Minister, and our RadComms Colleagues. Welcome to Radcomms2010.
A little over four years ago, just as I joined the ACMA, we held a conference on Wireless Access Services (WA-Z) in Sydney. That conference discussed an issue that still faces us today, the seemingly insatiable demand for spectrum for mobile broadband services.
Since that conference, we have seen in the mobile broadband space the release of some spectrum in the 3.6 GHz space, the release of the final paper on the 2.5 GHz band and of course the Department’s Green Paper on the 700 MHz Digital Dividend.
The WAS conference evolved into the RADCOMs series of conferences, now our radio communications flagship event. RADCOMs is one part of our stakeholder engagement strategy that we believe truly supports our previously expressed intention to rejuvenate the international reputation of the ACMA as a leading regulator in radiocommunications management. This forum is serving us well as an arena for us to engage with you, you with us and for all of the industry to be involved in how the beguiling world of spectrum is to be regulated moving forward. And when I say "us", I am again very pleased to indicate that all 7 Authority members are here for the next 2 days. And remember, the ACMA’s Chairman has no casting vote or veto powers. Just one of seven! So chew their ears off (too!).
The Authority is the ultimate house of review on the staff work, staff who are openly encouraged by me to be proactive, think from "first principles" and, in doing so, may occasionally be or be seen as provocative.
Now here we are at RadComms2010. I think the rejuvenation has come some way, but there is more to do. Again, we are looking at spectrum for a mobile world; however, this time we are talking about delivery. We have delivered on 3.6 GHz, we are in the final stages of delivery for 2.5 GHz and my staff are well down the track of planning for the Digital Dividend, both achieving it and getting it out there.
So at this RADCOMS, Maureen Cahill will be taking a look back at the last four or so years, from both our perspective, and gazing forward not only into the next four, but a little beyond. We will look at spectrum reform, differing spectrum needs and solicit feedback on how spectrum property rights (or spectrum licences) are panning out some 15 years after their inception.
We will of course hear presentations on the Digital Dividend, how could we not?!
However, in our final session, we will explore some topics that particularly fascinate me: spectrum for a connected mobile world.
Indeed, spectrum is a topic that increasingly fascinates me. Yes, I was for several years the COO of a major broadcasting network and had responsibility for the broadcasting transmission facilities but, as they were really just broadcasting assets on an inventory sheet, I really knew nothing about that "invisible stuff" that came out of the end of that stick! ...The antenna. But I am getting there and recognise a clanger of a quote about spectrum when I hear one.
Let me share with you my two favourites: "Why can’t we simply use the spectrum that follows the transport corridors" and my favourite, "Spectrum, it’s very important you know; apparently it’s all around us". Now the people who made these quips were smart guys and of course both meant well but, like me a couple of years ago, obviously didn’t get it.
Let me explain. I think it actually takes a particular perspective to fully understand ‘spectrum’ because it has so many dimensions: it lives by the laws of physics, can be regulated by the laws of man, it appears in substance to be nothing at all and can never be used up, yet it has huge value to those that use it. In fact, since it has no weight (unless you are a physicist), it must be pound for pound the most valuable substance in the world!!
Unfortunately many, even within the industry, take spectrum for granted, and neglecting these vital characteristics may well come back to bite them.
Recently I delivered a speech to the national Smart Grids Forum. In that speech, I spoke of smart infrastructure - not smart grids because smart grids are only one small part of what will ‘connect’ modern Australia in a decade or so’s time. My salient message to the smart grid community in that speech is the same one I would send to all sectors in the communications industry: cooperate and standardise, otherwise you may find you don’t have enough spectrum with which to make those connections.
But stern message aside, spectrum is an enabler of some wonderful ‘stuff’, stuff we will both need and enjoy in tomorrow’s world.
I am a keen reader of the New Scientist as the print version arrives each week with its visions of the future that enthral me. But the very fact that I (and many others) still read print on paper reminds me of a key reality that my spectrum planners deal with every day: while we make way for new technologies, we must keep the existing ones in mind. So, on the one hand, the future is just one more flagstone on the path ahead, with the direction of course heavily conditioned by the direction of the path behind. On the other hand, we face transformative (and indeed disruptive) shifts in our technological and, arguably, social environment. These two dynamics create significant tensions for the concepts we use as regulator, government uses in setting policy and industry uses in seeking a sustainable return on capital expended.
Now the path ahead that is shaped by both tradition and innovation could be a frightening one (or, if you are like me, an eternal optimist) merely a challenging one.
New Scientist (and its like) that give me as a non-technical person (someone perhaps a lot closer to the average ‘punter’ than many in this room, I suspect) a digestible insight into the limitless ability of mankind to innovate and find solutions and applications, and for markets to gravitate around them and ‘monetise’ them. It is my fascination with, and my increasing understanding of, spectrum that excites me to imagine how radio-communications fits in and around these innovations. Mind you, I had a lot to learn (and still do) – I didn’t know an ‘LIPD’ from a ‘RFID’: still don’t!
These innovations and the phenomena they can give rise to are a constant reminder of the extraordinary pervasive nature of spectrum use and of the direct, "must resolve" relationship that this gives the ACMA with all manner of both major and minor technologies, trends and (some) threats which are developing – and, I have to say, the users / targets of which are often unaware of the radio nature of the technology, let alone that ACMA relationship.
The ACMA started this year bedding down an important part of our ongoing transformation program, which aims to condition the organisation to become flexible, agile and adaptive so as to effectively address this communications and media environment of constant change (that ‘permanent whitewater’ I often speak about). We implemented a new internal structure. Self-initiated, this restructure was designed, and is now functioning, to better make internally our various connections, specifically to bring focus to meeting several, sector-specific ‘today’ tasks such as digital television transition and NBN planning. However, we are also intent on maintaining our ‘convergence’ orientation to a myriad of regulatory challenges and the eventual outcomes, whatever they may resolve to, from the incessant dynamic in the communications and media industries – driven in large part by this constant scientific and technological innovation and its resulting market developments.
The restructure is part of the ongoing ACMA transformation program (about which I could happily speak at considerable length....but won’t). The only aspect of this program that I want to draw your attention to this morning is the important stakeholder aspect of the newish ACMA brand, namely its external - facing strapline:
"communicating | facilitating | regulating"
In gathering together for these opening remarks/ my thoughts/ about how the ACMA is delivering and how we plan to go on doing so, I had a look through the pile of New Scientists which accumulate on my office floor to remind myself of just a couple of the examples that had so powerfully demonstrated the all - pervasive world of radio spectrum.
As I did so, the meta-thought triggered by my refreshment was that it confirmed the importance of our strapline, as it neatly sums up the ever–necessary approach of the ACMA: communicating | facilitating | regulating. Let me unpack this a little more.
As I said in relation to smart grids, our work is focussed on making connections in this increasingly distributed world, and this is a common thread in ACMA thinking and action – in fact, in a different but related ACMA domain, I recently launched our Telco consumer safeguard initiatives and under the title ‘Reconnecting the customer’, Telco: a world of increasing disintermediation where the connections have become somewhat frayed (or "fuzzy" to use a Chapmanism).
The market and the myriad impact of technology and social changes are too large, diverse and changing too rapidly for the more traditional, fiat–style regulation to carry all before it. The reality is that the ACMA is more than a traditional ‘regulator’ and our work in the planning, allocation and management of spectrum is a perfect illustration of how we work well as a facilitator, as much as a pure regulator; our strapline is about us playing our role in the maintenance of this nation’s economic competitiveness, about truly making communications and media work in Australia’s public interest. The challenge is that the spectrum used by many of the devices and applications featured in these science magazines must be considered and hopefully accommodated today; not a simple task when you consider the myriad of technologies that we know are vying for a place in the future, let alone the ones yet to be invented. So, if there are several related touchstones, they must be, flexibility and accommodation, an accommodation based on evidence – informed risk assessment.
Sure, there are rules involved in spectrum planning, and it is not divorced from our pure or traditional regulatory responsibilities. But Parliament has entrusted us with the fundamental role of making spectrum work as a vital national, economic and increasingly social resource. It gives us a myriad of sometimes unexpected touchpoints with the lives of the ‘citizen in the street’ (the ‘average punter’ that we all are).
I have a profound interest in a topic which is regularly covered in the New Scientist: global warming. In all my readings around this issue, it is abundantly clear that, at the very least, we must do things far more efficiently.
Our impact on the environment is multi - faceted. To meaningfully address that impact - generally a huge undertaking – and that heightened efficiency more specifically, our entire way of being must be inter-connected in the distributed network of smart infrastructure; we at the ACMA must and will play our role in facilitating that inter–connectedness.
Smart infrastructure means connected stuff, almost everything, connected in an information - processing network, and the ACMA and the spectrum we manage in Australia’s public interest has an important, facilitative role to play in connecting all this stuff together.
Last year at this Conference I spoke of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), this is smart infrastructure. I spoke of what it meant for travellers, for traffic and for the environment. Without re – visiting that subject but on a related, connected note: what about the general infrastructure that these vehicles use - the roads, the bridges and the tunnels. How can we connect these, flexibly, adaptively and where possible reasonably close to real-time?
To be able to fix roads you have to know where the problems are. It’s unlikely (but not impossible) that every stretch of road will be able to be fitted with sensors, so you use the next best thing to gather the requisite data. Vehicles fitted with acoustic sensors can detect and report air pockets through the ITS infrastructure before they decay and turn into potholes and cracks. These can then be fixed before they become a safety hazard.
Bridges too can be fitted with sensors to show cracking and fatigue. This information can be relayed back via radio or fibre into the system so that remedial action can be taken before a failure occurs.
And for the more remote bridges and stretches of road, why not use the traffic as a ‘mule’ to carry the information to a collection point. The bridge simply asks passing traffic what its destination is, and if that destination has ITS receivers, then the bridge can pass its data to that vehicle to be carried to a reception point. Not as fast, but these applications are not always that time critical.
Why limit it to bridges, anything you want to pass information about, the height of a river, the condition of land, or even livestock, could be transmitted to passing vehicles for later download into the ‘system’.
So, the simple concept of ITS opens up a Pandora’s Box of possibilities limited only by the imagination of our engineers (be they road, automotive, software or spectrum engineers) and our scientists.
I mentioned acoustic detectors – of course radio technologies can also be used to detect things - Ultra Wide Band (UWB) is a recent development, revealing people or things moving inside buildings or even underground or through walls. At the moment there are some weaknesses, but I discern from the articles that eventually the systems could be used to find hostages, people trapped in collapsed buildings (those old ones that haven’t self diagnosed before the problem arose) or those buried underground, or as radars to prevent collisions between underground mining equipment.
Just recently my staff presented a paper to the Authority on spectrum access for Ultra Wide Band (UWB) devices, which culminated in its release last Thursday. An inevitable question arose: what else could UWB deliver? Now that got me thinking. Again, my trusty New Scientist provided some insights, and I was surprised at what I found.
UWB can connect your TV monitor to your set top box or PVR without wires (perhaps that’s a no – brainer), it can be used by vehicles to detect threats ahead and by the military to transmit data at such a low power it is virtually undetectable.
Of course, as seems inevitable, the bands proposed for UWB are already used by many other applications, and the ACMA engineers have worked hard to ensure the power levels UWB will operate at do not harm these existing applications and services. That is their job and I think they do it well. This is a terrific, working example of how we are working to deliver sensible, flexible use of spectrum to deliver the public interest, the benefits of technology for as many uses as possible. On further reading, I have discovered some interesting twists: moving then from the Ultra Wide to the infinitesimally small, in the shape of things called motes. No, not water-filled channels around castles; these are very small sensors connected together via radio, forming an ad hoc, flexible mesh network which can transfer the data they collect to a central point for processing. This would offer the opportunity to monitor structures with motes working at a micro-level in a mule-like fashion not unlike the macro-role for the vehicles I mentioned in the bridge scenario.
I learnt that engineers are already planning to mix motes with concrete before it is used in construction. Powered by a combination of vibration and long - life lithium ion batteries, these things will be able to report on the health of the structure they are part of, transmitting to each other over very small distances, eventually to a larger transmitter to the collection point.
There are even other mote applications, like seeding an area with motes to detect the passage of the enemy in wartime. Vibration analysis could determine who or what was passing by, and if that who or what was the enemy; an unmanned aircraft, a UAV, could be sent out to deal with them.
And when we think of UAVs, a lot of us think of things like the ‘Predator’, these remotely–piloted, aerial vehicles that hunt down and kill. But there are many other benign, indeed very useful, deployments and applications possible: things like acting as a hurricane hunter, surveying pipelines, checking powerlines, finding and spraying noxious weeds and finding lost bushwalkers (because UAVs can get a lot closer to the ground, to the treetops than normal aeroplanes). UAVs need spectrum for control and telemetry, but they also need large amounts of it to download their payload, usually video or broadband data. Again, the ACMA is grappling with the problem of finding this spectrum right now.
And when it comes to Defence, I also reflected on the fact that not all radio-enabled or radio-based weapons are necessarily deadly, as the technology has a place in building an arsenal of non-lethal force.
The defence industry’s need for non-lethal, crowd-control weapons could be met through the development of a microwave pain-infliction system that can be fired from an aeroplane.
This technology uses microwave radio to heat the surface of the skin, causing pain without actually burning, hopefully causing individuals to leave the area.
At the heart of the new weapon will be a compact airborne antenna, which will be steered electronically and be capable of generating multiple beams, each of which can be aimed at individual targets while on the move.
Systems such as this obviously have strategic crowd control potential ‘moving’ civilians from an area prior to an airstrike.
And finally, I have picked up on new ideas that really help the ‘average’ person’s quality of life.
I read of an experimental treatment that might one day cure paralysis. Some researchers believe that an electronic bypass to reconnect a broken spinal cord is a viable solution.
The idea is to implant tiny electronic chips in the brain to record neural activity. Then a decoder deciphers the neural activity to figure out what the brain wants the body to do. These messages are then relayed - wirelessly to electrodes that deliver a pulse of electricity to stimulate the muscles into action.
Such "brain chips" are already restoring hearing to the deaf and vision to the blind, and helping to stave off epileptic fits, so the idea isn't as far-fetched as it might sound.
Obviously, a band used for this application would need protecting from interference, or the system could do more harm than good!!!
Well, all this is somewhat ‘future dreaming’. But then who would have guessed just ten years ago that we would have more mobile phones than people in Australia, GPS navigation would be such common place and trials of 3D TV would be just around the corner.
In concluding, it is an essential part of the ACMA’s job to look over this horizon, to seek to grasp what is coming, perhaps sometimes to guess, so that we can facilitate the connection and transition between the spectrum solutions and applications that operate today and the exciting, opportunity–laden yet confronting totally inter–connected mobile world that is tomorrow.
But as well as this ‘over-the-horizon’ work, it’s also the ACMA’s job to do the hard yards in the planning and product packaging - the delivery. This may perhaps be where our harder edge, more traditional regulatory role is more apparent, but we always aim to be constructive in crafting flexible solutions that best balance commercial and national needs and the economic, social and technological imperatives that we discern.
So we are constantly doing both: delivering today, but gazing into the horizon of tomorrow with a view perhaps to delivering upwards of an additional 300 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband, as Andrew Kerans will outline later this morning.
So again, the warmest of welcomes to RADCOMs – 10. I look forward to our two days ahead as we continue to collectively use our skills and experience to deliver Australia’s connected future, a country we are so blessed to be citizens of.