A visit to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) highlighted for me the accelerating convergence between technology and telecommunications. It also demonstrated our connected devices have become even more intuitive to our needs, even more tuned to our lives, and showed that the telecommunication networks that bring it all to life have never been more important. Here’s why.
CES in Las Vegas is a chance to see and experience many of the thousands of next-gen consumer technologies that will soon be enriching our increasingly connected lives.
More than 170,000 delegates attended CES this year to see the future for ourselves. The big themes for me were:
1. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) – this technology is really gaining momentum now through the development of content and applications beyond just gaming. One example relates to the NBA screening games through VR. Less than 1% of global NBA fans actually get to attend and watch an NBA game, but through VR they are able to virtually observe as if they were at the game through a 360 degree immersive experience. In Australia, we love our sport and Telstra has significant sport and media interests which could use this technology to give our consumers access to events, unlike they have ever experienced before. Another example of the use of VR relates to training emergency services personnel. Late last year I was able to experience a VR demonstration of training fire fighters in simulated real life conditions. I was able to feel both the heaviness of the protective clothing and the heat of the fire. It is a safer way to train the fire fighters in a safe environment. Through the introduction of touch and feel technology in VR, these types of simulations will become even more realistic.
2. Quality of displays – VR and AR are further supported by innovation in displays with an explosion in OLED TVs and OLED coming soon to smartphone screens. We saw prototypes of 8k screens, which combined with the proliferation of HDR technology is creating a vastly improved viewing experience. As we see the quality of media hardware improving, clearly how it is delivered from a network perspective is absolutely critical.
3. Drones – there has been significant innovation in drones with the main focus on delivery and surveillance. Telstra is exploring coastal search and rescue and shark surveillance, via drones and live video stream in conjunction with Little Ripper. We also have 12 drone pilots working for Telstra involved in a range of different commercial and operational activities including assisting with repairs around telecommunications base stations and being deployed into emergencies in conditions where it’s unsafe for our teams.
4. Innovation in the user interface – this includes voice recognition and command, gesture recognition and biometrics. I even experienced a trial using brainwave recognition. It feels like we are on the cusp of a shift from touch screen, mouse and keyboard to a whole new world of user interface.
Some of the technologies displayed at CES are already with us including driverless cars and smart homes.
Driverless cars have been the domain of Google and Tesla for the last few years but at CES this year we saw the shift to mainstream car manufacturers such as Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes.
In smart home, the last five years has seen the concept of in-home connectivity move from a world where the predominant use of home internet was web surfing to where it now empowers connected devices.
The power and unfolding potential of smart home is built on the Internet of Things (IoT). It makes possible a scenario where connected devices seamlessly linked your smartphone and computer control the lights, temperature, appliances, music and security in your home.
Add a layer of artificial intelligence and you have a home that can learn your tastes, preferences and patterns. Take the idea even further and you have a scenario where your appliances might collaborate autonomously and intelligently based on the experience they know you are looking for.
Smart home and IoT is evolving rapidly because processors are getting better as they are fed more data from cheaper, more effective and more numerous sensors.
There were two key messages for Telstra from CES this year. Firstly that anything that can be connected is being connected and to continue to reach our ambition of becoming a world class technology company that empowers people to connect, we need to continue to deepen our understanding of the way people and companies use tech every day. Secondly there is no technology innovation that does not rely on the quality, capability and reliability of the underlying network to provide an outstanding experience for customers and therefore it is critical Telstra remains at the forefront of technology innovation and can support it with the best networks.
Networks – bringing it all to life
CES is about exactly what its name suggests – consumer electronics – and there is no doubt the exhibition halls were packed with technology advances.
In this regard we play a key role in understanding the applications and services being developed and their network requirements.
We also play a key role in leading the debate on global standards around network innovation.
5G is central to this and our teams had senior meetings with key partners on this important area as we will be at the forefront of rolling out 5G.
Why is 5G so important to the technology innovation we are seeing today? There are few reasons for this:
Firstly, the standards for 4G were set more than 5 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 the explosion in 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. Ultimately, although there is still a long way 4G can take us, 4G alone will not be able to satisfy 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 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.
Finally much of the innovation we are seeing today is mobile first. Many of the global consumer tech companies are launching new products first on mobile, and that includes media.
Notwithstanding the significance of 5G however, there is still considerable innovation and developments in 4G, and Telstra is leading the world by deploying new technologies such as Voice over LTE, 4GX and LTE Broadcast into our network.
This is important because while we have been undertaking lab trials of 5G, and will be running a live in-field trial on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018, global standards for 5G are not expected to be set until 2019/2020.
So as well as being at CES to see the innovations in consumer electronics we were also busy behind the scenes with our global partners to make sure we are at the forefront of network innovation and development.
More change and faster
CES left me in no doubt the world ahead will be full of products that are intelligent and intuitive to our needs. Products that can learn the preferences of their owners, interact with each other, and all the other devices and be constantly integrated or updated online or through downloads from the cloud.
It also left me in no doubt that convergence and the ongoing overlap between technology and telecommunications continues to unfold on a scale and at a pace that is unprecedented in human history and that the technologies are starting to work in ways that they never have before.
What that means is that we can build systems and processes that can find solutions through data analytics, solutions that we did not have before. And we can do that at incredible speed and at great scale.
Some of what we saw at CES was new technologies fitting old patterns. What is exciting is that so much work is also being done to fit new technologies to create new patterns, new ways of doing completely new things.
That makes the future unpredictable. It makes the future unknown. But most of all it makes the future incredibly exciting.