most remote) being serviced by wireless and satellite services.

The NBN defines superfast speeds as 100 Mbps per second. Is that fast? You betcha. According to testmy.net, Australia’s current average download speed is 2.3 Mbps.

By any current measure, 100 Mbps is at least ten to twenty times faster than current speeds. What’s more, some sources suggest the potential for the NBN is speeds of a phenomenal 1000 Mbps per second.

What difference will such superfast speeds make? Well, I can tell you from our own experience.

Wilkins Farago has been enjoying speeds of 100 Mbps—what the NBN is promising by 2021—for about two years. We have a home office and Optus already offers a ‘superfast broadband’ service to residential customers (interestingly, it doesn’t offer a similar service to business customers). Our speeds are regularly around 100 Mbps.

So, what is business like at 100 Mbps?

Fantastic. It enables us to do things we couldn’t possibly have done before, to use technology in way that not only makes our business more efficient and robust, but—vitally—allows us to pursue business opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t be able to pursue.

Here’s just one example, and it shows exactly why superfast speeds can and will make a huge difference to businesses of all sizes.

On 7 May last year, a major customer rang us up to ask if we had a book that might be suitable for their customers. They had a gap in their offering for August and needed a quality kids book to fill it.

As it happened, while we didn’t have a booked scheduled, we did have a book we were keen to publish and proposed this book to the customer.

They said yes, please deliver by 7 July. So, we now had two months to produce the book.

However, there were quite a few challenges to overcome if we were to achieve this tight deadline:

  1. We would have to acquire the rights to publish the book. These were owned by a French publisher we had never dealt with before.
  2. We had no digital artwork with which to produce the book. This would need to come from the French publisher.
  3. We had no translation of the book, which was originally published in French.
  4. For economic reasons, the book would have to be printed in southern China. With prepress, printing and binding scheduled to take 30 days and the shipping and port clearances likely to take around 20 days on top of that, we would need to have press-ready artwork to the printer within a week to be sure of meeting the delivery deadline.

In fact, we had the artwork for our English language edition to the printer in China on 11 May, just four days after taking the call from our customer.

In that time, we negotiated an agreement with the French publisher, paid an advance by EFT, received the large digital artwork by FTP, translated the book, typeset our edition and uploaded the artwork for our own edition via FTP to our printer in China.

Had we not had confidence in the speed of our broadband service, we wouldn’t have attempted such an exercise.

The production files alone were around 1.5 GB in size. At low download speeds, we knew from experience that transferring such large files via FTP was problematic. Dropouts are common, meaning you may have to start over again several times, and it would have taken hours and hours to transfer from France, and many, many hours more to transfer our production files to China.

Under such circumstances, it’s more reliable to use a costly international courier, but in this instance, that wasn’t an option.

As it was, moving these big files around the world was quick and easy. Our printer responded with a digital proof the very next day and the several thousand books were delivered on time (even in spite of a heart-stopping last minute shipping delay).

During the course of this production process, we used several technologies that are completely enabled by the internet:

  • Skype. All international phone calls were conducted using this service. At 100 Mbps, there are no call drop-outs, calls are crystal clear and international calls cost just cents.
  • FTP. At 100 Mbps, transfer of huge files via a File Transfer Protocol client is quick, reliable and efficient.
  • Carbonite. All our company’s files are backed up not only on a separate backup drive in the office but also via a cloud-based service called Carbonite. This means, even if our premises burns down and everything in our office is destroyed, we still have all our corporate data protected. Backing up an entire publishing business to the cloud would be impracticable without superfast speeds.
  • Desktop publishing software. Updates of all our software are conducted over the internet, ensuring we have the latest and most robust versions of all the software we need for production. When we have to upgrade, we don’t worry about the cost of downloading large files, nor the time it will take. We just do it.

All this is based on what we do now. Who knows what other cloud services will be developed that we can usefully use in the future? Judging by the cloud technology roadmaps of Apple, Microsoft, Google and Adobe, using local software on a PC may become a thing of the past entirely within just a few years. Everything will de done in the cloud.

Which brings me the Liberal Party’s policy on broadband. In order to save some money (maybe $7 billion) and complete the NBN two years earlier, the Liberals’ policy proposes minimum download speeds to 25 Mbps, against the NBN’s proposed 100 Mbps minimum.

Shadow Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull—an intelligent man who should (and probably does) know better—says:

25 megs will enable everybody in residential situations to do everything they want to do or need to do in terms of applications and services.

Rubbish. He couldn’t be more wrong, as I hope I’ve demonstrated.

If Wilkins Farago is already getting 100mbps, why do we care? Because only a fraction of lucky Australian small business can currently access these speeds.

If, as looks likely, Turnbull becomes Australia’s next Communications Minister in September, other small businesses across the nation will miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

If the Liberals thought for a moment of the benefits to small business, instead of scoffing at the thought it will just enable people to download movies faster, they couldn’t support such a short-sighted policy.

Better get writing to your local LNP candidate now, or miss the boat.