With analysts, such as Gartner predicting the number of devices connected to the Internet will exceed 20 billion by 2020, from just over 8 billion today, it’s clear we are on the cusp of a new era when it comes to computing.
The great majority of those devices will be very different to the computers, tablets and smartphones of today. Many will be sensors and control systems — not unlike the SCADA systems used by infrastructure providers — that will require a constant communications feed so they can send and receive data in real-time. But where the IoT differs from SCADA is that it will depend on the public network and open standards.
At the launch of Telstra Labs, Telstra's new CTO, Hakan Eriksson, said his team is working hard to establish our largest telco's network as the one entrepreneurs and established players will lean on to deploy their new IoT solutions.
So, to paraphrase the old game Zero Wing, Telstra's plan is: “All your IoT are belong to us”.
Eriksson said Telstra's pervasiveness offer two main advantages to developers.
Its broad network coverage means the makers of fixed devices can make one version of their device that will work anywhere in the country. And, if they test it in the new GSMA IoT Innovation Lab, the first of its type in Australia, developers can be assured their devices will work almost anywhere else in the world. This gives them a "develop once, deploy anywhere" advantage.
It also allows developers to create mobile devices that can work across most of the country. One of the pieces of test equipment Eriksson showed during the opening of the new IoT Innovation Lab was a device that allowed developers to test how a product worked when its communications signal was handed over between different cell towers.
But Telstra is not getting it all its own way.
In November 2016, the government of South Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Thinxtra to prioritise that state in its plans for a nationwide network rollout that will cover 85 per cent of the Australian population.
Thinxtra will be using the French-developed Sigfox network. Unlike the cellular technologies Telstra is hanging its hat on, Sigfox uses a narrowband frequency that gives it greater range with fewer base stations. Dubbed a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN), the Sigfox network will give Telstra some strong competition.
And it has broad support globally: The Netherlands, France, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Denmark, UK, Spain, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Poland, Czech Colombia, Chile, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are all planning Sigfox rollouts.
One of the key advantages supporters of SIgfox point to is the ability for it penetrate different substrates and operate in trying conditions. One of Sigfox’s goals was to have its technology operating on every continent. Last year it installed a network at Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station, 200 kilometres in from the Antarctic coast, at an altitude of 1,382 metres.
During the opening of Telstra Labs, Eriksson mentioned that Telstra’s experience in deploying and managing the 4G network stands them in good stead as the 5G network is built and prepared for the connection of millions of IoT devices. They have learned lessons about how to manage the differing traffic patterns and latency of applications and devices in different settings.
Those lessons will be applied when the 5G network, which was announced earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Trials are expected to commence as part of the 2018 Commonwealth Games being held in Brisbane.