On Tuesday night this week the Telecommunications Users Association of NZ (TUANZ) hosted a speaker from Qualcomm at one of their monthly after-5 sessions held in Hamilton at the Tainui/Ibis hotel on Victoria St. Having an interest in Telecommunications infrastructure and considering the TUANZ events aren't held often locally it seemed like a good opportunity to hear some views from industry, and meet and greet some local operators in the area.
The speaker was Robert Hart, Australian and NZ country manager for Qualcomm, a US company with a history in the satellite and more recently wireless engineering space, whose revenue is largely based on R&D and engineering of chip-sets and electronics that are deployed in mobile handsets by a multitude of vendors. Robert introduced the company and its background, and covered some of their areas of specialty as any sponsoring manager is obliged to do.
He glossed over some of the popular stats and figures that are spooned out to audiences like these on: mobile handset penetration, numbers of SMS messages sent per day, countries where usage is exploding, and mercilessly few statements about how our lives couldn't possibly go on without ultra-fast broadband etc etc. If that had been all there was in the talk it would have been a rather disappointing 45mins for the dozen or so attendees.
Fortunately Hart shared a lot of very interesting non-vendor specific insight into the wireless technology and mobile comms space in particular, some specific wireless technology usage observations and some firm suggestions about where Qualcomm see NZ's best interests as far as broadband infrastructure roll-out is concerned.
Hart was concerned about the redundant build-outs going on by the big competing telecoms providers (there's only so much money to go round and only so many people after all). He worried about the focus on fiber-to-the-home when there is less attention being paid to increasing the actual back-haul capacity. He suggested NZ needs to pay more attention to the possibilities of combining Fiber and Wireless to provide better coverage across our diverse and challenging landscape (rather than just one or the other). He mentioned (Qualcomm) solutions for wireless distribution involving smaller, cheaper lower-power mobile repeaters that cover smaller community areas (as opposed to the larger-scale fewer model).
Robert did talk about increased mobile bandwidth and the likely pace of roll-out of supporting technologies like HSDA+ by Telcos in NZ. He also mentioned many of the popular mobile emerging applications harnessing the infrastructure, dedicated social applications such as FaceBook, YouTube and the like. Although these rich media high bandwidth uses are no doubt popular and clearly chew up a sizeable chunk of the mobile pipe I was left wondering just how much activity by time is actually spent in lower-bandwith apps like SMSing, Twitter and the like. Short messages that may be frequent but not as volumous. Is it really a matter of build-it-and-they-will-consume-it or are a big chunk of the subscriber base actually happy using these less sophisticated applications on mobile platforms?
Regarding roll-out Robert mentioned a rural community near Wellington that have begun to deploy their own fiber network in their region largely as a result of being frustrated by prioritisation of deployment to the area by the big Teleco's. There certainly seems to be a great opportunity here to provide niche services in this way right round the country, and in fact in the audience this evening we had a couple of representatives from our very own RuralLink (ok, so Waikato University only has a part stake now :-) who have taken that very opportunity with a number of their projects.
Robert also made a plea to us regarding how we perceive broadband infrastructure, to think of the networks being built as more of a utility than an asset. This to me was a very interesting distinction. There's no doubt having these networks designed and deployed effectively will be critical to many of our businesses, enterprises, personal lives and (importantly to Waikato University) to Education, and especially distance and mobile learning in New Zealand moving forward.
But these new networks are NOT just a territory to be fought over and we ought not to be distracted by the commercialisation of them, and that aspect of them as we often see portrayed in the media. This infrastructure has purpose for us, presents huge utility and opportunities for use in ways we will constantly be exploring and rediscovering over time.
It's thanks to organisations like TUANZ that the telecommunications industry does not lose its way and exploit opportunities and resources. The numbers in attendance weren't great and it would be easy to drop us from the calendar, so its great that TUANZ continue to bring brief but informative events like this to Hamilton.If you have any interest in the health and future of NZs ICT infrastructure I encourage you to attend any of their events in the future. Feel free to contact me or post a comment following if you'd like to know more about the presentation.
Thanks for reading.