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How The Reg's NBN study will be researched

We go under the hood of our crowd-funded study with Market Clarity's Shara Evans

Continuing our discussion of the methodologies behind the crowd-funded study into the National Broadband Network, The Register talks to Shara Evans, CEO of Market Clarity, to understand her view of the methodologies needed to underpin a strong, independent study into Australia's broadband requirements.

Evans, who intends to work with another respected analyst in the telecommunications industry, Dr Paul Brooks, on the study, has been in telecommunications since the 1980s working with carriers such as Sprint, vendors like Alcatel, and is the founder of two analyst firms, Telsyte (which was acquired by UXC) and Market Clarity.

Understanding bandwidth requirements in the medium and long term is a matter of on-the-ground research, she said: “talking to informed stakeholders such as CIOs in different industries, as well as visiting research labs and vendor labs.” This would be supplemented with a literature review, “taking into account what's been written by respected parties in Australia and overseas as to the bandwidth requirements of current and future applications”.

That, she said, is vital to set the baseline.

“If I were doing a consulting job for an enterprise or a carrier, my first question would be 'what problem are you trying to solve?'”

Much of the debate has been amorphous, with participants looking at what might be required, and without applying a time-frame to their expectation.

Both consumer and business requirements need to be considered, she said. And while commentators often dismiss consumer requirements as less important than business needs, “the consumer market is a big market”.

“When I look at what's happening at research labs – CSIRO, NICTA, overseas, and in the vendor labs – there are many applications and devices that today a consumer wouldn't expect to use immediately, but in five or ten years, these prototypes will end up in consumer-land or business-land. They're a very good predictor of the sorts of things that people will do going into the future.”

Evans pointed out that few people recall the long journey packet voice technologies traveled from the early Voice over Frame Relay networks she saw being implemented in the 90’s at Sprint before morphing into the likes of Skype.

Pick the winner

The reason the “best technology” question has become so political is that there's no one right answer.

As well as having to factor costs into the equation, Evans said, every carrier that makes its technology decisions does so either on a clean sheet of paper, or under the dictates of its installed base. So Evans believes it's important not to focus exclusively on other incumbents. For example, regional telcos in America have completely different decision-making considerations than the incumbents they're trying to displace.

Vulture South NBN Logo

With a truly unlimited budget, Evans said, the ideal methodology for the study would be a world tour to interview as many carriers as possible about their plans, decisions, and considerations – and that would include speaking to people “at multiple levels in the organisation”.

Even without travelling, there's scope to take up those discussions and seek those opinions in addition to talking to carriers in Australia, she said.

All aspects of carriers' choices are important in this discussion: the extent of the installed base, in situ infrastructure, competitive considerations, the upgradeability of any given technology, as well as customer expectations and future requirements (both business and consumer).

The future

What happens after the network becomes available is important because it helps inform the importance of implementation timeframes. A radically different way of doing business is not the same as “what we do today, only faster”.

“One has to get out the crystal ball, but to do it with an analyst methodology, there are many things you can do to find out what people might do if they had more bandwidth than today,” Evans said.

Once again, she said, research labs provide important input. However, she would also seek the opinions of CIOs, whose job it is to shape their business around not only the technologies they use, but the technologies they expect their customers to be using, since those form the far end of the customer interaction.

Consumer device makers are also an important input, since their development efforts are based not on what they expect Australian consumers to have access to, but what they believe the important global consumers markets will be.

Evans would also seek input from startups: “I think it's also important to talk to the startup community, find out what's cooking there, how they would do things differently if they had access to very high capacity,” she said.

Pledges towards the study remain open here. ®

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