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Lessons from CES 2018: everything is connected

Tech and Innovation

Posted on January 24, 2018

4 min read

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is a whirlwind of devices, gadgets, drones and robots. At times it is difficult to see through the noise and colour to get a sense of the practical use cases that have the potential to change our lives – versus what I call “we did this because we could” tech.

Now that I have had a bit of time to reflect on the show, there were a number of key themes and developments that stood out for me, which are important for our customers and for Telstra in the short to medium term – both as a network provider and as a technology company.

My overarching takeaway is that connectivity is everything, clearly reinforcing that our strategy to invest in providing the best networks to our customers, both in the home and while on the move, is the right one.

The battle for your home

Smart home at CES 2018

The first key theme was the number of smart devices on show and the battle for control of the home. Last year Amazon’s Alexa was a big talking point and voice assistants were a big part of CES2018 again.

While Alexa again had a big presence, Google Home was everywhere – and there was also speculation about what impact the Apple HomePod will have in the smart home market when it launches.

One thing was clear – anything that can be connected in the home will be connected, from fridges and mirrors through to toilets, beds and pillows; improving your night’s sleep was, surprisingly, a key theme itself!

For a company with connectivity at our heart this provides enormous opportunity for us to improve the customer experience.

While consumers grapple with the choice of calling out “Alexa”, “Hey Google” or “Hi Siri”, for Telstra the applications and benefits that will shortly be available to our customers mean the size, speed and security of their home wifi network becomes all important.

It means our customers’ home gateways will become a central hub that not only connects their TVs to stream the latest movie, but also their watering systems, air-conditioning and baby monitors.

Wi-Fi needs to reach into every corner of the home (and garden), which is why our aim is to differentiate our gateway to provide the best in market. We are also working with partners to provide a range of Wi-Fi extenders aimed at unleashing the full potential of the smart home for our customers.

Innovation acceleration in autonomous vehicles

Autonomous driving at CES 2018

The second key theme at CES was transport, and what I saw as the merging of drones with autonomous vehicles. These two technologies definitely took up most of the show floor.

Of course many vehicles are already connected, and have technologies like cruise control and lane departure warnings that help us drive. The technologies on show at CES were not about helping us drive, but were about doing the driving for us (or without us).

The broad convergence of a number of technologies including vehicle systems (particularly for electric vehicles), digital mapping, data analytics and artificial intelligence mean our roads will soon be home to fleets of self-driving, self-navigating, and effectively self-aware cars, trucks and vans. Soon steering wheels and pedals will be redundant.

Take the idea a little further and you have a scenario where you no longer need to ask what type of car should I buy, but ask what type of vehicle is right for the trip I want to make? A fleet of cars is available and when you get in the car recognises you through facial recognition and automatically configures your seat, temperature and radio station based on your preferences stored in the cloud.

Where drones and transport merge is in the development of autonomous drones with the capability of carrying people. Intel had a helicopter-like drone on show at CES which it is touting as the future of taxis – you simply climb in and tell it where to go and it takes you there.

Networks – bringing it all to life

Autonomous vehicles, in fact all the products on show at CES, have one thing in common – they all rely on first class network connectivity.

In this regard Telstra plays a key role in understanding the products, applications and services being developed and their network requirements. We also play a leading role in the debate on global standards around network innovation. Of course, over the next 12 months preparing for switching on 5G will be one of our highest priorities, and while at CES we met with key partners, network operators and developers to discuss the latest 5G developments.

Why is 5G so important to the technology innovation we are seeing today? There are a few reasons:

Firstly, the standards for 4G were set more than five years ago at a time when much of the innovation we are now seeing and expecting to see over the next few years had not been contemplated. 4G was essentially designed to solve a relatively narrow problem – how to accommodate growing demand for mobile access to the internet and increasing data volumes.

Secondly, media consumption over IP has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Today, it accounts for more than 50% of all internet traffic and that is expected to grow to more than 75% by 2020 with innovations such as VR, AR, 8K and HDR. 4G can take us a long way yet but 4G alone will not be able to meet this demand efficiently and cost effectively. We will need another step change in capacity, speed and reach. 5G is that step change.

Thirdly 5G will underpin the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and provide the level of latency required for things like autonomous driving, where latency has to be much lower than for many traditional uses. There can be no delay when an autonomous vehicle has to respond to a hazard.

During CES Telstra announced coverage for narrowband IoT devices is now available over our mobile network in major Australian cities and regional towns. This is in addition to the approximately three million square kilometres of coverage for Cat M1 IoT devices we already offer. Narrowband technology is important because it will open up the opportunity to connect millions of new IoT devices by sending small volumes of data at very low power levels over Telstra’s mobile network.

We already offer our customers Australia’s largest and fastest mobile network and now we have added the ability to support new small IoT devices, like sensors and alarms, at very low data rates that can sit inside machines and vehicles, reach deep inside buildings and operate with a battery life of years rather than hours and days. Telstra already connects more than two million machine to machine devices today and offers connected lights, cameras and motion sensors on our Smart Home platform.  We expect the new mobile network capabilities will now drive rapid growth in this area and we forecast that over the next five years we will be connecting four times more devices on our network than we do today.

In the near future every technology – from smart clothing and wearables to autonomous vehicles – will rely on the quality, capability and security of the underlying network, so it is critical Telstra remains at the forefront of technology innovation and can support it with the best networks.

A world where fleets of autonomous vehicles ply our roads is not going to happen overnight, not least because of the many regulatory, legal, ethical and behavioural speed humps that need to be cleared. But this change is certainly coming and when it does the sheer scale of the potential disruption makes it hard to know how it will play out.

Just as smartphones changed the world over the last decade by making new experiences and business models possible, autonomous vehicles will disrupt everything from insurance to the demand for oil, from parking to retail, from city design to vehicle ownership.

For all of that I think the real potential lies in what it will mean for customers. And that I think was the biggest take out from CES for me – that for all the extraordinary technology innovation emerging today it is not the product that matters so much as the lived experience of that product. The key questions are always going to be how does this make my life better, easier, and more exciting?