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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.

The tech at CES 2018: The good, the bad, the mildly confusing

Tech and Innovation

Posted on January 16, 2018

5 min read

Fresh off the plane back from Las Vegas, our Chief Technology Officer Hakan Eriksson reflects on what he saw and heard at CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show.

With Telstra working at the forefront of many different technologies, CES was a timely reminder for us to constantly think about how we can bring innovation into our customers’ lives. 2018 promises to be a big year, with 5G on the near horizon and our advancing work in areas such as IoT, big data and new technologies making great progress.

Home

The smart home is becoming smarter, and maturing from only being a network of independent smart devices to becoming a complete ecosystem – including artificial intelligence (AI) to help make your interactions with your smart home more effective.

At the same time, this means that many players that earlier had their niche in the home are now in competition, with all devices containing a microphone and a speaker, and becoming part of a meshed network.

Some companies are even starting to think about how their smart home solutions can deliver indoor coverage for 5G mobile networks.

5G

Predictably, there were still a lot of discussions around the use cases for 5G, with most ideas gravitating towards applications with short latency, and the follow-on opportunities presented by the distributed cloud and the potential for edge compute.

All across CES there were many references to 5G, with some major players making 5G the key theme of their show – and that’s not only the usual suspects like Ericsson and Qualcomm, but also companies like Intel. 4G is still going strong, with Qualcomm showing a Gigabit LTE Maserati at their stand.

Cars

Connected, driverless and electric cars have now made CES their home – separate to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which is the place for traditional vehicles with big muscle cars as the main attraction.

This year at CES, the latest concept cars from the big players like Toyota were shown, but also electrical and driverless “F1” cars that will take the battle of car-controlling software to the next level.

Drones and robots

Drones and robots were more impressive than ever at CES this year, coming in all shapes and sizes from palm-sized selfie stick competitors to helicopters. Drones are now also going underwater and can even catch fish for you. There was also a table tennis-playing robot that adjusted its skill level to its human opponent to make the game more interesting.

AR and VR

AR/VR and mixed reality was a bit of a disappointment. VR headsets are still big and heavy, and the resolution is still not really where it needs to be. It’s a very immersive feeling, but after a few minutes you still want to get out of the headset.

As for AR, the interaction with the applications was still quite clumsy – the best sign around the show floor that there was an AR demo going on was seeing someone trying to pinch the air in front of them in a desperate attempt to get the just-rebooted app to work.

Sight and Eye Control

A relatively new area, at least for consumer applications, is technology that can detect where you are looking. With more and more devices having integrated microphones, the devices now know when you are talking to them – but still don’t know when you are looking at them.

This technology has evolved from helping people with a disability to type by looking at the keys on the keyboard, and can now be used for better understanding how we read a web page including its ads, as well as assessing how alert a driver is.

The next step could very well be our devices at home – we will soon get tired of saying “OK Google, turn down the TV volume”, when it would feel more natural to just look at the TV and say “could you please be quiet”.

Health

The health sector was basically two segments – one focusing on all kinds of devices to monitor your health at home, mainly for those who already have an existing medical need, as well as various ways to make you sleep better.

One of the more odd devices at CES was an inflatable pillow combined with a microphone. It detected when you were snoring, then changed the shape of the pillow – with the assumption that you would stop snoring in the new position.

The other sector focused on a healthy lifestyle, mostly using different kinds of wearable devices and clothes with integrated sensors. An example was a smart helmet with built-in lights, microphone, and speakers – but also a G-force sensor that detected if you had fallen off your bike, and then called an emergency contact. There was also some connected sports underwear, which I still don’t understand.

And, of course, CES would not have been complete without the gyro-stabilised selfie stick…

Today’s challenges are tomorrow’s opportunities

Business and Enterprise

Posted on January 15, 2018

5 min read

Today the world is characterised by intense disruption and change, but it’s not necessarily all about what’s around the corner.

When I speak with customers, regardless of what industry they are in, they, like us at Telstra, are all facing the same challenge – or opportunity depending on how you look at it.

It’s about deciding how to capture the opportunity of today – the new technologies, new capabilities and skills to invest in – and how that will shape a tomorrow where everything that can be connected will be connected and automated.

Switching on IoT

One of the most remarkable examples of this is in the deployment of new tech in mining. Autonomous mine sites, transportation links, port logistics is an area of massive investment, and we are heavily involved with a number of the leading mining companies here in Australia on that transformation. Combined with the IoT network we’ve lit up – the Telstra IoT Network – the next set of opportunities for this sector is already apparent.

We already have more than two million IoT services in place. With the Telstra IoT Network now one of the only in the world to offer both Cat M1 and Narrowband – specially designed IoT technologies that can support devices like sensors, trackers and monitors operating at very lower data rates and with extended battery life – we are working with customers on IoT solutions for a number of industries.

Another great example of IoT in action is that of Peloris Global Sourcing, a company that delivers Australian fresh food onto the shelves of Chinese supermarkets. They took on a challenge of shipping fresh milk to China – a challenge that was impossible just three years ago.

Peloris is now responsible for about 40 per cent of all fresh milk exports into China. This was made possible through the introduction of the Internet of Things technology into their supply chain.

The team from Peloris can access data in real time to assure the quality of the milk, monitoring its temperature all the way from the farm to when it arrives in China.

This visibility and transparency at all stages of the supply chain has helped improve overall efficiency and has been endorsed by China Inspection and Quarantine Bureau for rapid border clearance for China food imports. What used to take two to three weeks can now happen in just 36 hours.

What is even more exciting are the opportunities IoT technology has opened up for Peloris. The company is already developing channels to market for other short shelf life products into China and new markets across Asia. They have opened a new office in Malaysia which has potential to be a hub for the distribution of dairy, meat, fruit, vegetables and chilled seafood from Australia into the ASEAN region including Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Delivering smarter transportation

Recently, on a trip to Europe a number of Telstra’s leaders met with Scania, one of the world’s leading transportation companies.

They talked to us about how they are increasing vehicle connectivity that is allowing Scania to gather a huge amount of valuable information in real time and then use that data to increase productivity, improve maintenance and deliver services tailored to the specific needs of customers.

They also talked about their work in pioneering the concept of platooning, which will be reliant on increased connectivity across their fleet – they are already, working on the first full-scale autonomous truck platooning operation in Singapore.

Platooning involves the configuration of truck and trailer combinations driving in close formation, to reduce air drag and fuel consumption.

Currently, trucks drive at a safe distance from each other using common in-vehicle features such as radar and cruise control.

With the addition of vehicle-to-vehicle communications and interconnected control systems an even narrower distance between trucks would increase efficiency and reduce fuel consumption by as much as 12 per cent.

Recently, Tesla, a well-known player in the autonomous driving space, debuted its electric semi-truck. Available in two years’ time – they will feature an enhanced autopilot, the company’s newest semi-autonomous driving technology used in its passenger cars, and will have a range of up to 800km.

Like Scania and Tesla, Telstra Enterprise sees IoT and smarter transportation as a major opportunity. In November, we acquired GPS and fleet management solutions provider MTData. This investment fast tracks our enterprise connected vehicle offering capitalising on our business ready IoT capability.

The future with 5G

As we enter a new era of disruption fuelled by the advent of 5G we will see more and more industries and companies exploring what that future could look like.

In addition to the big enterprise use cases for IoT, 5G technology will also enable opportunities around the edges of the network. This will put computing capacity closer to the home or the user changing the way we access information, delivering benefits such as dramatically decreased battery use.

We will discover new ways to address old problems, new opportunities to pursue and new skills to develop.

During our time in Europe, the discussions we had and the technology innovation we saw confirmed that the strategic path of Telstra Enterprise and Telstra as a whole is aligned to both the market opportunity and the way many other tech companies see the world.

As we purposefully invest to address the challenges of today and support Telstra’s shift to become a world-class tech company of tomorrow, Australia must also invest now to become more of a tech country and that is where we all have a role to play.