Michael Sainsbury
June 9, 2016

Streaming a fight for the future

Telecommunications

Streaming a fight for the future

Hong Kong: Just like the rest of Asia, a growing fibre wonderland

At the annual Broadcast Asia expo in Singapore last week, one of the big buzzes was about online video streaming, the so-called over the top services that are laying waste to traditional broadcast television models and irrevocably shaking up pay TV.

But contrary to the Neanderthals view, who dismiss video streaming as being about ‘porn and Netflix’, the technology has vast potential for a wide range of business sectors.

At Broadcast Asia there was interest not just from streaming entertainment sports companies, including pay TV networks – the early movers in streaming – but also from all sorts of sectors including healthcare and education, and even from religious groups.

Australian companies who spoke to InnovationAus.com at the show generally reckoned that the opportunities in Asia are huge, and that the market is more developed than many who were new to the region had expected it to be.

There are Australian companies in the streaming game, as in many areas of the tech sector, that can match it with the best available anywhere in the world. But there is a lot of competition, and scale is an issue; at the Singapore show there were innovative companies from all over the globe eager to take advantage of the world’s largest and fastest growing internet market.

The other clear message from content makers, streaming companies, content delivery platform groups, and systems integrators was that while top notch software is vital, nothing is possible without the best possible underlying infrastructure.

Most countries in developed Asia have, or are continuing to roll out, nationwide fibre to the premises networks.

As a uniquely wealthy city-state, Singapore has had its own NBN in place for some years. Most apartment blocks in Hong Kong, not to mention the mansions of the wealthy, have had direct fibre connections for years, many for more than a decade (as does the tiny oil rich nation of Brunei.)

Korea and Japan both have vast fibre networks that have allowed those countries to leap ahead in the delivery of streaming video services.

It is such networks that served as the basis for the the original plan for Australia’s NBN. The NBN has been watered down into second rate network that uses that a last-century copper telephone network that its own chairman Ziggy Switkowski admitted seven years ago was no sort of infrastructure solution for the 21st century.

On top of that, according to leaked NBN documents, the ageing hybrid fibre coaxial cable network – care of Optus – is of particularly poor quality.

All this adds up to a less-than-developed-world standard service, while the developing world on our doorstep is in some places leaving us for dead.

As Tony Windsor, the veteran rural New South Wales politician and former Member for New England who has returned from retirement in a bid to unseat his successor Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday, June 5: “Do it once, and do it with fibre”.

Its rural areas in Australia – and across Asia – who will reap the benefits of video streaming applications in healthcare and education particular. And Windsor has been a tireless campaigner for better telecommunications services for the bush during his 22 years in state and federal parliament.

“Why are we being asked to accept a lower standard, the National Broadband Network,” Windsor asked on Q&A: “Why has Armidale got it? Why hasn't Tamworth got it and other communities? Why haven't they? I'll tell you why — Tamworth was supposed to be rolled out in September 2013. Nothing has happened since then.”

InnovationAus.com has also noted since its rushed inception last December ( check) that infrastructure, in particular, the NBN is a major flaw in the program. As Mr Turnbull’s left hand talks up Sydney as Asia’s FinTech capital, for instance, his right hand says but let’s do this with a second rate network.

At Broadcast Asia, InnovationAus.com happened upon two blokes from Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the region. The men, who had a startup OTT company that was ramping up its streaming activities, excitedly discussed programs that were connecting residences in the capital Dhaka directly to fibre optic cable.

When told that Australia had once had a plan for a national fibre-to-the-premises network but had now opted to hand huge swathes of Australia inferior technology incapable of fibre speeds, they looked like stunned mullets.

They admitted that the Bangladesh was not wealthy enough to connect everyone to fibre but that right now about 25-30 million people of its 180 million population had access to fibre.

For everyone in developing Asia, access to higher speed affordable broadband is seen as a cornerstone for the future, of economic opportunity and competitive advantage.

In Australia, the Turnbull Government is content with dragging Australia into the 20th century with ADSL and HFC cable broadband.

Labor has, so far, had a lot to say about the NBN in this election campaign, without actually really saying anything.

“Malcolm Turnbull’s fraud-band is double the cost of what ... he said it would be. It is half the speed ... and the delay is extraordinary,” Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said on an earlier Q&A
.
“He promised that in 2016, everyone in Tasmania would have NBN in their home. If you’re watching this in Tasmania, and next time your little device is buffering, blame Malcolm Turnbull.”

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek reckons that the NBN could be the sleeper issue of the campaign and in its 10 Year Plan released on June the NBN received scant mention, clearly in the “more to come” box at the bottom of the website.

So, when Labor wakes up and announces its broadband plan, it will be interesting to see if Bill Shorten, too, will be happy to leave Australia as a broadband also-ran, where only some people get access to an increasingly rich range of video streaming services that can improve the lives of regular people.

A bit like Bangladesh.

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