Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Paul has four regular technology advice radio programs on ABC, a weekly column on the website and has published seven books.

Mar 282015
happy guy with lots of money

One of the biggest days in the startup calendar is Y Combinators’s pitch event. This year, the incubator’s president Sam Altman, put a downer on the day by criticising the overly high valuations on new tech business.

“I don’t think founders have to take lesser valuations — their valuations are very, very high,” Business Insider reports Altman as saying.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily good when companies are able to raise money at very high valuations, or raise lots and lots of money” continues Altman.

It’s said a Chinese curse is ‘may you live in interesting times’, for new businesses ‘may you have too much money’ could be equally bad news.

Mar 272015
treating your customers like milk cows is not a recipe for success

In thirty years ‘cultured meat’ will be commonplace and it will disrupt the cattle market Professor Mark Post warned the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association earlier this week.

Artificial, or ‘cultured’, meat is a dramatic change for the food industries and it promises, or threatens, to radically transform the cattle grazing business.

This is another example of an industry that wasn’t expected to be affected by change facing a radical transformation. It shows again few of us are immune from change.

Mar 262015
building sydney as a smart city

“It’s amazing what can be achieved when government is committed and prepared to partner with industry,” was the AIIA Internet of Things summit MC’s reaction to a presentation from Steve Leonard on Singapore’s quest to become a connected city today.

Leonard, the head of Singapore’s IDA, had laid how the nation had embarked on a smartcity project due to the pressures of increased population and an ageing society. The government sees technology as a way to deliver health services more effectively and use scarce resources more efficiently.

One of the areas Leonard cited was in traffic management where the city’s bureaucrats asked “how can we double the traffic on our roads without building anything new?”

The answer lies in smartcars and autonomous vehicles, Singapore has partnered with MIT to run a driverless car pilot on some of the city’s roads. Leonard points out that cars can travel closer together when run by computers rather than being driven by humans.

For governments traffic management is one of the easiest ways to introduce the internet of things into smart cities says Lutz Heuser, Chief Technology Officer of Germany’s Urban Software Institute.

Heuser worries that many cities are “sitting on the fence” when it comes to rolling out IoT and smartcity initiatives and sees “the humble lightpost” as being one of the ways technology can be rolled out into urban environment.

Smart censors in the street lights

Smart censors in the street lights

This echoes the Geek’s tour of Barcelona where street light poles are a key part of the city’s digital infrastructure, providing a base for sensors and the Wi-Fi connectivity needed for devices like intelligent rubbish bins and digital services.

One of the advantages of using intelligent, or at least half smart, lightpoles is that local governments are replacing them on a regular basis – around three quarters of Europe’s poles are more than twenty-five years old – which means they can be rolled out as part of a planned maintenance programs.

Having rolled out connected city initiatives like Barcelona’s smartbins or Singapore’s ‘fibre hydrants’ – fibre nodes around the city that government and emergency services can tap into when needed – local businesses can then leverage off that infrastructure to further improve the well being of citizens.

For governments, the rolling out of smartcity technologies is to deliver better services more efficiently. As Singapore and Barcelona have showing, by working with local businesses it becomes far easy for agencies to deliver real improvements in their communities.


Mar 262015
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

This morning I’m speaking on ABC Radio’s Overnights about the risks of the Australian government’s law to force telecommunications companies to retain users’ metadata for two years.

While the act, currently before the Senate having passed the House of Representatives last week after the poorly named ‘opposition’ Labor Party supported it, mandates that telcos and ISPs will have to retain the details of users’ connection times, places and type of device for two years and that government agencies will be able to access this data without a warrant.

The program was broadcast on 26 March 2015 at 4.15am Eastern Time with Trevor Chappell and is can be listened to on the ABC radio website.

Some resources on the data retention bill follow;

Mar 252015
The law applies online to social media and other web services

Today the Australian internet industry celebrated twenty years of commercial operations with the Rewind/Fast Forward conference that looked at the evolution of the online economy down under and its future.

Naturally the Internet of Things was an important part of the discussion looking at the internet’s future and one of the panels examined the effects of the IoT on industry and society.

During the session chairman of the Communications Alliance industry association, John Stanton, raised an important point about how the IoT creates problems for existing laws and the regulators as a wave of connected devices are released onto the market place.

The risks are varied, and Stanton’s list isn’t exhaustive with a few other aspects such as liability not explored while some of the issues he raises are a problem for other internet based services like cloud computing and social media.

Roaming rules

Having fought many regulatory battles over roaming charges and access between networks, it’s not surprising Stanton and the Communications Alliance would raise this as an issue.

Dealing with roaming devices will probably be a big challenge for mobile Machine to Machine (M2M) technologies, particularly in the logistics, airline and travel industries. We can expect some bitter billing battles between clients and their providers before regulators start to step in.

Number schemes

Again this is more an issue for mobile M2M consumers. Currently every SIM card has its own phone number once the service is activated.  It may be that regulators have to revise their numbering schemes or allow providers to use alternative addressing methods to contact devices.

Data sovereignty

Where data lives is going to continue to be a vexed issue for cloud computing consumers, particularly given the varied laws between nations.

Short of an international treaty, it’s difficult to see how this problem is going to be resolved beyond companies learning to manage the risks.

Identity management

Data integrity is essential for the IoT and accurately determining the identity of individuals and devices is going to be a challenge for those designing systems.

Over time we can expect to see some elegant and clever solutions to identity management in the IoT however masquerading as a legitimate device will always be a way malicious actors will try to hack systems.


For domestic users, the privacy of what remains in data stores is going to be a major concern as domestic devices and wearables gather greater amounts of personal information. We can expect laws to be tightened on the duties and obligations of those collecting the data.

Access Security

Who can do what with a networked device is another problem, should a malicious player or a defective component get onto the system, the damage they can do needs to be minimised. What constitutes unlawful access to a computer network and the penalties needs to be carefully thought out.

Spectrum allocation and cost

Governments around the world have been reaping the rewards of selling licenses to network operators. As the need for reliable but low data usage IoT networks grows, the economics of many of the existing licenses changes which could present challenges for both the operators and governments.

Access to low cost and low data access networks

Following on from the economics of M2M networks, the question of mandating slicing of scarce spectrum for IoT applications or reserving some frequencies becomes a question. How such licenses are granted will cause much friction and many headaches between regulators and operators.

Commercial value of information

How much data is worth will always be a problem in an economy where information is power and money. This though may turn out to be more subtle as information is only valuable in the eyes of the beholder.

Where information becomes particularly valuable is in financial markets and highly competitive sectors so we can see the IoT becoming part of insider trading and unfair competition actions. These will, by definition, be complex.

Like any new set of technologies the internet of things raises a whole new range of legal issues as society adapts to new ways of doing business and communicating. What we’re going to see is a period of experimentation with laws as we try to figure out how the IoT fits into society.

Mar 242015
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg list the social media service stock

Do economies and businesses need to be at the cutting edge of tech or is staying behind the early adopters the key to get the most out of technology?

“Everybody has Facebook envy,” says Oracle’s Neil Mendelson, the company’s Vice President for Big Data, about business life in Silicon Valley.

Mendelson was talking about how the Silicon Valley business environment is a high pressure bubble where the focus on shipping products is different from the needs of users outside the tech sector.

“The farther out you go from Silicon Valley the more people fundamentally understand the value is in getting something out of it,” says Mendelson who was speaking at an executive lunch in Sydney earlier today.

“Being a late follower has an advantage because companies aren’t going to get fired up about this Facebook envy trying to assemble a solution but rather they can get something out of the cloud that will deliver value.”

The Minitel problem

An example of being too far ahead could be Minitel, a text based network operating across France between 1982 and 2012.

Minitel was a visionary project intended to deliver services similar to the Internet through a dedicated terminal, however the open nature of the net made the French service less than attractive and eventually France Telecom wound the service up in 2012 as user interest evaporated.

How much the French bet on Minitel held the nation’s digital economy back is open to question, the World Economic Forum lists France as 25th in the world in its 2014 Networked Readiness Index however the gap between most of the top nations is quite close.

Falling off the bleeding edge

The idea that the best return on a tech investment is by being behind the ‘bleeding edge’ isn’t new, for years the advice from serious computer experts was to never buy a Microsoft product until version three came out however there is a risk that the early adopters might get an early advantage over the slow movers.

Another risk is missing out altogether; as Oracle’s Australian manager Tim Endrick told the room, “our experience is organisations are doing two things; they are either managing disruption and/or they are leveraging their structures to innovate. Those who are sitting on the back step doing nothing are in serious trouble.”

So while there are risks with being too an early an adopter of new technology, it’s important to be aware of the trends and tools that are changing business.

With the pace of change in both technology and industry accelerating, it may be that staying too far behind the cutting edge risk falling off altogether. Maybe it’s worth being envious of Facebook.

Mar 232015
3D Printing of car models with Autodesk

One of the industries being dramatically reinvented by China is the construction sector as the nation’s demand on labor and materials puts stresses on the economy.

An answer local developers and builders have found to these constraints has been to turn to prefabricated construction.

While prefab building isn’t new, Chinese builders are pushing the techniques of designing, manufacturing and assembling the structures.

In Changsha, the capital of southern China’s Hunan Province, local construction company Broad Group built a 57-story building using 1200 in 19 days.

Coupled with large scale 3D printing and computerised design tools, the Chinese builders are redefining the construction industry with methods that are far more efficient and less labor intensive.

For companies, and countries, that depend upon the construction industry for employment and profit these techniques could be another disruption.

Again we’re seeing there are few industries immune from major disruption as technology changes business.