NBN Co has revealed it is looking beyond its government mandate to create an internet of things (IoT) business, connecting “non-premises infrastructure” like traffic lights and potentially offering wholesale compute and storage services.
Principal technology officer for FTTx Daniel Willis told the Broadband World Forum in London overnight that NBN Co was already working closely with cities and councils to find new roles for its network.
Willis acknowledged that IoT didn’t form part of NBN’s current statement of expectations, but said he believed the company’s CTO office – of which he is part – could help “inform” its shareholders on opportunities to expand NBN’s remit.
“As a government-funded national operator, the government sets our statement of expectations,” Willis said.
“In the current statement of expectations we’re asked to do 100 percent residential and also offer business connectivity, so there isn’t - I suppose - a direct drive today from the government to support an IoT-type network, but we are definitely looking at that as a potential future application that we can specialise in IoT.
“There’s no reason we can’t inform the government of Australia on what the NBN’s future direction should be around those sort of technologies.”
Willis said the NBN already likely carried some IoT traffic today, though it would be hidden from the operator’s view – for example, connected home technology sitting behind a home router, or performed by a business that NBN Co simply serviced with connectivity.
However, NBN Co wants a much more active role in the growth of IoT. Its current thinking is that it could extend beyond wholesale connectivity into IT compute and storage to underpin emerging IoT models.
“We’re working closely around the country with cities and so on, [and] also starting to look at smart city programs connecting up non-premises infrastructure, and how that’s going to work – things like traffic lights and smart control systems,” Willis said.
He noted it was “early thinking” but said there was “some interest in the NBN on having a look at the compute and storage” services that will underpin IoT applications.
“Where the smart cities and some of the leaders in [that space in] Australia are progressing well is what you do with that data you collect - the analytics can help run the city more efficiently,” Willis said.
“The telco like NBN Co traditionally provides the connectivity infrastructure [for IoT] so basic, fat, dumb pipes.
“I think there’s also a role that the telco can play in providing the platform - the infrastructure for all those analytics - so the compute power and storage power on a common platform.”
Willis said NBN Co could potentially provide a platform for innovative IoT start-ups to create and roll applications out nationally.
“NBN’s role in that is making the connectivity simple to start with and then the next step might be where can [the start-up] develop and deploy their applications so they’re easily accessible to the wider market,” Willis said.
“That’s where I think we start to have some options for perhaps a telco that can offer not just the connectivity but the application or operating system platform that an IoT developer could deploy easily onto and reach market very quickly.”
However he acknowledged that the network builder may face stiff competition from traditional platform and cloud players to break into the IT services space, though argued it wasn’t out of the question.
“As we look to an SDN/NFV world, particularly in Australia, one of our main objectives is to take away the advantages that some of the incumbents might have of having existing infrastructure and let innovative new service providers come and address the market,” Willis said.
“Part of that might be providing easily accessible storage and compute on a common platform that’s available nationally, for example, so it’s not tied to a particular carrier or a particular infrastructure.”