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Wednesday, 15 September 2010 22:29

NBN will put economy online: NICTA


The advantage of the National Broadband Network in the debate on broadband had less to do with speed and more to do with its ubiquitous roll-out, according to David Skellern, the head of Australia's peak ICT research agency, NICTA.


The uniform nature of the network interface and the mass roll-out to the entire Australian population meant the nation could start to move large parts of the economy online and into the digital economy - and reap savings and productivity improvements from that process, he said.

Dr Skellern also welcomed the appointment of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to the additional role of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity as a positive sign that government was thinking beyond the roll-out and at issues related to extracting real benefit from the new network.

"That's a terrific move. That sent a signal to me that they are serious about making use of this NBN and reaping benefits of the NBN for the country," Dr Skellern said at an open house event for NICTA's ACT research laboratory in Canberra.

"I am thrilled that the NBN is going to go ahead. It's a terrific piece of infrastructure that the country is going to benefit from," he said.

"The real issue with the NBN for me is not so much about speed. The speed will be adequate, no matter what we get out there. It is the ubiquity of the roll-out that is planned is what is going to make the difference."

"The same network interface, the same methods of access, the same plug and play arrangements '¦ (NBN Co) are being very careful about making sure that the interface looks the same to everyone."

"The performance isn't the same for everyone because wireless is different, but the logical interface to the network is going to be the same and I think that uniformity - plus the fact that it is available to the whole community - is going to have a huge effect on our ability to move our economy online."

With the NBN going ahead, it was critical that industry groups start evaluating what parts of each sector can reasonably be put online, a process he says probably has a role for government in providing incentives and encouragement.

Dr Skellern points to work NICTA performed with the mortgage lending industry in the creation of the Lending Industry XML Initiative (Lixi). Through the creation of a defined language and defined processes across the industry, the platform was developed so that different offerings from mortgage brokers could be compared online.

The project has led to most mortgages now being applied for online, and although different parts of the process use the online environment to a greater or lesser extent, the mortgage broking industry behind Lixi found the project is saving the economy about $50 million to $80 million annually.

"If that (whole process) gets completely online, and if you can manage to ensure that all Australians are online (with a ubiquitous network), then you have a mechanism that gives you the potential to accelerate those savings to $150 million annually," Dr Skellern said.

"That's $150 million a year for one little sector of one industry. So that it ten years $1.5 billion in savings from one tiny segment of one transaction that goes on in the economy."

If the process is begun now to put larger parts of the economy online, there were massive savings to be made through the commissioning of a ubiquitous broadband network, Dr Skellern said, pointing to the transport and logistics sector as a potential beneficiary.

Meanwhile, Dr Skellern said he was happy with the current arrangement in which NICTA is the responsibility of two Ministers, with Stephen Conroy and Industry Minister Kim Carr "owning" half of the responsibility for the research agency.

Although primarily administered through the Australian Research Council as part of the "Research" component of Senator Carr's Innovation, Industry, Science and Research portfolio, Dr Skellern said the exposure the agency got to other industry sectors outside of IT was important to its applied research activities.

"And then on the Communications side - or more the Digital Economy vision side - you could not ask for a better advocate than Stephen Conroy. He gets it. And that department gets it too," Dr Skellern said.

"So we are finding with that arrangement works well."


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