Consumers, governments and businesses expect plug-and-play technology and connectivity at their fingertips and simple, intuitive experiences that ‘just work’.

The key to that is unconstrainted capacity, a removal of wireless broadband data caps and ceilings, allowing smart monitoring and automation systems to operate effortlessly behind the scenes.

That aligns well with Spark’s view of the world and its ‘internet of things’ strategy, says Renee Mateparae, Spark’s ‘Agile Tribe’ Lead.

For the uninitiated, IoT is a catch-all term for a fast-growing army of non-traditional computing devices, gizmos that are connected to the internet to send data or receive instructions.

The applications are virtually limitless, from ‘smart’ versions of whiteware like refrigerators and heat pumps, to robots and sensors that are helping transform manufacturing, healthcare and logistics.

Spark currently has three connected devices networks up and running - Cat M1, NB IoT, LoRaWAN which suit business’ different needs, and expects to fully roll out its fifth generation of wireless technology, or 5G, within the next two years.

It has had an auspicious start, having just launched its commercial 5G network into the country’s commercial heart, working with Auckland Transport to connect lighting, smart benches with charging capability, smart bins and parking sensors at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter. 

Mateparae describes it as a paradigm shift for the business, for its clients and the industry, with 5G boasting not only faster network response time and enhanced mobility but also connectivity to a “significantly greater number of devices”.

There are other perks to the next generation, including better energy efficiency, meaning as the number of wireless devices advance, the carbon impact of wireless networks will remain lower per unit.

5G also reduces latency, or the time it takes to send data and receive a response, to levels that can be used by autonomous vehicle networks.

So it is inarguably a major and necessary accelerant, not only into Spark’s IoT aspirations per se, but also supporting the firm’s investments into digital health and sport, with a capacity to connect 1 million devices per square kilometre to the network – one per square metre - 10 times that of its 4G predecessor.

Data driven

And while that’s good news for consumers, a major benefit for businesses is about improving customer experiences through better access to data. 

According to a recent Deloitte Access Economics report on data maturity across Australian and New Zealand businesses, more than 59 zettabytes, or 59 trillion gigabytes, will be created, captured, copied and consumed this year.

The survey notes that almost all of trans-Tasman businesses with more than 100 employees, about 93 percent, had invested in data analytics tools or software in the past year with most already using data to help understand and improve their customer experience.

Companies like Toll Group, for example, started a programme three years ago to simplify and standardise its IT landscape by developing a telematics platform, now manages its transport assets through an effective IoT network, using datasets to help with improving safety, asset utilisation and fuel usage.

Chris Creighton, group manager technology solutions at Auckland Transport, said the council organisation was now working with Spark to help people find carparking in the city faster, through the installation of 200 parking sensors in the city’s waterfront.

There are a tremendous range of real world examples. A recent report from the World Economic Forum indicates that sensor technology can assist with reducing food wastage, with IoT technologies able to provide a digital trail of the food’s journey.

Mateparae said Spark has been on a journey of its own. “For us it’s been about developing our IoT infrastructure with our partners and bespoke services for a diverse range of customers. That lets them use IoT tech to create more efficiency, to help customers and connect people.”

And that’s really where Spark wants to go with this.

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