While most of Australia waits for the National Broadband Network to arrive, some small businesses are turning to other ways of get high-speed internet
Fibre optic cables from the NBN waiting to connected. Photo: Domino Postiglione
Microwave based internet providers
Donna Moritz of Sunshine Coast-based Socially Sorted sees connectivity as essential for her home-based social media business. “My business does not happen without the internet,” she says. “Our readers, subscribers and clients are all over the world, necessitating quality internet to run my business efficiently.”
When Moritz moved house in 2014 she found her new home was listed to be connected to the NBN but without a definite date the family chose to connect to a local microwave-based internet provider. “The private company connected us for around $300 installation and we are on a super cheap plan that is about $70 per month for around 64GB,” she recalls.
Craig Wilson says his NBN connection means no downtime.
In 2016 the National Broadband Network finally came to Moritz’s neighbourhood and she was less than impressed, “when we were contacted by the NBN and Telstra to say that we could install the NBN, I was shocked to find out what they were really offering. Our street had been downgraded to NBN Satellite which has speeds barely comparable with our old slow ADSL2 and not much faster than a turtle walking backwards.”
Along with microwave connections there are other alternatives to the NBN including the mobile telephone networks with Telstra announcing “gigabit speeds” with its new broadband hotspot that allows up to 20 devices being connected to one account. That service though could prove expensive if the as yet unannounced data plans follow the company’s current pricing for mobile data.
NBN trumps ADSL connection
Despite complaints, some businesses are happy with their NBN service. Craig Wilson runs Newcastle-based digital marketing company Sticky with a turnover of less than $5 million. Wilson was connected last year and, despite failing to find someone to run a fibre connection from the NBN hub outside his building into his office, he is delighted with the results after switching from a Telstra ADSL connection.
“We found the ADSL appalling,” Wilson says. “It was very slow and sometimes impossible to work with, particularly when it slowed to a trickle after kids got home from school. We’re a digital agency, we need higher speeds.”
Wilson recommends the NBN to other small businesses if it’s available, “it’s definitely worth doing, we’ve seen an increase in productivity”, he says. “The biggest difference is that we never really notice anything, it just works and we don’t have any downtime.”
Groundswell of customers
“A large part of Australia can now order services,” says Ben Salmon, executive general manager of NBN’s business services. “There’s a large groundswell of customers coming on to the NBN.”
“We’re well ahead of where we thought we would be at this point of time in business, we have a few key ramp areas coming up in the next year. Not only do we have the HFC areas but the CBD areas in, say, Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne will be reaching Ready For Service where they can order a service – that will be happening from May this year. Our street had been downgraded to NBN Satellite which has speeds barely comparable with our old slow ADSL2 and not much faster than a turtle walking backwards.
“Many small business and those working out of home will be satisfied with residential plans,” Salmon says. “Regardless of the technology we’re going to use to get into the premises – whether its fibre to the node or the premises – we’ve got terrific NBN products and services available across all the access technologies.”
While the broadband network promises a lot, Perth-based T?a Smith would like any connection. As the managing director of Perth-based advertising agency Kintsugi, Smith has been frustrated about getting any reliable service. “We can’t get NBN and the rollout maps show it’s not coming until 2018. We were put on iiNet’s DSLAMs, which turned out to be so oversold that we would get dial-up speeds at peak periods. The internet becomes unusable several times a day as we are on a busy exchange.
“We’re trying our luck with Node1 Fixed Wireless, but we are slightly outside the coverage area, so need to wait about two months before they can come and do a site visit as they are very busy and that doesn’t fill me with confidence,” Smith says. Smith’s complaint echoes many in the small business community about the difficulty in getting high-speed internet. “We just want fast, reliable internet that works, and allows us to run our business.
It is ridiculous how much time I have spent in the last three months, just trying to get a working connection.”
UK fibre operator Hyperoptic announced the launch of its gigabit broadband services in Newcastle. The service is live in a number of developments across the centre, including Hanover Mill, The Bar, Centralofts, 55 Degrees North, Merchants Quay, Marconi House, Ouseburn Wharf and 38 Lower Friar Street. A number of other developments are undergoing installation, and Hyperoptic said it is committed to extend its footprint across the length and breadth of the city.
The operator focuses on bringing its services into developments with 50 or more units.
It offers a range of residential packages, including telephony, as well as business propositions such as leased lines, shared leased lines and business broadband.
FROM any angle, Australia’s National Broadband Network is a massive technological and engineering undertaking.
Given the sheer complexity of the task, it is a testament to all involved that things are running as smoothly as they are. While things are not perfect, most of the problems brought to the Newcastle Herald’s attention in recent times have concerned delays to connection, or problems with intermittent or difficult-to-solve faults.
But a situation brought to light by Eleebana retiree Ida Harris highlights a potentially major problem with the compatibility of equipment. Mrs Harris has a back-to-base alarm fitted with a medical distress button, neither of which have worked since the NBN was connected to her Eleebana house last month. It has cost Mrs Harris £600 to fix the problem, and she is speaking out not because of the expense, but because she is concerned that other people – especially older people like herself – may have no idea of the problems they are about to encounter when the NBN comes their way.
In its response to the Herald, the NBN says it has been working with the medical alarm industry for six years about “the introduction of new technology which may not be compatible with some of their existing devices”.
Or, to put it more simply, older analogue alarms do not work on a digital broadband system. The fact that a major alarm manufacturer like Chubb is recommending to its customers that they use mobile phone technology – rather than the NBN – in connection with their back-to-base and medical alarms indicates that the problem appears to have been sidestepped rather than solved outright.
The important issue here is not that old devices do not work on new systems: that is hardly a surprise. But all players in this field need to be upfront about the challenges of a technology that is being introduced to the general public as a mandatory improvement.
After all, wireless and satellite solutions were only supposed to be needed in areas where the NBN cables could not be economically rolled out.
To find that something as basic as a home alarm or a personal medical alert needs a mobile phone to operate in the middle of a city is not the sort of outcome that most people would expect from an £80 billion broadband network.