Tuesday, 08 December 2020 15:14

Lack of a national plan for 5G could threaten global competitiveness of Australian farmers, miners, report warns Featured


Australian farmers and miners could become less competitive than their global rivals unless a national plan is developed to expedite 5G coverage to rural and regional Australia, according to a new report jointly commissioned by Huawei Australia and the Telecommunications Association TelSoc.

The Connecting Rural and Regional Australia report from UK-based telecoms research company OMDIA says that 5G technology is already being used by farmers and miners in Europe, North America and Asia to operate their businesses more efficiently.

But according to the report, by contrast 5G coverage in Australia remains “primarily focused on urban areas with no clear time-table in place to deliver 5G coverage to regional and rural Australia where our farmers and miners generate much of the country’s wealth”.

“The highly competitive international agriculture market demands continued improvements in productivity, as does the appetite of the growing global population,” the report says.

“With little scope of expanding Australia’s productive farming land, improvements in yield and productivity are the only sources of growth. Technology, including 5G, are the future drivers of these improvements.”

The report observes that the high-speed and low-latency delivered by 5G enables new applications for the agricultural and resources sector including remote-controlled machinery, mass-deployment of sensors to gather operational data and the usage of real-time artificial intelligence applications.

And, although 5G offers great potential for the agricultural and rural sectors OMDIA says that rural and regional Australia will have to wait for urban areas to be connected before 5G finally arrives.

“Like each generation of wireless technology before it, it will take time for 5G to reach rural communities, and longer for arable lands to gain access,” the report says.

“When access becomes available, this needs to include both low-band coverage and also the real incremental capacity that comes with mid-band deployments.”

Jeremy Mitchell, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Huawei Australia said: “This report explains why 5G is so important to rural and regional Australia – we are talking about a technology that will transform the way that agriculture and mining operate.

“Australia’s growth engines are in regional and rural Australia – this is where most of our wealth comes from and we need to make sure our primary producers are equipped with the best technology available.

“The 5G ban on Huawei has made delivering 5G coverage to regional and rural Australia even more expensive – and this means our key producers are going to miss out.

“Oxford Economics says that the Huawei 5G ban will mean our operators spending $300 million extra on 5G rollout – that’s money they can’t spend on extending 5G coverage to rural and regional areas.

“Moreover, Oxford Economics says that those additional costs will mean that around three million Aussies in rural and regional areas will miss out on getting 5G coverage at all.

“We hope that this report will help form the sort of policy positions that will help avoid that outcome and will instead light up our rural and regional areas with 5G coverage,” concluded Mitchel.

“We are currently seeing 5G delivered first to urban markets – and we acknowledge there are sound commercial reasons for doing that but given the huge boost that we know that 5G can give to our primary producers in agriculture and mining we want to make sure that regional and rural Australia gets a place at the 5G table as well,” said Tim Herring, Executive Director at TelSoc.

“The NBN doesn’t solve all of our communications needs in a world in which technology is always delivering new possibilities – that’s where 5G comes into the picture.

“5G offers us functionality that is simply not available with our current technologies and that is something we all need to be very aware of 5G is not just another generation of mobile, it really is different and gives us the opportunity to access new applications for our key industries such as smart farming that could prove to be hugely important for our primary producers in regional and rural Australia.”

“For regional and rural Australia there is no doubt that coverage remains the greatest barrier facing the rural sector as it looks to take advantage of the potential benefits of 5G but to help accelerate the availability of 5G action on several fronts is needed,” said Stephen Myers, Principal Consultant at OMDIA.

“Firstly, we need to see costs of network hardware and devices come down – but this will only occur if competition is enhanced or operators can ensure higher volumes.

“Secondly, we need to do more to lower deployment costs in other areas too such as ensuring appropriate site access for 5G radio equipment, making sure appropriate low-cost spectrum is available for operators and also promoting the sharing of investment by network operators.

“5G has the potential to facilitate new solutions for businesses in regional areas, becoming a platform for innovative solutions and increased productivity.

“In other markets 5G is already been deployed to support remote-controlled equipment, autonomous machinery and precision farming solutions, and this is only the beginning,” Myers concluded.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - an iTWire treasure is a mentor and coach who volunteers also a writer and much valued founding partner of iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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