In Telstra chief David Thodey’s digital future, nearly everyone over the age of 10 has one or two devices for interacting with the internet. Smartphones. iPads and other tablet devices. E-book readers. Perhaps even those quaintly old-fashioned things called laptop computers.

“This will change the whole dynamics about what we mean about sharing information in the transactions of business. Mobile internet is going to be far bigger than we originally thought,” Thodey said.

Thodey’s presentation to the Trans-Tasman Business Circle in Sydney on Wednesday was clearly intended to give Telstra’s long-suffering shareholders a reason to smile — although as Delimiter’s Renai LeMay notes, Thodey also just loves this stuff.

He enthused over technologies such as IPTV, which streams video over the internet; Google’s Android operating system for mobile devices; Google Goggles, which uses pictures to search the web; and location-based services like Foursquare.

This mobile broadband revolution isn’t anything new to the digerati, of course, the newly-dubbed Generation STaNDby. (That’s ‘Socially and Technologically Never Disconnected’, apparently. Yeah, I know, but what can you do?) We use it every day. But it was new to these business leaders.

“By the way, you do need very fast broadband networks to make this happen as well,” Thodey quipped. The 400-plus audience — the vast majority of them middle-aged white men in charcoal suits — lapped it up. As they should. The jewel in Telstra’s somewhat corroded crown is the Next G mobile broadband network.

Indeed, Next G data traffic is already doubling every nine months. About 1.4 million iPhones have been sold in Australia and indications are that iPad will sell ever faster. Overall, video accounts for 80% of Telstra’s traffic, and that’ll only increase.

Yes, as soon as negotiations with the government over the National Broadband Network are done — and Thodey stresses that the NBN and Next G complement rather than compete — then Telstra will be able to focus on this future wonderland.

But of course Telstra isn’t the only player…

The mergers of Soul Telemedia, TPG and Pipe Networks create a powerful competitor, almost as integrated as Telstra. Just as Telstra aggressively locks in further content deals for its BigPond network through Foxtel and others — a sweetener to attract potential customers — Australia’s third-largest ISP iiNet has signed a partnership with Malaysian-owned FetchTV to expand its own range of video content. And Seven-owned Vividwireless is already rolling out 4G wireless broadband in high-value areas of Perth, with other cities to come later this year.

Google is even expected to launch its own IPTV product today. The web giant, with its own Nexus One phone and Android operating system, has been steadily buying up fibre network capacity and has already registered trademarks in Australia to cover a potential entry into the broadband market, fixed and mobile.

Telstra has a head start in all this, sure. But while it’s distracted by negotiations over the NBN it can’t decide exactly how to move. An enthusiastic CEO will help keep the investors interested — but for how long?

*Disclosure: Telstra has given Stilgherrian a free Android phone and Next G account as part of the Telstra HTC Desire Social Review program.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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