Telstra CEO Andy Penn wants a “long term” strategy for Australian telecommunications to be developed with government, spelling out upgrade paths for the NBN and removing barriers to 5G and edge compute deployments.
Penn laid out a broad policy wishlist on Monday, in which he sought to use the restart from COVID-related lockdowns as a springboard for change.
In particular, Penn saw opportunities to develop digital technologies in the post-COVID era, to "reform telecommunications”, and to bolster investment in and attention around security risks.
Telecommunications, he said, was the “connective tissue” that held businesses and communities together through the lockdown.
But as the NBN neared completion (outside of premises considered difficult to connect) and the mobile industry prepared for the move to 5G, Penn advocated a need to review the policy settings around telecommunications more broadly with an eye to the future.
“We need a long term strategy for telecommunications in Australia,” Penn said.
“If the acceleration of the digital economy is crucial to a fast recovery, which I believe it is, then telecommunications is now arguably Australia’s most important infrastructure to this digital recovery.
“It is also crucial therefore that we have the policies and regulatory framework fit for purpose and pro-investment for the sector.”
Penn continued: “If ever there was a moment for all of us to feel unconstrained by the shackles of the past, past decisions, past policies, past investments it is now.
“We sit at the dawn of 5G, the NBN rollout finishes next month, the emergence of edge compute – these are all significant technologies that will play a crucial role in supporting the digitisation of our economy.”
Penn said there was a need to accelerate the rollout of new telecommunications infrastructure and capacity.
That would likely include codifying upgrade paths for the NBN access technologies. These have been hotly debated over the years, though there is no real roadmap for what the NBN will look like once it moves from ‘build’ to ‘operate’.
“What is the technology upgrade path for the NBN now the great milestone of its rollout is within grasp?” Penn said.
“How do we ensure people in regional and remote Australia can experience the same benefits as people in the major centres particularly at a time when living regionally is a more realistic option for those previously constrained by work to be living in the city?
“With the acceleration of the digital economy and online service provision how do we ensure our more vulnerable citizens can not just participate, but benefit from these changes?
“These are all very big questions but I cannot think of a more important time to be asking them.
“The success of our telecommunications networks in Australia over the next decade will significantly influence the success of our economy and our nation, and it’s crucial that we have the policies in place to support them.”