Thursday, August 11, 2011

Broadband for the Bush

Dr Ian Oppermann, Director of the CSIRO ICT Centre talked on "Broadband for the Bush", at an Australian Computer Society meeting in Canberra on 10 August 2011.

Ian Oppermann started his presentation by making the case for CSIRO's ICT credentials, referring to CSIRO's development of CSIRAC (the fourth electronic computer in the world) and the invention of WiFi technology. He pointed out Australia is a big country with a small, literate population, but only 17th in the world for broadband take-up. Ian related how the world are looking to the NBN as a model for national broadband. Ian then pointed to the aging population and resulting increase in health costs, which broadband could help reduce.

The next point wast that Australia is increasingly a services economy. At CeBit Senator Conroy pointed out that Australia's productivity has dropped in the past decade, using statistics from "Australia's Productivity Challenge" (Grattan, 2011). Mining is very productive (in $ produced per hour of work), most services industries (including education) are not. Compared to the USA, Australian productivity is dropping and if mining is excluded Australia is the lower segment compared to OECD countries.

Ian mentioned he had been doing some work in smart grids and this was a conservative industry (as is health). Health expenditure is about 9% of GDP. eHealth records can reduce costs, assuming privacy and other issues can be addressed (I see the latest electronic Journal of Health Informatics is on Smart Healthcare Systems).

Another area is smart technologies, with CSIRO having developed a Care Assessment Platform, which interacts with the patient via a smart phone. The application provides the patient with better more personal service and reduces costs.

Another is a Virtual Critical Care Unit (ViCCU). This allows specialists at major hospitals to advise staff at regional ones, via a telecommunications link, reducing the need to transport patients. As Ian pointed out the major barrier with this is not the ICT, but fitting it to the medical need and training the medical staff to use the technology.

Ian then shifted the topic from e-health to e-Government, from with the example of staff at government agencies available on-line to help fill in forms. That may sound trivial, but a considerable amount of staff time and customer frustration can be saved by this. One point I would disagree on is the need for high resolution real time video for this application. Those who have grown up with text messaging may be more comfortable with that mode. This can also be near real time, making it more convenient for the customer and more efficient for the organization.

CSIRO, NBN Co and others have set up the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation (ACBI) to research broadband applications, including for the NBN. The NBN fiber will cover 93% of the population, fixed wireless 4% and satellite for the remaining 3%. It should be noted that fiber covers only a tiny area of Australia. As Ian pointed out the fiber is symmetrical, whereas the satellite is not: that is more data can be transmitted from the satellite than can be transmitted to it. CSIRO is researching high speed symmetrical terrestrial wireless data ("Ngara") which can extend the coverage area and the speed. This would be very significant for regional Australia and the world. However, in my view, Ngara will take years to develop and so the current NBN plans should continue.

Dr Oppermann will also speak in Sydney 29 August 2011. Dr Darrell Williamson, Director CSIRO eResearch program, will speak on the same topic in Darwin 8 September 2011, Adelaide 28 September 2011 and Perth 16 August 2011. Dr Alex Zelinsky, CSIRO Group Executive of Information Sciences will speak in Brisbane 13 September 2011.

No comments: