The NBN: A business game-changer?

How is Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) tracking, and how could the latest developments affect your business and lifestyle?

After a troubled start, Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is coming back online. Chairman of NBN Co Ziggy Switkowski said in early July 2014 that the rollout challenge is as formidable as ever but the new “optimised multi-technology” NBN was expected to be completed by 2020 at a cost of $41 billion. (It should be noted, however, that a strategic review document on the website of the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, says “mid-2020s” for the project’s completion.)

The mixed technology NBN is a move away from fibre to every premises, towards a combination of fibre-to-the-node, wireless and satellite technology.

Of course, some areas of Australia are already switched on and don’t have to wait six years for fast broadband. Rodney Gedda – a Senior Analyst at Telsyte, which delivers strategic insights and advisory services to businesses that are producing, or are impacted by, disruptive technologies – lives in one of those areas.

“I have the NBN where I live in Gosford in New South Wales, and I have taken the slowest plan which, at a claimed 12 Mbps [megabits per second] download, or realistically 10 Mbps download, and 1 Mbps upload, is still faster than what most people get on ADSL,” says Gedda.

Business and education opportunities

Gedda says many businesses in his area use the NBN, meaning they can work with large files more easily and can use VoIP (voice over internet protocol) for phone calls, which saves them money. “They also have more choice in terms of how and where their staff work,” he adds.

Gedda mentions, as an example, a local architecture firm whose staff now have greater freedom to work from home, the office or job sites. They can communicate with each other and comfortably share large files, as long as they are within the NBN coverage region.

Gedda’s children’s school is also beginning to benefit from access to faster web connections, including a move into what he calls “tele-learning”, or being able to link in with other schools in real time by videoconference for group lessons and collaborative projects, such as performance events.

Harnessing technology for online business

So, what opportunities will the NBN present to your business once the rollout swings by your office door? Plenty, says Gedda – but don’t wait until then to begin making changes.

“It is most important to remember that there are plenty of changes and improvements you can make right now, even on a slow connection,” he says. “Figure out what you’re capable of and make that happen. Then, when the NBN arrives, you’ll be in a much better position to exploit it.”

If you are selling anything via an e-commerce platform, then multimedia like images and videos, which you may be using to describe the product or service, will automatically be open to great improvement.

“If you’ve been using thumbnail images of products, for example, you’ll want to consider hi-res images, videos and sound,” says Gedda. “The increased bandwidth should add new dimensions to marketing and make your customer more familiar and comfortable with whatever it is you’re selling.”

The NBN should also help facilitate trade and collaboration among people and businesses with meet-up architecture, he says. In other words, customers and staff can check in to your business from anywhere and at any time. And customer service staff within the online businesses should become much more available to consumers to answer questions and help with purchase decisions.

“Communication will change and should become more affordable, with calls being made and received online, as well as videoconferencing and other forms of real-time communications,” says Gedda.

“Instead of customer queries being dealt with over email, it will be done in real time, which is better for the customer and for the business. And, of course, payments should be easily made and immediately received, which will be great for cash flow.”

National Broadband Network (NBN) at a glance

  • Delivery technologies will include fibre optic fixed-line cable, wireless or “over-the-air” and satellite (primarily for rural and remote areas).
  • It is currently targeting a completion date in 2020.
  • When the NBN is completed, broadband download speeds will vary from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, depending on technology of delivery and the package you pay for.
  • The NBN’s website says its service will benefit business by building stronger relationships (videoconferencing), giving staff freedom to work more flexibly and smarter, removing geographic barriers, boosting productivity, exploiting new channels to market and encouraging collaboration.

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