Telstra and Microsoft have extended their partnership to jointly build solutions harnessing the capabilities of AI, IoT, and Digital Twin technologies in Australia. The partnership will also enable both companies to work on sustainability, emission reduction, and digital transformation initiatives.
The adoption of cloud and 5G technology is already on the rise and creating opportunities across the globe. The Microsoft-Telstra partnership is set to bring together the capabilities of both providers for businesses in Australia and globally. Their focus on AI, IoT, cloud and 5G will enable Australia’s developers and independent software vendors (ISVs) to leverage AI with low latency 5G access to drive efficiency, and enhance decision making. This will also see practical applications and new solutions in areas like asset tracking, supply chain management, and smart spaces to enhance customer experience.
Technology Enhancing the Built Environment
Microsoft Azure and Telstra’s 5G capabilities will come together to develop new industry solutions – the combination of cloud computing power and telecom infrastructure will enable businesses and industries to leverage a unified IoT platform where they can get information through sensors, and perform real-time compute and data operations. Telstra and Microsoft will also build digital twins for Telstra’s customers and Telstra’s own commercial buildings which will be initially deployed at five buildings. Upon completion, the digital twin will enable Telstra to form a digital nerve centre and map physical environments in a virtual space based on real-world models and plot what-if scenarios.
Telstra CEO, Andy Penn says, “If you think about the physical world – manufacturing, cities, buildings, mining, logistics – the physical world hasn’t really been digitised yet. So, how do you digitise the physical world? Well, what you do is put sensors into physical assets. Those sensors can draw information around that physical asset, which you can then capture and then understand.”
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Mike Zamora finds the comment interesting and says, “It isn’t so much that the physical world is digitized – it is more about how digital tools enhance and enable the physical world to be more effective to help the occupier of the space. This has been the history of the physical space. There have been many ‘tools’ over time to help the physical world – the elevator in the late 1880s enabled office buildings to be taller; the use of steel improved structural support, allowing structural walls to be thinner and buildings taller. These two ‘tools’ enabled the modern skyscraper to be born. The HVAC system developed in the early 1900s, enabled occupants to be more comfortable inside a building year-round in any climate.”
“Digital tools (sensors, etc) are just the latest to be used to enhance the physical space for the occupant. Digital twins enable an idea to be replicated in 3D – prior to having to spend millions of dollars and hundreds of man hours to see if a new idea is viable. Its advent and use enable more experimentation at a lower cost and faster set up. This equates into a lower risk. It is a welcomed tool which will propel the experimentation in the physical world.”
Talking about emerging technologies, Zamora says, “Digital twins along with other digital tools, such as 3D printing, AI, drones with 4K cameras and others will enable the built environment to develop at a very quick pace. It is the pace that will be welcomed, as the built environment is typically a slow-moving asset (pardon the pun).”
“Expect the Built Environment developers, designers, investors, and occupiers to welcome the concept. It will allow them to dream of the possible.”
Telstra and Microsoft – Joint Goals
Telstra and Microsoft have partnered over the years over multiple projects. Last year, the companies partnered to bring Telstra’s eSIM functionality to Windows devices for data and wireless connectivity; they have also worked on Telstra Data Hub for secured data sharing between data producers, businesses and government agencies; and most recently collaborated on Telstra’s exclusive access to Xbox All Access subscription service to Australian gamers with the announcement of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S gaming consoles expected to release in November.
This announcement also sees them work jointly towards their sustainability goals. Both companies are committed to sustainability and addressing climate change. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced its plans to be carbon negative by 2030, while Telstra has also set a target to generate 100% renewable energy by 2025 and reducing its absolute carbon emissions by 50% by the same time. To enable sustainability, Telstra and Microsoft are exploring technology to reduce carbon emissions. This includes further adoption of cloud for operations and services, remote working, and piloting on real-time data reporting solutions.
Telstra also aims to leverage Microsoft technology for its ongoing internal digital transformation, adopting Microsoft Azure as its cloud platform to streamline operations, and infrastructure modernisation, including transition from legacy and on-premise infrastructure to cloud based applications.
Let’s not forget that technology takes longer to roll out that all of us want to think and 5G is no different. We have had no excuses since we only have to look at how long it took 3G and LTE to become mainstream and how long the transition from the prior technology took to move to the next generation.
However, the mobile and telecom industry is not the same as it was when earlier telecommunication tech was being upgraded. In the past hardware, benchmarks feeds and speeds dominated the marketing messages, but now it is about software, cloud and ecosystem collaboration. Gone are the days when the telecom equipment vendors ruled the conversation about their technology – that has clearly been replaced by IT companies leading the charge with topics such as virtualization, IoT, analytics and new services. Once there was a US automobile commercial that touted the latest edition of its cars was ‘This is not your father’s Oldsmobile’. Well, 5G is not your father’s telecom infrastructure!
This time around, operator and equipment vendors may have to take the collaborative partner role in any new digital solution. Instead of 5G projects being dominated by Ericsson or Huawei for example, there is a role for the likes of VMware, Microsoft, and Salesforce to be the lead company. In some cases, it could be Bosch, PTC, or Siemens while in others it could be Audi, BMW or Mercedes. The overall trend here is that all of these companies are being digitally driven to deliver new services to a customer that is firmly at the center of an ecosystem. The one industry sector who might lose out could be the telco operators who could be squeezed by the surge from IT vendor relevance, despite them investing heavily on 5G licenses. However, this time the operators are in a much stronger position to be the perfect channel for the massive amount of intelligence-laden data being created by smart connected devices that are not typical mobile devices.
So what was the outcome at MWC? I visited both the Huawei and Ericsson booths following pre-MWC briefing sessions to see if the customer buzz was there – and indeed it was.
Ericsson may have won the prize for the most crowded booth, while Huawei’s sprawling booth wins the most lavish and largest booth. The two company’s 5G messages could not have been more different.
The Big Two
For me, Huawei had invested heavily in making its hardware products very compelling for operators to install. Clearly, there had been a lot of research had gone into replacing existing infrastructure with massive performance upgrades and deployment friendly attributes e.g. size and weight of base stations that could be mounted by individuals rather than by cranes. The result of this strategy is that Huawei’s customers can quickly deploy 5G platforms with lower CapEx and OpEx thus creating significant incentives for operators to migrate to 5G networks.
Ericsson’s leading story was about migrating to 5G by highlighting its key enablers (i.e. carrier aggregation, LTE-NR spectrum sharing, and dual mode 5G cloud core). It appeared that Ericsson had moved its message off hardware (which, by the way, is still table stakes in any selection process and Ericsson had plenty of new 5G related offerings) and onto a strategy of smooth evolution and deployment at scale – a much more business leader discussion than a network, driven by software. Finally, both companies had strong messages around their AI capabilities to help their service providers make sense of the growing complexity of services that will be generated by the connected smart IoT devices.
The Importance of IT Software On 5G
IT and industrial companies played an increasingly important role at this year’s MWC as service providers and they became involved in deeper partnerships. 2019 was the year when the gaps for 5G between the network and IT services were being filled in. For example, I saw AR (augmented reality) solutions by PTC supported by Microsoft and being fed by data off a 5G network. This showed how industry, cloud and network service providers will accelerate new technologies.
In another example, Salesforce showed how Edge Computing events triggered Salesforce SaaS-based enterprise management services while being supported by AT&T’s 5G network and the modules being designed and tested at AT&T’s Foundry. Here, AT&T 5G network was being used as a high-value channel for Salesforce’s customers to run their business functions at the edge of the network.
Digital twins have shown up as a digital representation of a physical device or asset. However, this year, I saw a Wipro example of how 5G could drive digital twin concepts beyond physical assets and into the workflow, supply chain management, logistics and worker safety. Every ‘asset’ that was to be used in a factory floor was digitized into a digital twin and then a 5G network was used to monitor and manage every aspect of the factory. It seemed that Industry 4.0 had arrived in its full glory.
Finally, VMware continues to be the IT company that service providers will either love or dislike – I still don’t know which one it will be. VMware’s virtualization and cloud management capabilities have been extended right into 5G networks. For example, NFV (Network Function Virtualization) is critical to operators as they slice the 5G bandwidth into the appropriate services. VMware has its strategy correct when it says that it could virtualize the network just as it has with the cloud, but in doing so is making itself either a partner or a competitor of the operators for their 5G services revenues. 2018 was the year when VMware made a big splash at MWC, 2019 was the year when they showed that they have something to offer – will 2020 be the year when they take over the network software virtualization profit pools just as they did with the enterprise server virtualization market?
Crawl, Walk, Run
In conclusion, MWC 2019 was the year that the 5G gaps to make end-to-end infrastructure solutions where clearly being filled in. Service providers had stepped up their willingness to be part of the customer-centric ecosystem that is almost certainly being led by IT software companies. Telecom equipment vendors were offering technology solutions to speed up 5G deployments while making forward compatible solutions much easier. Finally, 5G-supported applications remain the last piece of the puzzle that MWC hasn’t addressed fully. As a result of the massively varied 5G use cases, there is still a look of curiosity on which industry will be the lead for 5G – will it be the auto industry with autonomous cars, will it be Industry 4.0 and the smart factory, or will it be smart cities with video surveillance. In addition, it is certain that IoT is still very much a necessary part of any 5G strategy just as AI outcomes continue to fuel IoT-based sensors in technologies such as the self-driving cars, AR, and digital twins. 2019 may have been the year that decided that it won’t matter whether the connected IoT device used licensed (NB-IoT) or unlicensed (LoRa) spectrum protocols as both will be seamlessly connected to a 5G network. IoT was not dead, it had simply grown up and was now integrated with more valuable solutions.