Telstra chases Internet of Things for mobile growth

Telstra will look to grow its already massive mobile customer base through adding devices, rather than individuals.

Telstra insists that despite having more mobile subscribers than Optus and Vodafone combined, the company will still add more subscribers, but those are likely to be devices rather than people.

Telstra today reported that its mobile subscriber base now sits at 16 million, adding almost 1 million new subscribers in the 2013-2014 financial year.

CEO David Thodey said today that putting mobile subscription numbers in terms of population, where Australia already has more than one mobile subscription per person, became a less relevant metric as more cars, smart meters, and other devices came online.

"That wave is starting now. It'll flow through over the next 12-18 months," Thodey said after announcing Telstra's full-year results on Thursday.

The results show Telstra's mobile growth is slowing.

"Is the market softening? Yes," Thodey said. "But I think the long-term perspective is really, really strong."

He pointed to the so-called "internet of everything", where everyday items from cars to lightbulbs are woven into the internet.

"People will have two, three, four or five devices," he said. "You think about the number of devices you have in the home, then you can go to meters, then you can go to every bit of machinery.

"Immediately your addressable market could be up to 100 million."

According to Telstra's annual results, of the 937,000 subscriptions added by Telstra in the financial year, 109,000 subscriptions came from mobile broadband, such as mobile hotspots or dongles, while 291,000 were machine-to-machine subscriptions.

Thodey said the next generation of connected devices will generate a fraction of the money brought in by smartphones — perhaps as little as AU$2 or AU$3 a month.

"Still, that is a tremendous opportunity," he said. "The number of opportunities we're dealing with now has probably increased by 50, 60, maybe 100 per cent," he said.

He also expects tablet subscriptions to grow as more Australians upgrade from old PCs.

Telstra has looked to diversify its business over recent years, expanding beyond a traditional telecommunications business to a fully fledged digital media company.

The telco demonstrated its ambition this week, paying US$270 million million to take a controlling stake in US video streaming and analytics platform Ooyala.

That was the first purchase made by Telstra's Global Applications and Platforms group, which is tasked with gaining the telco a foothold in emerging technologies.

Yet Thodey said Telstra would continue to focus on strengthening its mobile infrastructure, with a plan to invest $1 billion over the next year.