Mobile World Congress 2023
Speech from Vicki Brady, CEO, Telstra
Speech title: Connectivity is not the end point – it is the beginning
Date: Tuesday, 28 February, 2023
It’s wonderful to be in Barcelona again among leaders and friends as I reach six months in the role of CEO of Telstra.
For those of you who don’t know us, we are Australia’s leading telecommunications and technology company.
Our mobile network reaches 99.6% of Australia’s population;
We own or operate around 400,000 kms of submarine cable and recently acquired Digicel Pacific;
And more than 8,000 global organisations rely on our networks, including 200 of the world’s top 500 companies.
It is an exciting time to be in telco and I’m looking ahead at the next decade as one of profound opportunity.
The next wave of digital innovation is expected to generate $10-$15 trillion globally , and our role as mobile operators in helping to realise that has never been more important.
Connectivity is the bedrock, but it is not the end point – it is just the beginning.
It’s true impact is in the things it will enable, and that includes great industrial and social innovations.
Our opportunity is to help our customers take advantage of that.
To go beyond just brilliant connectivity to partnering to create entirely new solutions, bringing together multiple technologies on top of our networks.
This will mean we have to take a different approach. A more collaborative approach.
That is what I want to talk to you about today.
Telstra has been an innovation pioneer for more than 100 years. Australia’s geography and very low population density demands it.
Australia spans some 7.6 million square kilometres, with almost 25.7 million people. That’s around 15 times the size of Spain, with around half the population.
It’s required decades of ingenuity from our engineers and partners.
And it’s behind us being the first to launch commercial services in Australia over 4G and then 5G.
Today we’re celebrating five years of 5G for Telstra and for Australia.
In those five years, we have celebrated 18 world firsts on our network.
And today we’ve announced another breakthrough with Ericsson – the successful completion of a 100km 5G data call on a mid-band radio.
This builds on our history of expanding the reach of our network, through 3G, 4G and now 5G, to take connectivity further for regional Australians.
We’ve also built one of the largest IoT networks in the world.
It covers more than four million square kilometres of Australia’s landmass – an area greater than Western Europe and Scandinavia combined – and by mid next year we expect it to approach five million square kilometres.
It carries more than six million connected devices, with 20,000 added weekly.
A unique moment in time
12 months ago, when my predecessor Andy Penn stood on this stage, he spoke about a period of incredible technology advancement and the opportunities this held for network operators.
The merging of 5G, AI and automation, edge compute, and an explosion of new applications is creating a unique point in time.
We have an important role to play as ecosystem builders and integrators on top of connectivity, supporting emerging technologies and creating insights from the data flowing through our network.
Our role is also to partner with customers, technology leaders, and industry experts to co-create solutions to complex challenges that are only possible when we collaborate.
This requires a mindset change.
I’ve been in telco for more than two decades, and I’ve seen opportunities pass by because we were defending what we had, instead of thinking about the larger opportunity that could be created if we worked together.
If we don’t, we risk others capturing that value over our networks.
To be clear, this is not a speech about OTT players capturing all the value from network operators’ investments.
This is about collaboration. It’s about working together in innovative ways to deliver better solutions for our customers.
We can’t solve these problems on our own, and that requires a different mindset.
It means we need to get comfortable with not controlling all parts of the solution end to end.
But it’s something we must do if we are to continue to grow sustainably.
At Telstra, we already collaborate with incredible global technology partners including Ericsson, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Salesforce, Amazon Web Services, and Samsung, to name a few.
We’re also working with innovation hubs, universities, and start-ups on some exciting projects.
Let me give you some examples.
Two years ago, we built capability across several industry segments so we could help our customers with solutions beyond connectivity – about solving business challenges and unlocking opportunities at an industry level.
One is agriculture – an industry with huge opportunity to benefit from digital disruption.
And as someone who grew up in a small town in rural Australia, one close to my heart.
Australia has a proud history of agricultural leadership.
This is despite us having one of the world’s most volatile growing environments.
Our farmers, like our telco engineers, had to be inventive and innovative. And they were, and because of that we led the world in farming efficiency.
That’s also why we need to lead the world in farm digitisation.
The Australian Farmers Federation has laid a roadmap for Australia to go from $75 billion in agricultural production today to more than $100 billion by 2030.
It’s not hard to imagine when it’s estimated that digital technologies could increase the gross value of production by more than $20 billion annually.
For this to be achieved, there are challenges that require ingenuity.
In Australia, farm sizes can be enormous. So it’s challenging, and in some cases physically impossible, to provide ubiquitous connectivity across these gigantic spaces in remote areas with terrestrial-based mobile networks.
But as one farmer said to me; “Connectivity is like electricity – you just can’t do without it when you’re running a farm.”
So we are innovating to give farmers connectivity options through a mix of our mobile and IoT networks, satellite, and complementary technologies such as long range Wi-Fi from start-ups like Zetifi.
Zetifi is a good example of us needing to get comfortable with not being the only connectivity option available. It’s a start up – for which we’re a funding partner – that uses a range of network technologies to provide improved on-farm connectivity where our network doesn’t reach.
Once you have on-farm technology connected and generating data, the next challenge is: how do you use that data in a smart way?
Farming is already a very complex business.
Lots of farmers are digitally savvy. But there’s a job for us to do to help translate all this, so that adding technology isn’t a burden, but makes things simpler, more efficient, and ultimately more profitable.
Global Digital Farm
Recently I visited Wagga Wagga, a country town halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, where Telstra is part of delivering what will become Australia’s first commercially viable ‘hands-free’ farm.
It’s a living, breathing case study of the value of digital agriculture, and how to build digital literacy for farmers and agricultural students.
We’re working with Charles Sturt University and Food Agility to deploy our Telstra Data Hub to aggregate, standardise and share IoT data in a simple and permissioned way.
One application under development helps refine fertiliser use – one of the most expensive inputs into cropping. It draws data from soil moisture probes, weather reports, soil tests, and remote sensing using satellites and drones, to recommend how to use fertiliser more efficiently and prevent run-off.
More efficient for the farmer, better for the environment, and helps keep prices down for consumers.
Most of Australia’s leading agtech providers and many start-ups are contributing to the Digital Farm, using a variety of IoT devices connected through our networks.
This collaboration is not only delivering a platform that solves problems for farmers, but is also an incredibly valuable data resource for agtech students, researchers, and start-ups to build new applications.
Western Rock Lobster
We’ve trialled a similar approach to a prototype to solve the enormous food industry problem of traceability – proving the origins of produce – for Western Rock Lobster, one of Australia’s most valuable fisheries.
We’ve been working with the WA Government and industry partners to apply our Data Hub with IBM’s Blockchain technology to map and digitise data all along the value chain for lobsters – from leaving the sea to sitting on a plate anywhere in the world.
Regulators, fishers, processors, and exporters all benefit from a real-time digital view, and Australia gets to protect and grow a $360 million p.a. lobster export industry.
This is our opportunity – to go beyond just brilliant connectivity, to partnering to create entirely new solutions that can transform an industry.
I use these examples to show what is possible from true collaboration, where we are not in control of the end-to-end solution. And we’re OK with that.
More efficient farming through digitisation means improved food production around the world.
Farming is just one example. As an industry we have the power and the potential to help solve some of the biggest issues facing the world today.
Two years ago, we wouldn’t have engaged in these conversations.
Partnering wasn’t a strong part of our mindset.
This shift from defending what we have, to thinking about the larger opportunity that can be created and shared, is as fundamental as some of the tech innovations we’re using.
A telco fit for the future needs to be brilliant at connectivity, and brilliant at collaborating and partnering to create more value on top of our networks.
Our opportunity is to help our customers take advantage of this unique point in time, but we need to go beyond just connectivity to do it.
Because connectivity is not the end point – it is the beginning.