One of my favourite aspects of my role is getting out from behind my desk and talking to people – to farmers, small business owners, parents and people living in regional areas – to get a greater understanding of the industries they work in, the businesses they run, and their challenges and hopes for the future.
A common question I am asked, always politely, is, “Why are you here?”
At first I was a bit taken aback, but I understand their curiosity.
After all, Vodafone is not a familiar name for many people in regional Australia. For many regional Australians, their experiences with telecommunications have only ever been with one company.
But this is changing, albeit slowly...
Increased investment from competing mobile operators and the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) promises more competition and choice, which so happens to be another popular talking point among regional Australians.
Vodafone is determined to challenge the status quo and show how things can be better if we work together.
We’re standing up for consumers by advocating for a fairer playing field, particularly in regional Australia.
This is why Vodafone is participating in the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Programme, to bring choice and competition to areas who have not before benefitted from this.
We are planning to construct 102 new mobile towers in regional Australia by the end of 2017, 70 of which are part the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Programme.
We’ve also been strongly advocating for a review of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) which is now underway. We believe this can release much-needed funds for initiatives which increase regional telecommunications competition as well as coverage, such as a larger and permanent Mobile Black Spot Programme, at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
The future of farming is undoubtedly a more data-driven and connected one, and last year, Vodafone was again named the top operator in terms of taking advantage of the immense global Internet of Things (IoT) market opportunity.
Locally, Vodafone has partnered with the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) to capture the opportunities for communications technologies to drive agricultural productivity, especially through IoT.
Vodafone has helped fund the NFF’s new Australian Farmers online platform which will connect over one hundred thousand farm businesses to one another, their supply chain, and the broader Australian community.
Building on the functionality of this online platform, the NFF is also working on a new decision support tool for farmers. This tool will utilise IoT technologies to capture and analyse key agricultural data to present farmers with actionable advice to help improve their productivity.
For example, instead of travelling around a vast property, IoT tech offers farmers the capability to track crop emergence via drones and inspect the health of their crops via satellites. They can also measure soil temperature and moisture levels via sensors and remotely activate irrigators at the click of a button.
Innovations like these technologies have been the clear focus of recent events I have attended, from the GrainGrowers Innovation Generation Conference, to the NSW Farmers’ Innovation in Agriculture Conference, and the Australian Cotton Conference. All three events showcased displays, presentations, and workshops on precision agriculture, emerging technologies, and digital innovation.
Australia has a substantial natural competitive advantage in traditional agriculture, with much of our produce renowned for its extremely high quality, and IoT is a prerequisite for enabling farmers to work smarter and faster, with more precision and accuracy to help compete on a global stage.
The potential productivity gains for the agricultural sector are huge and the opportunities are endless but to take full advantage of these opportunities we need reliable, affordable voice and data services available in the bush.
When I talk to farmers about telecommunications, there is a general consensus that embracing technology is key to a prosperous agriculture industry. But this common understanding is also met with concerns about regional telecommunication services.
Regional Australians deserve better
And that’s why Vodafone is listening and advocating for a fairer telecommunications market to help deliver solutions to meet regional Australia’s unique and diverse needs.
Tim McPhail is the Head of Public Policy at Vodafone Australia