NBN Co hires major critic as commercial exec


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


  1. He left the role in January this year
    Hmm. This is a tough one to analyse.

    7 months of unemployment

  2. From my point of view it is quite easy to analyse. If he honestly thinks the majority of Australia’s broadband infrastructure can be built on wireless (a world first as far as I know) he has no place anywhere within NBNCo. Even Turnbull has backed away from that idea!

    • I actually don’t think he’s thinking about wireless in the same way everyone else is – I believe his model is essentially ubiquitous fibre but instead of terminating at individual premises, you would have lots of mobile broadband towers, giving everyone access to ultra-high speed wireless broadband. There would obviously be tremendous technical challenges to overcome, and given the difficulty of installing mobile towers and our history of general reluctance from communities, I don’t know if this is a model that would really fly in real-world Australia. In fact, at this stage I’d call it a naive pipe dream.

      Get the fibre in the ground first, then there’s no end to the services and technologies you can hang off it.

      • That model would work if you put a base station on every street corner. Can you imaging the level of NIMBYism that would sweep the country if we attempted to do that?

        • @Craig – Yep. There would be a nimby protest on every street corner.

          As Sathias noted, even the loquacious (but strangely non-specific) Turnbull has backed away from that idea in his relentless NBN opposition.

          • Actually, if you had that many wireless connection points each one would necessarily be much lower power than is currently used for mobile comms, but then the science has demonstrated the signal strength of mobile communications is both too low and the wrong frequency to cause any tissue damage or pose any health risk, but that doesn’t stop the tinfoil hat brigade…

          • Can you provide a link or reference to that scientific study? I’d love to read it. Thanks!

  3. I dont think its a bad thing at all. You dont want everyone to simply be yes men, so to have someone with credentials there thats willing to question things keeps everyone else on their toes.

    Done right, Ebbeck and Quigley will work wonders.

    Other aspect is that with a noted critic on board, it weakens the stance of the opposition. NBNCo can (rightly) point to him as evidence they arent just doing things because they can, but have someone on board that will ‘keep em honest’, so to speak.

    • I agree GongGav.

      Perhaps Mr. Ebbeck’s not so positive NBN opinions can assist in the overall bigger picture of the NBN.

      Only problem being of course, if he is now converted to believing in the current NBN roll out and says so, the critics will simply say his opinions are for sale to the highest bidder.

    • The trouble will be if he undermines the stance of NBNCo through his vocal opinions.
      Working for a Private company is one thing, but NBNCo is viewed by many as a government organisation, and the expectations of its employees are high.

      If he remains vocal in public, criticizing the core FTTH goals, he may very well bolster such claims as Turnbull’s spurious assertions of NBNCo mismanagement.

    • Actually, his opposition will be coming from his very effective private sector background, this however comes from an entirely different perspective than the NBN.
      The NBN is NOT a Commercial Private sector type enterprise. It is about National Communications infrastructure to replace the past use by date Copper network.
      Certainly speed of rollout may have a bearing, but it is not ROI that is the factor in this instance even though still a factor, it is not the key one.
      It will be an adjustment for him to put the long term National interest in the form of a Communications platform as first priority rather than ROI.
      However I believe he can achieve that and provide very valuable input.
      However max FTTH still needs to be the goal

  4. Surely he can’t be appointed while remaining critical of the core aspects of the NBN? From now on the word wireless should be dropped from his vocabularly unless he specifically refers to the 7% outside of the fibre footprint.

    Has he changed his mind and come around to the fact that the NBN is the best way forward? In which case that’s great that he has eductaed himself to the point where he is line with the project.

    Having said that if he’s suddenly pro-NBN, then people will question whether he really believed in his previous criticisms, or whether he was just playing sabotage politics.

    It also worries me that he’s critical of the carbon tax, given most economists and environmentalists think its the right way forward for Australia. Sure it’s nothing to do with the NBN, but being broadly critical of all progressive policies means he’s a bit of a loose cannon.

    Time will tell which side of the fence he truly sits on.

    • Sure he can. Theres no reason he cant remain critical AND push the NBN.

      I’ve never played the wireless game for a simple reason. If its THAT important, then competition will see it expand anyhow, as per the Liberals belief. It would have to be a self fulfiling prophecy.

      At which point plenty of people jump up and down screaming “I told you so” for anyone that cared to listen…

      And being at ground zero for this leaves him in an ideal position to facilitate such a competitive development. Remember that if wireless works, its going to need a near-NBN type rollout anyway – the wireless is only as good as the line it connects to.

      If he realises this, then being at the pointy end of the stick is a good thing for both NBN, and wireless. One of the reasons I commented above that Ebbeck and Quigley together could be a good thing.

      • Fair call. Some good points there.

        If he remains critical of the NBN, then it should be on a completely factual basis, completely separate from the deliberately misleading type of criticism we see from The Coalition.

        • Yeah. Most people seem to forget that being critical doesnt have to be a bad thing. Steve Jobs was critical of Apple when he returned to them, and in the end made them the biggest company in the world.

          As you say, Ebbeck will at least be critical on facts, rather than be critical for political reasons. If he’s critical for the former, you might see changes such as rolling the fibre to logical tower locations, or out to potential greenfields sites, things like that. Incorporate a bit of future planning for both fixed and wireless. Plenty of things he can do with a critical approach.

          If he’s critical for political purposes then he probably wouldnt take the job in the first place…

  5. I dunno, I want to see the NBN bring ubiquitous free Wi-Fi hotspots to every shop and public place in the country. I’d never have to bother with overpriced 3G data again!

  6. I don’t see Ebbeck’s criticism as valid. He talks about a ubiquitous network more heavily based around wireless…..which is precisely what the NBN will enable.

    It is not designed by default to enable this, but it is eminently and easily possible to accommodate this, much more so than a system designed to only run to wireless nodes in the first place. The nimby argument aside, there is infinitely more scope for Femto/Pico cells and WiFi hotspots connected to fibre with the FTTH NBN than in a purposely designed wireless node NBN.

    I think overall this is a good move for NBNCo. however, I note Renai’s final comment:

    “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’.”

    He appears to be broadly Liberal. That’s fine, as long as that does not end with him spouting misleading or untrue statements in his job at NBNCo. I’m sure there is a clause that states he can’t go around actively criticising it, but there’s a lot of leeway to still mislead by saying “Wireless will be better in the end”. This could be extremely damaging for NBNCo’s ultimate goal.

    I hope Ebbeck can meld his own views with that of the company he is working for in a positive way.

    • If he starts spouting misleading or untrue statements at NBNCo, I expect he’ll be pulled up pretty smart, or be out of a job twice as quick. I’ve never seen a senior officer benefit from publicly bad-mouthing the business they work for…

      • @GongGav

        No, true. I just hope he is constructively critical of NBNCo to its’ benefit, rather than accidentally harming it by incidentally reinforcing the Coalition POV.

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