news The National Broadband Network Company has appointed an executive who has been publicly critical of the project to be its new chief commercial officer, a role which will see him buying services from other telcos and negotiating commercial arrangements with infrastructure providers and utilities.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Tim Ebbeck has taken up the role of chief commercial officer at NBN Co as of this month. Ebbeck has previously served as the long-term leader of the Australian division of German software giant SAP. He left the role in January this year after four years leading the company locally and eight years with SAP in general. He is believed to have presided over strong local growth at SAP.
In March last year, during his time leading SAP locally, Ebbeck spoke out strongly against the NBN project as a whole in a speech given to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia, labelling it as a “wasted investment and opportunity”.
At the time, Ebbeck noted that while he was “a great supporter of improved ubiquitous broadband for Australia”, the final mix of wired and wireless technologies used in the rollout “must be tweaked”, and the total cost of the project must come down — fuelled by the use of wireless instead of fibre. “A national broadband network that is not delivering mobility as its principal connection approach is, in my view, wasted investment and opportunity,” Ebbeck said, according to a copy of the speech distributed by SAP.
The NBN will use wireless and satellite to service a small portion of Australia’s population, but the overwhelming majority will use fibre. Most technology experts — including those from the major mobile telcos themselves — have agreed over the past several years that Australia will need both wireless and fixed broadband in future to be able to fuel its information and communications needs.
At the time, Ebbeck said according to government agency Infrastructure Australia, there was currently a ‘priority pipeline’ of $82.8 billion worth of projects to improve Australian infrastructure which needed funding, including broadband, but also a national freight network, adaptable and secure water supplier, a national energy market and so on.
“Frankly, I am tired of all the discussion being focused on the broadband network,” said Ebbeck. “It is not the most important of these infrastructure requirements, as supportive as I am of ubiquitous broadband with a strong wireless focus. I contend that water and transport infrastructure are the top priorities out of the list of seven.”
In a follow-up comment on Delimiter at the time, Ebbeck emphasised that he was a strong supporter of ubiquitous broadband, but that he believed “a fibre backbone with wireless delivery is the right solution” and Australia needed to focus on that option more for telecommunications infrastructure. He also emphasised that while broadband was important, he wanted to see “a real discussion” on other forms of infrastructure such as new ports and transport, as well as water issues. “These are actually bigger socio-economic issues. I love broadband but I love Australia more,” Ebbeck said.
Ebbeck’s comments criticising the NBN appeared to fall in line with other comments he made regularly on his Twitter account while at SAP with relation to politics, sharply criticising major Labor initiatives and the Greens while praising Coalition figures such as Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell. Ebbeck was especially vocal in his opposition to the Labor policy popularly known as ‘the carbon tax’.
Note: NBN Co contacted Delimiter after the publication of this article to note that Ebbeck’s role will see him responsible for buying services from other telcos (for example, spectrum from Optus for the interim satellite service) as well as negotiating commercial arrangements with infrastructure providers and utilities. This article had initially incorrectly stated that the role would see the executive selling services to NBN Co’s ISP customers.
Hmm. This is a tough one to analyse.
On the one hand, Ebbeck has been sharply critical of the current NBN model in the past, and his comments went against the grain of mainstream telco industry thinking on the dynamics of future bandwidth usage in the telecommunications industry, given his focus on wireless as opposed to fixed infrastructure.
On the other hand, Ebbeck is also a highly successful and capable technology executive who led SAP Australia to some of its best financial years on record, helping to land deals such as the colossal arrangement SAP has with the Commonwealth Bank’s core banking project. It is definitely true that the executive will be able to carry out his duties as NBN Co chief commercial officer more than competently; in fact, I see NBN Co’s move to attract Ebbeck to its ranks as somewhat of a coup. He is, after all, one of Australia’s highest-ranking technology executives, and I’m sure he took a substantial pay cut to join the NBN project. Given the complexity of SAP’s engagements with major corporations, Ebbeck is more than qualified to lead NBN Co’s commercial operations.
So is it appropriate that NBN Co appoint Ebbeck as its new chief commercial officer? I would say definitely yes. Every company needs dissenting voices and outside the box thinkers, and Ebbeck will add a useful dimension to NBN Co and some different ideas, as well as some very strong commercial skills. It will be interesting to see what impact he has on the company going forward. NBN Co these days is an increasingly complex beast and Ebbeck’s appointment is reflective of that fact.
Image credit: SAP