Telecommunications giant Telstra has signed a collaborative research agreement with National ICT Australia which will bring NICTA part of the way towards sustaining its operations without government funding.
NICTA was told during the latest Federal Budget that it will no longer receive government support beyond 2016 - giving the technology research organisation just two years to make up for a more than $15 million annual shortfall.
Telstra has embraced the opportunity, joining a long list of Australian companies that have used NICTA to explore new technology concepts - a list that includes the Commonwealth Bank, DB Schenker and Sydney Water.
Telstra today said it would embrace NICTA in its “Telstra Research Partnership Program” with the bulk of the collaborative research to be based around security, privacy, network optimisation and content delivery.
The University of Technology, Sydney, Deakin University and the George Institute will also participate in the program.
For the first year of the five-year program, NICTA will be paid $1.1 million, with each further annual tranche to be negotiated on a project-by-project basis, depending on the success of the last.
“This is a significant first step in a funding model that is more reliant on industry funding, but we will need quite a few projects of this size to go some way to filling the gap that will be left after 2016," said Dr Terry Percival, director of the broadband and digital economy business team at NICTA.
"Of course, there are certain core activities at NICTA which industry is highly unlikely to fund, most particularly PhD student support. NICTA supports 280 PhD students with scholarships and expert supervision. We also have research staff who lecture at universities. These activities will always require public funding support.”
It is anticipated that around ten Telstra network and security operations staff will participate in the program, using collaboration tools to connect with an equal number of NICTA research scientists to communicate their challenges and work on solutions.
The two organisations have not set down a cut and dried policy on who will own the intellectual property.
The telco plans to measure the success of the program based on customer feedback, but regardless sees the collaboration as "an important step in changing our culture towards a more entrepreneurial way of thinking and being open to new ideas," said Hugh Bradlow, CTO at Telstra.
Telstra and NICTA have previously worked together on an internship program [pdf].