Addressing COSBOA’s National Small Business Summit in Melbourne last week, NBN Co’s chief customer officer for business, Paul Tyler, admitted that more education is needed to get SMEs onto the right NBN products, stating that around a third of medium businesses report that NBN is not meeting their needs.
“We all know that customer experience of businesses on NBN varies, and not always for the best — we recognise that,” he said, adding that “we’ve done a bad job of explaining” the differences in the broadband products available.
“Your members [business associations] tell us that the more digitally sophisticated a business, the less satisfied they actually are on NBN. They have higher expectations of NBN than your average residential consumer; they have less tolerance to issues and their related impacts; their commercial and customer ramifications of any interruption are that much more devastating actually to businesses.”
He also acknowledged that SMEs struggle to navigate the structures of NBN Co as the wholesaler, and telcos and internet service providers (ISPs) as the retailers of NBN services.
5 in 6 businesses on residential plans
“The vast bulk of the population believe you get the NBN,” Mr Tyler told My Business.
At the heart of the vast majority of business concerns about NBN, according to Mr Tyler, is that most are relying on residential-grade connections which were never meant for businesses. He said that around 500,000 of the 600,000 businesses already on the network are using residential connections.
“Underpinning much of the poor experience we get from some parts of the customer base is that 75 per cent of those dissatisfied customers are connecting to NBN on a basic residential service,” he said.
“They’re using a service that has not been designed to meet the much more demanding use cases of some business applications. They’re not being connected to the network with a business-grade service model that is where their responsiveness requirements are being delivered.”
As such, Mr Tyler said that the result is a need to get this “vast body of businesses” to understand exactly what their internet needs are, and what is available on NBN, and then matching the two.
In a bid to help address this problem, Mr Tyler said that NBN Co has “trained and accredited 1,100 local businesses” that engage with other SMEs about their internet requirements and ensure they are on the plan that best meets those needs.
NBN Co has also unveiled an online tool on its site, called the Solution Finder, in a bid to help connect Australian businesses with the NBN product that best meets their broadband usage requirements.
Aren’t all connections the same?
Mr Tyler subsequently told My Business that education around the different types of products available from NBN is a crucial part of its public-facing activities, which have been purpose-built for different use cases.
“Whilst NBN can do as much as is possible to improve the underlying network, we need the consumers to make sure they are buying the right product,” he said.
“If they are buying a product that is simply not fit for purpose for their application need, then their experience won’t be good.”
He added: “So, that’s another thing we’re trying to do, is really educate end users about ensuring they understand what their needs are: that they understand the type of traffic usage that they are going to require, the balance between upload and download speeds, the kind of responsiveness they expect from their retailer and wholesaler in fixing things when they go wrong.”
So, what are the fundamental differences between business grade and residential products?
Mr Tyler said that because no user and no business is identical, the differences in demand can vary greatly. But essentially, the residential offerings are effectively based on “speed tiers”, which can suit many businesses, depending on their usage. Business-specific plans, however, can offer greater variation than residential ones.
Commercial-grade options can include different speed tiers that can match download and upload speeds. But the peak differentiator, particularly for the more expensive business products, comes down to dedicated bandwidth, “whereas in the residential world, it’s a shared bandwidth”, Mr Tyler said.
“In the business world, it’s [often] a different peak time,” he added.
According to Mr Tyler, a rural Tasmanian-based reseller operating an e-commerce site “completely unlocked their business” by using the Solution Finder to identify, and subsequently switch to, an NBN package that better suited their operational needs.
‘If it doesn’t exist, we’ll build it’
Another perhaps little-known function of NBN is to develop custom-made solutions — usually to enterprises because of the cost involved — where existing services are insufficient.
“If it doesn’t exist, we’ll build it,” Mr Tyler said at the summit.
Elaborating on this with My Business, Mr Tyler explained this service is offered under the Technology Choice Program.
“There’s always been a way for end users to engage with NBN to upgrade their network or change the technology type they’re on,” he said.
“That’s been available since NBN launched.”
He cited the example of a Tasmanian private school, which used the point-to-point fibre “top-end” offering as part of the early stage NBN rollout, as one example of this direct engagement in developing a customised solution.
“They had a demand, it was a demand for a much more robust, highly capable offering than the traditional offering that we would have deployed in that area. They wanted to order that grade of service. They placed the order with the retailer, the retailer placed the order with us, and we built an appropriate technology to deliver that service,” Mr Tyler said.
Where does responsibility lie between NBN and the ISP?
Mr Tyler acknowledged that there is some confusion around the role of NBN.
“NBN is a wholesaler; the consumers, the businesses, the residents, they’re all customers of the retailer,” he said.
“Where the end user has an issue, they should raise their issue with their retailer, and then the retailer will raise the issue with NBN, if it is an issue with NBN.”
Rollout nearing completion
Mr Tyler also pointed to the size of the NBN rollout as one of the country’s biggest ever projects, suggesting that teething issues were inevitable with something of this scale.
“The NBN project is one of the largest infrastructure projects that Australia has ever undertaken,” he said.
“Building that ubiquitous, high-speed broadband network that works for everybody, no matter where they live across the vast country of Australia, does mean complexity at scale.
“We’re in the last 12 months of the build program... 5.5 million homes and businesses are now users of NBN.”
He added that in the remaining year of the network’s rollout, 50,000 homes and 20,000 businesses are being connected every month, with more than 10 million now connected to the network.
“We’re on the home stretch,” he said.