Industry Stories

We recently had a conversation with Gary Traver, architecture executive at Telstra Corporation on the emergence of 5G and its impact on immersive media experiences and other new-age technologies. Telstra Corporation Limited is Australia's largest telecommunications company which builds and operates telecommunications networks and markets voice, mobile, internet access, pay television and other products and services to Australian consumers and a host of network services to a global enterprise customer base.

Here are a few excerpts from the conversation:

For 5G to Deliver its True Value, the Ecosystem Needs to Evolve

With 5G being projected as the future, could you give us a sense of the role that Telstra can play with respect to it?

Telstra has a history of being an early adopter of emerging technologies, and 5G is the latest. We have been active in the global standards forums and providing input to help refine the standards to accommodate some of the unique characteristics Australia has in supporting vast amounts of land with variable population densities. We have also been working with equipment and technology suppliers to test pre-release versions of 5G to gain a better understanding of what we will need to do to introduce and manage 5G services. Today we are rolling out 5G into our network and have launched 5G to consumers with our first device the HTC 5G Hub available now and the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G on sale from 28 May.

Beyond that, 5G is ground-breaking as it allows us to create many different types of virtual networks and tailor the properties of each of the virtual networks to support many different use cases. For example; for IOT, the network needed to support many different types of remote sensors with long battery life and small amount of data delivered, is vastly different from the network needed to support high resolution video with embedded elements of real-time augmented reality.

When looking at emerging technological advancements across the world, most of these have one thing in common: they are not stand-alone autonomous capabilities. They rely on the ability to connect with other components of an ecosystem through networks. A reliable network is a key enabler of these emerging applications.

For me personally, there is a sense of pride in being part of a company that plays a crucial role in the emergence of these new capabilities. Our key learnings from our history of innovation is that taking the time to understand how the application is used by customers, and, translating that to how the network has to perform is an important part of delivering a great customer experience. Many OTT providers take network connectivity for granted. But understanding the role and influence that connectivity has in the success of the application is not widely understood. The variability in connectivity options in 5G will drive greater appreciation for aligning connectivity to applications.

Do these new capabilities include IoT applications as well?

IoT is such a broad category of things, but several industries are already getting traction in the market. Many of the capabilities included in 4G have enabled businesses to start deploying IoT solutions. For mass adoption, it will require ecosystems centred on specific industries. By ecosystem, I am referring to everything from sensors to their integration into the existing supply chains. The network elements are enablers to the solution and only represent a portion of what is necessary for the industry to take off. Telstra and other service providers, who want to actively participate in this emerging market, need to be able to seamlessly customize solutions to the needs of our customers, and do that at scale.

What are some things to consider before rolling out new business cases?

It is important to acknowledge at the start of any new program that we don’t know what we don’t know. Take the time to learn the unique attributes of a new solution. Understand what it takes to operate at scale, and how existing capabilities can be leveraged. The complexity of our future environments dictate that we automate functions, and understand what the end-result should look like. Once, all of the factors are available, it is important to understand what minimum functionality is required to get the business started and how to make it economically feasible.

Look across various ecosystems to gauge the level of maturity of a particular application. Is an industry poised for further advancements or are there areas that are holding the industry back?

Find layers of commonality across applications, and look to standardize through the industry. Finally, be realistic on what it will take to mature certain technologies to be used at scale.

What impact will 5G have on immersive media?

At a basic level, immersive media means delivering the experience in such a way that people who are viewing it become completely involved in the story and may even actually perceive themselves to be part of the environment or situation. As the technology advances, we will see experiences emerge where it will be possible to place yourself inside of the experience and also guide your navigation through the story.

To make immersive experiences work at scale a new ecosystem needs to emerge. Changes are required to the way stories are filmed and told. 5G allows us to visualize creative processes which is very different from the way we build traditional creative processes today.

New ways of encoding and delivering media are being developed to lower the overall bandwidth required to deliver these large bandwidth-intensive files. New devices are being developed to manage the higher processing demands, and to improve the resolution of the displays. A high-speed, low latency network is an important enabler, for this viewing experience, because the delivery of the media must be able to follow where the viewer wants to look. For the experience to be considered acceptable to the human brain; the shift in video must fall within the response time of what the brain considers to be a normal reaction time. If the delay in reaction time lags is too much it could cause some disorientation.

Low latency networks and computing are required to allow the advanced compression methods to be fully utilized. New compression techniques include lowering the resolution and amount of detail in the video in the parts of the 720-degree image where the eye is not focused on. Once the eye moves to a different area within the image, the video in that area must be improved to the higher resolution within the required latency. This requires the video streams to be located close to the edge of the network, thus changing the functionality and topology of content distribution networks or CDNs.

All the items listed above must emerge in an economically viable fashion to ensure that everyone in the value-chain is incentivised to participate.

What are the things that businesses need to keep in mind for delivering immersive experience?

In order to create demand for a new capability like immersive media, customers have a predetermined image in their heads of what a great experience is, and what is minimally acceptable. When thinking about immersive experiences one must not only consider the quality of the content and the usability of the solution but must also consider the acceptability of the media, in terms of both picture quality and response latency. Poor experiences during initial offerings may negatively impact the ability of a new technology to gain acceptance. A good example of releasing solutions too soon is the 3D consumer television.

We must be aware of what success looks like, and also understand the implications of how the customer perceives the content. Providing the right customer experience also requires having the right measuring techniques in place to gauge success with the customer.

For example, when customers first started watching streaming videos, the onset of buffering caused anxiety, frustration and anger. If streaming video creates that kind of anxiety, think about what happens in a premium immersive experience. That’s why, with applications like this, it is fundamental that we measure success from the onset and ensure we are able to fulfil on customer expectations before we provide the service at scale.

Also, it is important to consider the economics of delivering these immersive functionalities. As improvements are made they must be focused on delivering a resilient solution at scale while improving the overall cost of delivery across the entire ecosystem.

What excites you about the future?

While 5G is emerging, we are also seeing growth in machine learning and AI. In addition, devices are being developed that can support a range of new IoT applications, and new, low cost computing platforms that enable compute to be highly distributed and located in a range of settings. It is the combination of these advancements and how they can be used together to create new applications that generates the excitement for what the future holds.

The challenge we face is finding elements of commonality across the applications. Using our technologies as enablers requires that we think more broadly, past a particular application so that our investments can be used across a wide range of use cases. By using the enabler approach, a particular technology can be implemented faster and takes the pressure off of a business model for a single use case. Much of the new technology we are adopting can do this. It is up to us to work inside of our organizations to change mind-sets and work across industries to standardize approaches.

The 5G network is an important enabler, but also relies on edge computing to deliver low latency applications. Edge computing will require collaboration between organizations that have not worked as closely in the past. There is great value to be achieved with this kind of collaboration.