Will NZ Miss the Pacific Cable Boat?

Apparently Google are engaged in talks over investing in the Unity cable project aimed at spanning the Pacific Ocean with terabits of new bandwidth. It could turn out to be a wise investment on two fronts. Firstly there is obviously a return on the revenue generated by digital traffic. But secondly it ensures that the burgeoning middle classes of Asia-Pacific have ongoing high speed access to applications hosted in America, amongst which Google is aiming to become the provider of choice.

A lot of commentators are talking like Google is setting itself up as a telecoms operator but this is not true. Google may have the cash, but it does not have the expertise to contemplate such a project. The word is that Google are in fact talking to an Australian telco about the new venture.

 Unity is not the only initiative aiming to add capacity across the Pacific. Verizon are working on a project linking to China and North Asia and Southern Cross have just commenced a major upgrade of the cable that links Australasia to North America. All of which is good for consumers because as domestic networks improve, so the demand for international bandwidth increases.

The slow rollout of domestic high speed bandwidth is often upheld as the reason why we will never see a Google or a Bebo spring out of New Zealand. But it looks more and more like a U.S. centric hub and spoke kind of network, everywhere you look now. Naturally providers of innovative global digital content and services then look to the United States as the preferred site to host their offerings. I think that is why we do not yet see anything special built and hosted here in NZ, despite the fact that digital creativity abounds.

In fact there was a visionary project about five years ago called “First Light” that aimed to set up a direct NZ-Singapore cable. The project failed because of difficulty in negotiating “last mile” access at the Singapore terminal. In retrospect it is now clear that New Zealand missed a major opportunity.

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