RadComms: Tech advances to be fueled by spectrum

Wireless tech critical for drones, fighter jets and driverless mining equipment

Autonomous drills at the Rio Tinto mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia rely on 4G LTE connections for video streaming to remote operators. Credit: Rio Tinto

Autonomous drills at the Rio Tinto mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia rely on 4G LTE connections for video streaming to remote operators. Credit: Rio Tinto

Credit: Rio Tinto

Access to high-bandwidth wireless broadband is critical for supporting drones, national defence and autonomous mining equipment, according to presenters from industry and government at the RadComms conference in Sydney today.

To better account for such advances in technology, the Department of Communications and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have launched a review of the regulatory framework for spectrum. The current framework was established in 1992 under the Radiocommunications (RadComms) Act and last reviewed by the Productivity Commission in 2002.

The success of drone technology will depend on support from regulators including the ACMA, said Mark Xavier, managing director of robotics manufacturer, V-TOL Aerospace.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) require 4G wireless connections to transfer large amounts of data collected by their sensors, including information on weather and the climate, as well as HD video and still images, he said.

Such applications require a great amount of wireless bandwidth, he said. “There’s going to be a need for a lot of information being passed around.”

Xavier highlighted drones’ applications for public safety in particular. As one example, he said a UAV equipped with shark repellents and a flotation ring could help save lives off the coast.

How drones might assist with a rescue at sea. Credit: V-TOL Aerospace
How drones might assist with a rescue at sea. Credit: V-TOL Aerospace

Spectrum also fuels key sensors, weapons and communications at the Department of Defence, said Captain Paul Scott, director of ICT Capability Coordination for the Department of Defence.

“Spectrum requirements are growing,” he said.

For example, the new F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is an aircraft with advanced electronic warfare capabilities, electronic radar and advanced communications that rely on high-bandwidth wireless, Scott said. Spectrum will also be critical as Defence increases its use of UAVs, he said.

The mining industry is also making greater use of high-bandwidth wireless in the field, said Alan Seary, a principal in Rio Tinto’s CIO office.

Rio Tinto has built a 4G LTE network for its West Angeles mine, located in the Pilbara region in Western Australia. The company has increased the reliability and resiliency of the network and enabled machine-to-machine (M2M), mobility and analytics applications, Seary said.

Some of the high-bandwidth applications supported by the LTE network include CCTV, telemetry and autonomous drills that can stream video back to a remote operator, he said.

Rio Tinto is looking to add more 4G applications to solve key challenges including in-put proximity detection, collision detection and tracking of personnel and assets, he said. The mining company also seeks to deploy push-to-talk services over LTE, he said.

Earlier in the day, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman each stressed the importance of modernising spectrum policy.

“We see Minister Turnbull’s current review as an essential, once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure we have the necessary, fit-for-purpose toolkits and frameworks to continue Australia’s pre-eminence in spectrum utilisation and management,” Chapman said.

Read more: Rio Tinto signs $20m managed services contract with Empired

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags mobilewirelessmobile broadband4gltemilitarydepartment of defencedefenceminingAustralian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)rio tintoRadCommsdronesUAVsV-TOL Aerospace

More about Australian Communications and Media AuthorityDepartment of CommunicationsDepartment of DefenceProductivity CommissionStrikeWest

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