Netgear CEO Patrick Lo had a lot to say at an intimate lunch with journalists on Monday. But while his comments on Apple and Microsoft were the big stories of the week, he also had some fascinating perspectives on the NBN. Given his position in the networking space, they're well worth listening to.
To be fair, Lo prefaced his talk about the NBN by admitting he had an ulterior motive given Netgear's position as a networking hardware supplier. But he gave his opinion on the matter anyway:
"If you have fibre to the home, there's so much you can do... You know in the US, we have a saying, "If you build it, they will come". So it's the same thing. Once you build that kind of bandwidth, you will generate so much creativity of what can be done. It's tremendous.
"For example, after the 1987 financial crisis, you remember at that time Korea was in deep trouble. They got a bailed out by IMF, bailed out by the US and it was really tense. I remember at that time Korea actually asked their citizens to donate their gold to the Government to save themselves...
"So the government decided that, "You know what? How do we go forward?". The only way they could get out of this whole heap of problems was to stay at the forefront of technology. So they were the first ones to decide that they would give every single home broadband internet access, minimum 20Mbps, all the way up to 100Mbps..."
Granted, Korea's government wasn't quite the same robust democracy Australia has now, but the decision to invest in technology seems to have paid off for the country, with some big economic rewards.
"With that kind of connectivity to the homes, they created the world's first online gaming community, and see how big it is! Online gaming... I mean Warcraft... that's from them.
"So I think that when you build it, it will come. It will generate so much creativity for people to generate new types of business on the internet, it's just amazing."
But as we've mentioned, it's all well and good to look at Korea, a relatively small country with a huge population, and admit a national broadband infrastructure helped them economically. But Australia is a large country with a small population, and that raises some debate over the effectiveness of the NBN solution. Lo recognised this:
"But of course the controversy is whether you should do it by the government or you should let the private sector do it with a framework from the government.
"It's difficult for me to say... When you have a big economy like China or the US, I don't think the government should do it, because there's enough money to be made. But in an Australia where you've got a huge geography, where it's pretty difficult to make money if you have to do it to Tasmania, then it's different. I can't say"
But what about the Liberal solution, wireless? Given Netgear's history with providing wireless routers to homes around the world, you would expect Lo to have a pretty decent understanding of the technology's strengths and weaknesses. When asked about Obama's plan for 98% wireless access to all Americans in five years, Lo said:
"The only thing I know is that frankly, as appealing as it is for the wireless network, it cannot shoulder the load that we envisage. It just can't - it's physically impossible. So that's why you've gotta continue to try and offload your traffic as much to the NBN, to Wi-Fi, as much as you can.
It's interesting that even though Lo understand's the controversy about having the Government being completely in charge of rolling out the NBN, he still feels that it's a crucial step forward for the future of Australia.