Telstra: Regional mobile regulation important for autonomous vehicles

Telstra has said 4G would 'enhance' the safety and efficiency of autonomous vehicles, with expanding regional coverage therefore important with the regulatory backing of the government.

Telstra has said that provided certain regulatory settings for regional telecommunications coverage remain in place, it will continue expanding its mobile network for the benefit of Australia's autonomous vehicle industry.

While conceding that mobile connectivity is "not essential" for the operation of autonomous vehicles to run, Telstra also emphasised that such connectivity would "enhance" the safety and usefulness of the vehicles.

As such, Telstra told the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources during a hearing on its inquiry into the social issues relating to land-based driverless vehicles that it will continue expanding its 4G mobile network "if certain regulatory settings are retained and kept in place".

"The incentive for us at the moment is to continue to build out our network further into regional Australia and support initiatives such as the blackspots program and the like that's currently in place in order to bring some of these services to regional Australia," Telstra explained on Thursday.

In addition to its mention of the federal government's mobile blackspots program as one form of regional mobile regulation, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn has also previously stated that a regulatory declaration of wholesale mobile domestic roaming would result in less investment by Telstra in regional areas, as it would remove the incentive by allowing Vodafone to piggyback off Telstra's mobile infrastructure.

"Telstra has invested heavily in regional Australia, and will continue to do so if the regulatory settings remain in place," Penn said in February.

"We are obviously concerned regarding the impact that declaration would have on operators' incentives to invest and the negative impact that this would have on customers in Australia, particularly in regional Australia."

During the driverless vehicles hearing on Thursday, Telstra also told the parliamentary committee that satellite, short-range communications based on Wi-Fi, and, in the future, 5G connectivity could also be used as back-ups for 4G networks in connecting autonomous vehicles.

Telstra's appearance in the public hearing focused on emphasising the importance of allowing autonomous vehicles on NSW roads.

"The ability for all parts of transport systems to communicate and coordinate is vital. By helping connect autonomous and other vehicles with each other, road infrastructure and centralised traffic management technology can support congestion reduction, on-demand public transport, and improved safety. Further, connectivity can support easy sharing of vehicles and infrastructure, improving accessibility for all socio-economic groups, including those who cannot drive due to disability reasons," Telstra said.

"Autonomous vehicle technology and connectivity also present opportunities to aggregate data across the transport system; centralised network traffic operations centres can provide continuous safety supervision information as well as road an environmental data to deliver higher levels of safety and efficiency than is currently possible."

When the committee called data security, privacy, and "cyber hacking" the key barriers to the uptake of autonomous vehicles, Telstra pointed out that the data being collected from autonomous and connected vehicles would simply be subject to the same processes already used with other customer data it collects.

"The whole issue of data security is one that we live with daily now," Telstra said.

"It's not a new phenomenon; it's just applying it to a new area of connectivity."

In response to the parliamentary committee expressing that jobs would be lost once drivers are removed from public transport and freight vehicles, Telstra pointed out that instead, high-skilled "knowledge jobs" will be created.

"It's going to require upgrades in infrastructure across cities so that we have new types of radio systems, new types of software, new sorts of data aggregation. Building that infrastructure and maintaining it is going to be a new category of jobs," Telstra said.

Telstra has already completed a successful trial of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology over its 4G network in South Australia back in October, saying it showed that 4G can support V2I applications including ensuring emergency vehicles are given green light priority, alerting a driver of roadworks ahead, and informing drivers of the optimal speeds to approach a traffic light to ensure continuous traffic flow.

In addition, Telstra told ZDNet earlier this week that it would be extending its autonomous vehicles partnership with the South Australian government and Cohda Wireless to conduct vehicle-to-everything connectivity trials in Adelaide within a couple of weeks.

Telstra, Cohda Wireless, and the South Australia Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure are members of the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative, which aims to research and develop policy, regulation, and processes for adopting driverless vehicles.

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