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NBN future: How will your industry change in 10 years?

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

The big principle of the nbn™ is to give everyone in our nation fast, reliable internet access. It’s a simple idea with a lot of future-proofing potential for your business and your home. Stuart Ridley and Michela Ledwidge investigate the tech trends that matter for Australian businesses.

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How might nbn™ change things for you?

The nbn™ network is being rolled out with three core principles:

  1. National coverage – giving all Aussie businesses the opportunity to get better connected, allowing access to new markets and collaborators.
  2. Fast internet speeds – supporting fast uploads (and downloads) for better two-way communication. Most people talk about downloads speed though faster upload speed is as essential for anyone sharing a lot of data.
  3. Reliable internet access – helping to improve data flow and network stability, a reliable connection means you can start a task confident that the broadband connection will keep on keeping on.

This article explores the technology trends in different industries that could benefit from nbn™’s core principles for improved internet connection nationally today, tomorrow and in a decade or more. Here’s how we’ve marked the timeframes:

NOW = trends already playing out today, including adoption in the decade leading up to today (all businesses could have some catching up to do)

NEXT = trends that could hit the mainstream tomorrow or within the next two years

FUTURE = trends that may be around now as a prototype or early-stage product but could take three to 15 years to really become useful and hit the mainstream

Construction trends

Construction now

3D vision and building information modelling (BIM) – 3D models, 360-degree video and 3D walkthroughs of buildings help give people a sense of how technical drawings, blueprints and specs will translate in real life. Well-rendered 3D models may be especially handy for spotting design flaws or highlighting special features.

Construction next
360-degree video and virtual reality (VR) – 360 degree formats are now in the mainstream thanks to Facebook and Google/YouTube. As more businesses and their customers get decent bandwidth, HD 360 could take off very soon, and may be closely followed by proper VR walkthroughs of building projects.

Mixed reality (MR) – merging data sets from Building Information Models (including holographs) and industrial-strength GPS from the likes of Trimble may assist designers, builders and their clients to properly see how a construction is shaping up. Workers on building sites could use technology like the Microsoft HoloLens, which may assist them to see overlays of instructions and models on physical spaces, while communicating with off-site managers.

Construction future

Mixed reality – when MR technologies that merge virtual and built environments are mainstream we could see even greater collaboration between architects, engineers and builders, including remote collaboration. The same tools may also be useful for on-site training.

Autonomous robotic construction – Harvard researchers working on the TERMES project assert that the role of the foreman doesn’t scale well when you need thousands of jobs done all at once. They’re suggesting that swarms of termite-like construction robots could take on dangerous jobs if they have the artificial intelligence to work unsupervised, according to their report, ‘Designing Collective Behaviour in a Termite-Inspired Construction Team.’

Finance trends

Finance now

High frequency trading – traders with very fast broadband, some smart software and a location as close as possible to the securities/stock exchange can outmanoeuvre competitors with millisecond-fast high frequency trading. Traders further away from stock exchanges are disadvantaged.

Programmatic ad buying – automated advertising uses software to speed up the buying and selling of ad impressions on web pages while they load. It’s meant to improve context/relevancy for the viewer. It can also be much more efficient and cost effective than humans doing the work.

Finance next

High frequency trading (HFT) – just as reliant on network speeds as before, HFT could go mainstream thanks to very sophisticated trading software as a service in the cloud. Smart college kids are already winning at high frequency trading.

Distributed ledger technology – think an evolution of blockchain dialled up to cover global finance systems. These ledgers could demand replication of massive sets of data, securely and rapidly.

Finance future

Distributed learning technology – a few evolutions of distributed ledger technology could see the core concepts of blockchain-like systems finally reach mass acceptance, once the trust issue is sorted out.

Deep learning agents – machines need more than smart algorithms to manage ultra-fast trades – they also need masses of up-to-date and high-quality data. Once that’s in place, machines could well put human traders out of work.

Venture capitalist robots – these days, start-up investing is still mostly about human connections in locations such as Silicon Valley, where ‘the pitch’ rules. But smart robots could run the numbers and make an investment call in the blink of an eye, saving a lot of hot air and countless air miles. The algorithmic VC already exists, it just needs to scale.

Quantum computing – the power of ‘classical’ binary computers will always be limited by the number of transistors that fit on a chip. But quantum switches can be many shades in between on/off. So they could manage multiple and parallel computations of massive amounts of data and therefore not only dominate trading – they could render current encryption obsolete.

Manufacturing trends

Manufacturing now

Industrial-grade sensor-to-cloud platforms (The Industrial Internet of Things) – rugged sensors keep an eye on the safety and performance of your operations. Connect all sensors to the cloud and you could get close to a real-time view of productivity.

Wireless Internet of Things – low bandwidth is fine for tiny data packets to report a device is switched on/off, a checkpoint has been crossed or an object has changed location. Lo-fi Wi-Fi can also be used to remotely control some devices.

Open source – setting up production for a new product can be cheaper and easier if the machines, components and materials are readily available. What if you started sourcing designs, parts and production on the open market?

Crowdfunding – smaller players need the money to get an idea into production, while larger players can use platforms such as Kickstarter and Pozible to test the market for innovative and/or limited-edition products.

E-commerce – selling direct to your customers online could work best if there’s a gap in the national/international market and you can develop relationships (just as wholesalers and retailers have).

Make items on demand – 3D printing is the obvious hero technology. To scale you need to solve the logistics, too. How will you get the printers or their products to where they’re needed?

Manufacturing next

Privacy-assured personalisation – customers can be wary of sharing deeper data, but by using personal information in compliance with privacy law and protecting their privacy you could discover a lot more about how they use your products and what they want next, plus you could improve after-sales support by developing new features and software updates.

Augmented reality / mixed reality – Computer Aided Design (CAD) in manufacturing could assist the shift from computer screens to semi-transparent goggles showing detailed Virtual Reality images overlaid on real-world objects and spaces. Keep an eye on HoloLens, Magic Leap and Meta Vision.

Manufacturing future

Decentralised Big Data With Beefed Up Security – data flow is at the heart of the Internet of Things, but as more products are built with networking capabilities, there will be a lot more pressure to beef up the security of that data. The UK government is investigating blockchain as an option for securing an ‘internet of decentralised, autonomous things’.

Co-Creation – it’s been happening in the design, entertainment, science and open source coding communities for years. Socialising design and manufacturing processes could speed up many steps from prototyping to testing and upgrades.

Augmented Reality (AR) / Mixed Reality (MR) – whatever comes after Google Glass might actually replace smartphones. Machine operators could connect with technicians or engineers to give them eyes on what’s happening in the production line and, in turn, be shown overlaid images to help them fix items or improve their performance. Likewise, AR/MR could be used to remotely instruct a worker on operating a machine.

IT trends

IT now

Platform as a service – ‘thin clients’ (light, ultra-portable computers built-to-spec for connection to cloud services or desktop virtualisation) will spread widely as soon as more locations get more reliable bandwidth. Platform as a service models help businesses quickly scale processes, making them more efficient. Adding AI (artificial intelligence) similar to Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson can help make sense of big data on the fly.

Internet Of Things (IoT) – while most current IoT devices don’t need high-speed internet, they do need reliable bandwidth. Trust in IoT and other cloud applications could grow as more mission-critical systems run on stable connections.

IT next

Always-on connections and automation – a core principle of the nbn™ is that Australians won’t have to think about how they access a fast, reliable and cost-efficient network, and instead can focus on what they do with it. A reliable connection could help a business automate more of its processes, and allow human workers to get more done, more efficiently as they’re not waiting for data to ‘go through’.

Connected vehicles – vehicles are already mobile extensions of our workspaces, and soon we may get used to having always-on connectivity in our vehicles (and our vehicles being always connected), whether we’re driving them or not. There could be massive improvements to safety on the road once more vehicles can communicate across the (mobile) nbn™ with each other, transport infrastructure and even pedestrians.

Mesh networks – most wireless devices already have the capability to connect in ad hoc local area networks, without needing a central connection such as an ISP. Devices that can draw power from batteries or generators can therefore form mesh networks when wired internet connections fail during a disaster.

Real-time 3D streaming services – the next generation of 3D media won’t rely on fast data being sent to headsets or projectors via wires attached to expensive high-spec computers on site. Instead, fast, reliable and constant connections could allow real-time streaming of 3D media with low latency/high definition to fairly cheap display hardware. The processing power will mostly be at the media provider’s end, managed in the cloud. It’s already happening with Gaikai, which has a Guinness World Record for fastest interactive entertainment network.

IT future

Quantum computing – by the time quantum computing grows up (also see ‘Finance future’), many organisations could have highly decentralised IT, using mostly thin clients and ultra-secure, ultra-smart cloud services, rather than platforms reliant on localised networks, software and hardware. By then we’ll need smarter ways to securely transact highly valuable data. IBM already allows researchers to use its five-qubit quantum computer via its server cloud.

Internet Of Things (IoT) – Cisco researchers predict the number of internet-connected sensors in the world will grow approximately 10-fold from nearly 5 billion today to 50 billion by the end of this decade. And eventually it may be that the IoT will cease to exist as a term because it will be hard to imagine that all things weren’t connected and that the extraordinary benefits of IoT hadn’t always been with us.

Mixed reality – our current concepts of ‘devices’ may change as we adopt new kinds of headsets, glasses or even implanted lenses to get an enhanced and data-rich view of our world (see Manufacturing and Construction for more).

Retail trends

Retail now

Platform as a service (online POS) –a reliable internet connection (plus in-store Wi-Fi as an option) is the backbone of most current Point of Sale (POS) systems. Run the entire system in the cloud and you can neatly integrate it with your accounting, shift management, payroll and inventory systems. Regional businesses with decent internet connections are already using Online POS to serve customers interstate and overseas.

Video calls – again, a reliable connection supports relationship-building video calls with suppliers, team members and customers. This can significantly cut down on the need to travel and allows you to interact with more people each day.

Video marketing, including 360-degree videovideo can put big demands on bandwidth (and strain the current Australian network) if a connection isn’t up for the job, though it can be brilliant in locations where strong connections are available.

Experience centres – interactive experiences are already being tested in store using Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality (VR) or Mixed Reality to connect customers with brands. Retail groups such as Westfield are merging these experiences with apps that track a customer’s location and interests to complete the picture.

Retail next

Video on-demand/streaming – high-quality connections between publisher/streamer and the audience are essential to deliver high-definition video in close to real-time. We’re not quite there yet.

Interactive multimedia experiences – proof-of-concept advertising and experiential marketing using high-end video and huge data sets of customer responses could evolve as more retailers use off-the-shelf publishing services to personalise interactive experiences for their customers. Right now, digital entertainment is being served up by retailers such as McDonald’s that can match fast in-house Wi-Fi with apps their customers actually want to use.

Volumetric video – high bandwidth connections and existing VR tools make it possible to walk around a person or product in a Volumetric VR scene – the next step is to work out how to get the scene made and delivered. VR tech companies such as 8i are creating the workflow tools to capture scenes and the processing systems to manage and deliver them. It’s something like Kodak-lab meets the bullet-time filming techniques of The Matrix films. 

Retail future

Mixed reality – you know what’s coming already because you’ve seen it in so many future-gazing/Sci-Fi movies and TV shows: Product displays in-store may come to life with holographic demonstrators or celebrity endorsers, while virtual spruikers could draw on big data to personalise messages for you as you approach a store.

Interactive catalogues – at home you could get all kinds of promotions presented to you via your entertainment and communications hubs that make current Augmented Reality efforts look, well, cute. Add a mix of volumetric VR and in-home 3D scanning so you can try on outfits or furnish a room.

Autonomous logistics – the current excitement about autonomous/driverless vehicles is mostly for personal cars, though by 2020 many of the 10 million autonomous vehicles on the world’s roads may actually be in fleets of trucks or road trains delivering goods and services like The Freightliner Inspiration Truck from Daimler. According to reports by DHL, autonomous delivery vehicles could behave like well-trained dogs: They’ll come when called, fetch something you need and even follow you around. Scaling the technology to serve a shopping district or city will need all those vehicles to communicate with each other, sharing traffic reports and coordinating with smart transport routes – all of which need a ubiquitous communications network.

Health trends

Health now

Cognitive health – cognitive systems like those employed in IBM Watson Health are already being taught to understand and analyse human conditions and illnesses – in turn they are, according to IBM, “helping people expand their knowledge base, improve their productivity and deepen their expertise”.

Telehealth and remote health managementtelepresence technologies offered by tech firms such as Cisco can support remote health management in locations well served by broadband. Video-conferencing is common for training and consultation and collaboration with specialists in other areas; it’s also especially useful in aged care.

Telemedicineinternet-connected medical equipment paired with video communications is mainly used in aged-care facilities and by patients with chronic conditions to record vital signs, take pathology samples and check on the use of prescription medicines.

Fitness tracking – the massive popularity of personal health tracking devices is driving a quiet revolution in healthcare as GPs, specialists and product manufacturers alike use our ‘little data’ to guide their interactions with us.

3D printing – several advances in medical aids and prosthetics design, including customisation, are readily adaptable to 3D printing platforms. The next generation 3D printers could use recyclable materials and sterilising equipment to produce single-use devices, sterilise them and break them down into safe reusable material.

Health next

Robots - safety is a major consideration for any medical robot, whether it’s designed to perform diagnoses, rehabilitation or surgery. That said, the next big consideration is access to powerful data sets and bandwidth, so that it may be possible robots can be used in regional medical centres. Other than having Dr Robot look after us, we might also allow microscopic nano-bots to swarm through our blood, monitoring our health and perhaps fighting disease.

Implants – companies including Nano Retina and Second Sight are well-invested in improving sight with smart retinal implants similar to the cochlear implants developed by Cochlear. Diagnostic components could draw from a human cloud of users, either wirelessly in the field in real-time or when close to a base station, to help improve the synthesised sensory experience.

Regional health and medical centres – improvements to the coverage, speed, power and access cost of the national network can accelerate the adoption of networked health applications in regional areas. Diagnostics as a service is technically possible now, though the stability of every connection must be trusted.

Video streaming – beyond 2D video consultations, which are already well-received where they’re available, if we can increase the speed of our connections we could soon see 360-degree video streaming for surgical education in regional areas and 3D video conferences between general practitioners, patients and specialists.

Volumetric imaging – highly stable data connections could also support collaboration between GPs and other medical specialists via volumetric imaging, to give (for example) a better, deeper view of a patient’s CT scans.

Little data/patient records – it should be fairly straight-forward to combine the medical records updated by your GP and various specialists with the health data you can collect yourself every day with a wearable device. However, we’re still working on having properly up-to-date personal health records that can be stored on your own smart device, as well as accessed in the cloud by whichever medical professionals you give permission (managing privacy will continue to be a big consideration). As many medical professionals point out, better records would help reduce miscommunication and duplication of activity, including over-prescribing drugs.

Health future

3D printed organs and exoskeletons – we might never become cyborgs that can easily swap in new parts when the old ones break or wear out, but recent 3D printed organ experiments show positive signs we’ll be able to repair some parts, such as skin and bones, in the field or at home. Exoskeletons that assist disabled people to walk are already being built.

Personal memories – what do your memories mean to you? And what are they worth? Right now, you probably can’t imagine losing them, though if in the future you do, you’ll be glad you started saving your memories while you could. Music and images are already helping people with dementia reconnect with their histories, and one logical extension is to allow people to re-immerse themselves in their memories via Virtual Reality (VR). Another is an extension of everyone’s need to securely store health data by allowing us to lock up memories for safe-keeping, too.

Mixed reality / telepresence medical consultations – some pundits claim that inside five years, powerful combinations of VR, holographic displays and Augmented Reality (AR) will support interaction at home (or the local GP for a medical consultation) via VR/AR devices so thin we’ll barely notice we’re wearing them.

Mixed reality surgery – before he founded the Mixed Reality company Magic Leap, Rony Abovitz set up Mako. It became a hugely successful business that builds robots for surgery. Now Abovitz is channelling some of the fortune he made from Mako into solving a big surgery challenge: Accuracy. For example, he’s working on making models of virtual knees, ultra-accurate and responsive to input. He hopes that by overlaying the virtual knee on a real one the surgeon will get the best possible guidance in making careful repairs.

Deep learning as a diagnostic tool – experiments like Google’s DeepMind are exploring the potential of genius artificial intelligence. One gnarly challenge for DeepMind is tackling early stage diagnosis of eye disease in partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital. Current digital eye scans take a long time to analyse by even the most experienced eye health professionals, which means follow-up consultations and treatments can be delayed. The DeepMind and Moorfields collaboration aims to use machine learning to help analyse the scans so that sight-threatening conditions can be recognised from just a digital scan of the eye, leading to much faster treatment.

Three ways nbn™ can help future-proof your business

  1. The future is code – every business could automate more of its processes, including thinking processes. Fast data transfer, up and down, is essential for new algorithms being tested in code experiments such as DeepLearning and Google DeepMind that help machines learn on the job. All of that knowledge will demand more powerful cloud storage, too.
  2. The future is a network that’s always on – every business that relies on internet connections to operate and communicate is already likely to have greater demands for network stability than for data speed. While high-speed transfer is handy for some tasks, there are greater benefits from always-on connections, including access to real-time data on the performance of all areas of a business and the markets it operates in. Service management could become even more automated.
  3. The future is the human experience – stronger bandwidth allows more data to flow more consistently, to deliver a smoother human experience of technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality. The greater the sense of presence, the more ‘real’ the experience, which in turn will encourage wider adoption. These experiences all put greater demands on networks, data storage and individual connections, especially multi-user social applications (meetings, consultations, events) which depend on having decent bandwidth at every node. 
Why do Australian small and medium businesses need the nbn?
Find out moreWhy do Australian small and medium businesses need the nbn?

Things you need to know

Telstra services on the nbnnetwork are not available to all areas or customers. In areas serviced by nbn co Telstra may be required to connect services onto the nbnnetwork. Once you are connected to the nbnnetwork, you won’t be able to move to our copper network. nbn, nbn co and other nbn logos and brands are trademarks of nbn co limited and used under licence. The spectrum device, ™ and ® are trademarks and are registered trademarks of Telstra Corporation Limited, ABN 33 051 775 556.                                                               

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