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Near-term technology

Telstra News

Posted on March 21, 2017

9 min read

We are already working on new technologies to improve lives. These are some of the developments we expect to see over the next 2 to 5 years.

Faster networks

With partners like Ericsson, Telstra is already working on the fifth generation of mobile networks and connectivity, known as 5G. This technology could offer download speeds of greater than 20Gbps – the equivalent of downloading around 4,000 different HD movies all at the same time.

As high-speed fixed and wireless broadband services continue to evolve, the ability to combine mobility with ‘smart’ networks and cloud computing will enhance existing regional connectivity. This means a whole new range of applications that were previously either too expensive or technically complex will become a reality.

 

5G will power more than just high-speed smartphones. New capabilities include greater capacity for more devices on the network, and lower energy requirements that will enable battery life significantly longer than what we see today – both critical for the growth of the Internet of Things.

Telstra is adding new capability to 4G, such as Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) to support these features, and 5G is being designed from the outset to incorporate these types of applications.

Industries in Australia that will benefit from the additional capabilities of 5G include transport, emergency services, and process industries such as mining, agriculture, and land and water management.

5G will power more than just high-speed smartphones. New capabilities include greater capacity for more devices on the network, and lower energy requirements that will enable battery life significantly longer than what we see today – both critical for the growth of the Internet of Things.

Telstra is adding new capability to 4G, such as Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) to support these features, and 5G is being designed from the outset to incorporate these types of applications.

Industries in Australia that will benefit from the additional capabilities of 5G include transport, emergency services, and process industries such as mining, agriculture, and land and water management.

5G

Today’s technologies can be used to show the potential of 5G. Ericsson is currently trialling a 5G system combining new and existing technologies to remotely control Volvo trucks used for transporting ore in a mine operated by Boliden.

Ericsson has also worked with Volvo to demonstrate the operation of a remotely located digger over the 4G network by using Virtual Reality and haptic feedback (to simulate the physical experience). With 5G, this will be further enhanced by providing higher capacity and lower latency to support multiple remote controlled machines along with higher resolution video. In addition to this, 5G will offer increased reliability to ensure maximised production.

High-tech Agriculture

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to objects (everything from cars, houses and public infrastructure) which are connected to one another through a network. The number of objects being connected is expected to reach a staggering 21 billion devices by 2020. IoT is already having an impact on regional Australia with the 4G network, and this will be bolstered by the introduction of 5G.

The data collected through IoT will help farmers make smart decisions and reduce or eliminate circumstances which can adversely impact profits and livelihoods. Integrating sensors with rapidly evolving abilities to analyse data will create a technical revolution that will change the way farms are managed.

For example, sensors attached to water tanks allow a real time view of water levels. When connected to on-farm networks this technology can proactively alert farmers of threshold events such as water levels dropping below 20%, or a tank level dropping more than 10%. So when livestock on a remote part of a property damage a water line causing leakage, a farmer will know before the situation is too late to fix.

Sensors embedded in soil can track moisture and soil health, making it easier for farmers to efficiently distribute water and fertilisers. This data can be integrated with farm scheduling activities, increasing quality and yield and allowing timely procurement of consumables and labour.

Just like Smart Pills that are being developed for people, ingestible sensors designed to monitor livestock health are advancing at great pace. By bringing these sensors into the Internet of Things, rumination across an entire herd of cattle, health of prized breeding stock and fertility across a range of breeds can be monitored and tracked in real time.

Farms blanketed with sensors that are connected via IoT are able to monitor and track machinery, allowing for proactive maintenance scheduling. Machinery will increasingly accommodate autonomous guidance for precision planting and other cropping activities, with performance data being aggregated at the homestead or office via a farm-wide dashboard that provides an integrated view of not only livestock and crop health but business health and profitability as well.

The use of drones in agriculture and resources, when coupled with remote sensing technologies, offers an enhanced and more flexible capability over ground-based monitoring.

Telstra is already partnering with Boeing and the Queensland Government to take part in a major research project aimed to enable the safe and reliable operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) technologies – also known as drones - by commercial and civil industries across Queensland.

Drones will be able to deliver a greater degree of accuracy when making decisions on issues in relation to cropping and water management or for carrying out tasks like quantity surveying.

 

Management of water and nitrogen is currently based on labour-intensive, ground-based survey and observation. However these data collection methods do not lend themselves to holistic measurement. With the advancement of hand-held and drone-based hyperspectral sensors a much more detailed and complete data set can be established across a wider area. Collecting accurate data across a whole paddock or farm in an instant is becoming possible. Efficiently collecting data is not the only benefit - advances in analytics platforms will unleash the decision making potential this level of data collection presents. When data regarding either soil or nitrogen deficiency is shared with vehicle-based GIS systems, the application of whatever is required to mitigate the deficiency can be managed with far more efficiency than a whole-of-paddock application. This both reduces the cost of crop inputs and improves yield and quality, while reducing the environmental impact through the reduced used of inputs.

Gains in productivity using drones can also be realised when repetitive tasks are automated. Checking water points on large properties can be completed using pre-programmed flight paths. Livestock mustering is a case where safety can be improved and costs reduced when drones are used instead of helicopters.

Telstra is working with an Australian-based specialist in crop protection and seed technologies and is collaborating with an internationally-based firm to introduce their plant monitoring and agriculture analytics system to Australia. This system provides near real-time monitoring via in-field devices connected to Telstra’s mobile network on a range of parameters that allow growers to optimise inputs and make better informed decisions that improve both the quality and yield of their crops.

Healthier Communities

A reality of living in regional Australia is that help is sometimes far away – a growing concern as regional populations age. Remote health monitoring can provide a safe option that will allow people to live independently in their own homes longer.

Video conferencing means community nurses can easily and efficiently supervise patients taking medication and answer any questions, with medication confusion a leading cause of hospital readmission.

 

Medical-grade wearables will monitor vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure, blood glucose or oxygen saturation and alert a family member or carer if they fall outside a safe range, allowing for early medical intervention and reducing hospital admissions.

Sensor technology will also evolve to automatically call for help in the case of a fall in the home. This means people in regional Australia will be able to live where they want for longer, yet still have access to the care they need, when they need it.

Apps for mental health and chronic illness

Apps will deliver better levels of care for people living with chronic disease or poor mental health. Instead of having to wait to see a doctor, apps (combined with the use of wearable and other technology) will allow for real-time tracking of data such as mood for those with depression or blood glucose, nutrition and exercise for those with diabetes. Technology will not only store this data, but analyse and recommend suggested behavioural changes or actions in order to help people better manage their conditions, irrespective of location or immediate accessibility of health providers.

To enable these solutions, reliable, available high-speed connectivity must be the backbone that supports the proliferation of smartphones and wearables with a variety of high-quality sensors.

Smart homes

Today the average Australian household has nine connected devices. By 2020 this number is expected to increase to 29 per household.

The Smart Home concept, whether you live in a city or in a regional area, is more than just a number of connected devices in the home, it’s about how they connect and talk to each other and use data to automate and enhance different aspects of our lives.

Smart homes offer huge potential for people who want to remain in their own homes as they age. Smart home technology will be particularly vital to maintain the independence of those without easy access to local healthcare, which is particularly important for regional Australia. Current areas of research are focused on preventing harm and ensuring comfort such as ergonomic bathrooms with the ability to auto-detect medical issues using smart ‘slip and fall’ sensors. Smart homes will include remote diagnostic technology and bio-sensors to detect poor health and the onset of diseases.

Smart homes will improve physical security by creating interactive systems that incorporate motion and window sensors, thermostats, lights, and door lock controls. Smart homes will also offer better experiences for people living with a disability. For example, innovations being developed by the Summer Foundation who are designing a call system, environmental controls and communications devices integrated into one system. These advances will allow people living in their own homes to control their environments and communicate with others at the touch of a button.

These smart home advancements are critically important as the aged and disability care sectors already face challenges attracting sufficient staff. As stated in the ‘The crisis in the caring workforce’,6 the Department of Health and Ageing estimated that the aged care workforce would need to increase between two and three times before 2050. At the same time the aged care workforce itself will age and the overall labour market will be more competitive. As such, regional areas are likely to be the places where technology innovation will be of highest impact.

Smart home technology for regional areas is dependent on reliable, connected, and highly-secure solutions that protect the data that will be collected.

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