During a recent industry confab in Japan, Google bigwig Eric Schmidt said the future is not only in mobile (smartphone sales are set to outstrip PCs in 2012) but in the Asia Pacific region, which will see three billion mobile users within five years.
He explained how exponential growth was broadening the reach of mobile networks the same way Moore’s Law was giving us ever more powerful devices, so Popular Science was surprised by his response when we asked if he considered large scale fibre-based infrastructure like Australia’s NBN a waste of money in the light of the growth of mobile data.
“No, that’s a common confusion,” the executive chairman stressed, “I think [the NBN is] a great idea. Fibre is so special because you can have as many frequencies as you want in a single strand of fibre, and as many strands as you want.
“The investment in fibre seems incomprehensibly large and we like LTE [mobile networks], but there’s not very much room in LTE because we have to share the air and the frequencies with all these other signals like television, radio, the military and the police. You can put all the television, all the radio, everything on a single strand of fibre. So the ideal strategy for the government from a scientific perspective is to put fibre in the ground, certainly in the cities.”
Schmidt added that other countries in the Asia Pacific are leading the way with similar policies. “We see Asia, by the way, leading in this — countries like Singapore and Korea and here in Tokyo for example with its rollout of hardware. Those investments will yield compound benefits for society for many, many years.”
When it comes to whether fibre or LTE/mobile is better, Schmidt believes they should both be part of the telecommunications mix. “As a society you need a strategy to do both. Even though fibre companies can lay fibre optic infrastructure there are a lot of right-of-way and other issues. It’s better as a whole for a society to be innovative.”
But will the NBN put us on an equal footing with countries where ultra-fast mobile is ubiquitous (or keep us there). Does Schdmit believe it could even leave countries without an NBN-style infrastructure behind? “I do,” he says. “Countries that aren’t taking the aggressive steps that you’re seeing [with fibre] will be disadvantaged. And politicians are beginning to understand that as a result of not having fibre they’re behind some other countries they compete with for jobs.”
Schmidt’s comments echo those made to the Sydney Morning Herald in March, where he called the government’s NBN plan ‘excellent leadership’ that will lead to ‘an explosion of new and unanticipated uses’.