CxO Insight

Telstra is poised for a slice of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Telstra Group Executive, Product & Technology, Kim Krogh Andersen talked to Contributing Editor Annie Turner about being one of the world’s most advanced telcos and the terrific potential of the 5G enterprise market.

He joined Telstra in January 2020, after almost 12 years at Telenor in various global roles, and right on the eve of the pandemic and Australia’s bushfires and droughts. He comments, “Connectivity has never been as important as it is right now with people working and studying from home. So, we have really accelerated our approach to connectivity, especially 5G, and rolled it out faster. Some of the companies that were in the middle of a digitization transformation have slowed it down but overall, I would say digital transformation disruption has been accelerated as part of the COVID-19 disruption.”

Digital twins

One of the first 5G-based enterprise use case Telstra tackled was inspired by the pandemic too. Krogh Andersen explains, “To ensure we helped our people come back after the COVID-19 lockdowns in a seamless manner, we built an application called myWorkplace which leverages Smart Spaces technology…Our whole Melbourne headquarters, which is 42 floors high, is our digital twin.

“We can use data to ensure we monitor and manage the building in the best possible way, especially with social distancing, and we can also integrate third-party data from public transport, traffic lights, and other data sets to optimise the flow in the office.”

Another example of using a digital twin is Telstra’s tower estate, “so we can always see the status of the tower equipment and do preventive maintenance, and maintenance at the most efficient rate with as little physical requirements as possible,” Krogh Andersen says.

As well as Smart Spaces for real estate, Telstra has deployed use cases in agriculture and mines. He stresses, “If I want to create 5G and Industry 4.0 use cases, I need a fully automated network that can be orchestrated. It’s why you have a dedicated, private network, it’s the only way to provide the right redundancy and automated operations.

“Orchestration is equally important as automation as you need to isolate a slice across the network, end to end, to ensure the quality of service for that specific use case. This delivers the ability to ensure service-defined slices in the network.”

Krogh Andersen gives the example of mining, Australia’s single largest sector, where autonomous trucks and tractors mean the low latency on the 5G network has to be super reliable, delivered by edge compute, and powered by AI for video analytics and digital twins, where there are immense amounts of data to consume, in real time, close to the customer.

He adds, “That’s the whole logic. It’ll be the same in healthcare during remote surgery. You cannot allow any human interaction in the process so you need end-to-end orchestration and automation. You also need redundancy and resiliency to ensure that the uptime is 100%. That’s why it’s so important that we automate the network and do this in the software world because you cannot do it in the physical world.”

Slicing for success

Telstra is in the process of implementing standalone 5G which is now available for customers, although as Krogh Andersen observes, “I expect then we will continue to evolve to be more and more advanced in the solutions and services we provide. We are already closely working with several industries, and we will scale up…It’s not something you’re [ever] done with, it will be an ongoing evolution but the majority of the enterprise value will be in these industry verticals in the future.”

He continues, “I think it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity in front of us. The next 10 years will bring a significant change in the way every industry runs operations. We will see some big changes in all industries and not only the digital ones, probably the physical ones are where we will see the biggest changes and that will offer substantial opportunity for telcos.”

One of most intractable issues here is that all industries have billions invested in legacy equipment that was never designed to function in a digital world and it will be will us for years to come. Will legacy slow or prevent the transformation progress of physical businesses?

Krogh Andersen says, “The opportunities that industries have in front of them will fundamentally transform their business systems and processes.  For telcos, we need to ensure we build slices in a connectivity-agnostic way. Some [uses cases] will need both fibre and mobile, and potentially satellite as well, and to work with more than one network operator’s infrastructure. The only way to do that is if you have APIs in common to have the network as a service (NaaS). Potentially you want to have network built on different operators and create a slice on top of them.”

He explains that for example in mining, Telstra already works with OEMs and specialist companies like Komatsu, which he says, “means everything needs to be programmable and exposed as a service so we can work in these ecosystems. For telcos that is a big transformation to expose all the capabilities in a decoupled, API-enabled way. Everything you do needs to have that decoupled architecture.”

Standards and architecture

Some GSMA and 3GPP standards, and the whole of 5G including slices, are designed for NaaS, but Krogh Andersen says, “It’s not simple to implement. It’s most important that we have a very rigid architecture because all our products need to be decoupled; we need to be able to expose them and work with third parties in ecosystems. If we use the mining industry as an example, we will potentially have our own mobile network and a fixed network plus a private network with the installation at the site and in the mines, that will include a platform linked to one or two of the cloud providers.”

Telcos and hyperscalers come from such different roots and cultures, the relationships are potentially tricky. “It’s a good question,” he says, “and potentially the biggest limitation for telcos is that we are by nature protective, instead of being on the offensive. We have prized our assets instead of product development. To collaborate with the hyperscalers, the most important aspect is that you are Agile, that you can work with speed and adaptability, have API integration and are programmable in everything you do.

“Telcos also need to have unique intellectual property and capabilities to co-develop MVPs and solutions with hyperscalers. Together, you can then go to market and approach customers on an innovative and customer-centric manner. It’s the full stack of collaboration and I believe we should embrace that collaboration.”

Krogh Anderson points out that Australia has a big enterprise market and Telstra has the network and related operations, local knowledge, managed services, professional services, Fixed and 5G leadership and the IoT software, platform and devices, but emphasises it is essential to work “in that software engineering, programmable way otherwise you’re less relevant to the hyperscalers. We also know we can’t do this alone, so we will continue to partner with technology leaders, industry bodies, educational institutes – to further educate our staff and to help create a healthy talent pipeline.”

He concludes, “Enabling the 5G standalone core through orchestration and automation across the entire network value chain, and therefore able to create service-defined experiences and use cases, with the right network experience. That is the biggest next evolution of our network and then it is about getting traction and scaled solutions into several industry verticals, like smart cities, healthcare, agriculture, retail, logistics and mining. Companies in these sectors are increasingly investing in connectivity, cloud, security and working with managed and professional services to understand and install solutions and applications enabled by edge and IoT. The potential is huge, and we – as well as most of the telco industry – are just at the start of it.”