TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: Qantas' tech takeoff

In this week's tech deals Qantas hits the tarmac running with the latest phase of its iPad plans and Telstra moves into pre-paid 4G.

Technology Spectator

Tech Deals is a weekly column covering the latest deals in one of the busiest sectors for M&A. To read previous articles go to our Tech Deals page.

Qantas’ iPad ambition and Hooroo primes for takeoff

The national carrier Qantas may be having tough time keeping its staff and customers happy but the airline is certainly working to ensure that it’s not left behind in the tech stakes. Qantas may have dropped out of the top 10 list at the latest World Airline Awards but the airline last week got the ball rolling on two tech initiatives.

Qantas is set to provide its pilots with iPads for use on the flight deck, allowing them to give paper documents the flick and access operational information via tablets. This includes charts, flight plans, manuals and forms, all of which will now be made available through two pre-loaded specialist apps. The first one will be a chart app created by Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen, while the second one, created in-house by Qantas, will contain the ‘flight library’ (flight plan, manuals, forms etc).

With the program set to start from September, the immediate up tick of this is the fact that Qantas pilots can wave goodbye to 15,000 or so pages of operational data printed daily by the airline. Qantas prints about 18,000 pages of flight operations every day and that the full introduction iPads will see this cut down to about 3,000 pages.

Its early days but Qantas expects to distribute more than 2,200 64GB iPads to all domestic and international Qantas pilots on all fleet types.

The key enabler of the entire initiative is Telstra which will integrate the iPads as part of its broader relationship with Qantas. On top of that, the telco will also provide NextG access to Qantas pilots on the ground and international on-ground connectivity through Telstra’s global Wi-Fi partner network.

Meanwhile, Qantas is going to officially lift the lid on its brand new hotel accommodation site Hooroo this week.

The Hooroo website has been live for a little while and has been taking email registrations for some time. While the airline has promised those who have already signed up to expect a special slice of travel inspiration there is also a promise of handy deals.

Now, the local online accommodation provider market is pretty crowded with the likes of Wotif, Last minute.com, webjet.com all in the mix. That’s on top of the overseas heavyweights like Expedia and Hotel.com. So, the immediate rationale for Qantas to dive into a market, which frankly isn’t its core competency, is hard to decipher.

With more Australians now making their accommodation bookings through online sites, this is an important point of diversification for an airline but does Qantas have what it takes to take on the incumbents in the space?

Telstra’s latest 4G initiative, giving Sydney commuters a helping hand

Moving to the telco space, Telstra’s substantial cash pile is now a little bit heavier thanks to a Trans-Tasman deal and the telco has also launched its latest 4G product – a mobile hotspot for pre-paid customers allowing them to access ultra-fast mobile internet on their tablets, laptops and smartphones in 4G coverage areas.

The battery powered Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G is Australia’s first 4G LTE mobile Wi-Fi for Pre-Paid customers and allows the sharing of an ultra-fast internet connection with up to five Wi-Fi enabled gadgets simultaneously.

Telstra Mobile director Andrew Volard said the device was geared towards providing customers with freedom and flexibility.

"The Telstra Pre-Paid Wi-Fi 4G gives customers the freedom to get multiple devices connected to the web so that they can work from both a laptop and tablet at a cafe, share an internet connection with mates at uni, or watch YouTube on the commute home while updating email on a second device.”

Telstra’s announcement came hot on the heels of the revelation by Optus that it will provide commuters on Sydney’s north shore and western rail lines 2G and 3G coverage on their mobile phones, tablets and laptops in the tunnels between Central station and Chatswood stations.

Actually, Optus’ isn’t the only one involved in this initiative although it did get the jump on Telstra and Vodafone, who are also involved in the process. However, Optus did take lead on this project and was the lead carrier in the project.

Telstra said that with the first stage of the mobile network extension in Sydney’s underground rail network now operational the new coverage will incorporate Telstra’s 3G Dual Channel HSPA technology delivering a typical download speed of 1-20Mbps with plans to upgrade soon to 4G/LTE technology.

The good news for commuters is that if they are on 3G then there should be no more drop outs, although this is an improvement that perhaps could have been delivered a lot earlier.

The network expansion, a joint initiative between the telcos, the NSW government and the company maintaining Sydney’s train lines, RailCorp, which will be carried out in stages, has been on the cards for the last 16 years, when Optus first offered to carry out the work.

NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has told AAP that Optus first approached the state government in 1996 offering to do the work

According to Ms Berejiklian, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of previous Labor administration which failed to take up the offer. The project was finally given the go-ahead in late 2011 by Ms Berejiklian.

Meanwhile, Optus’ parent SingTel has appointed Bill Chang as CEO Group ICT, to lead the Group’s enterprise business. His appointment, effective today, is the result of an extensive global search, both within the Group and externally.

Under SingTel’s recently revamped organisational structure, which took effect in April, the telco comprises of three customer units – Group Consumer led by Paul O’Sullivan, Group Digital L!fe led by Allen Lew and Group ICT led by Chang. The three CEOs report to Group CEO, Chua Sock Koong.

Telecom NZ safe for now; Telstra’s M2M alliance

Shifting back to Telstra, the telco’s substantial cash pile is now a little bit heavier thanks to the $660 million sale of its Kiwi subsidiary TelstraClear to Vodafone New Zealand.

Under the terms of the deal, Telstra will assume control of TelstraClear’s voice and data services, network infrastructure and the local customer base.Telstra has also entered into an agreement with Vodafone New Zealand to ensure service continuity in New Zealand for its trans-Tasman customers.

The deal is a significant win for Vodafone New Zealand, which will welcome TelstraClear’s infrastructure and the customer base in the SME and corporate space.

As for Telstra it has for the time being scotched talks that the sale of TelstraClear is a precursor to the telco launching a full-blooded attack on Telecom New Zealand. According to telco analyst Paul Budde, it was only a matter of time before Telstra washed its hands off TelstraClear and absorbing Telecom NZ makes sense for Telstra if it saw significant cost synergies in merging the two operations across the Tasman.

However, for now Telstra has said that the TelstraClear deal includes a non-complete cost which prevents any move on Telecom NZ. But Telstra has refused provide any details on the clause or for how long it will last.

Time is an important consideration here because while Telstra may have bigger fish to fry at the moment- expanding its 4G infrastructure, opportunities in Asia and becoming a full-fledged network services and solutions provider for enterprises - it is perfectly plausible that at some point Telstra may choose to have a go at Telecom New Zealand.

In other news, Telstra has joined an alliance of global mobile operators to support a single, global platform that multinational businesses will use to enable connected mobile internet-enabled devices in multiple countries.

The goal of the global alliance is to create efficiencies for manufacturers and enhance the end user experience by enabling delivery of a global product with a single SIM, eliminating roaming costs in the countries of participating operators. The centralised management of SIM status and performance of Machine to Machine (M2M) devices across the globe will be managed from a single web interface with Jasper Wireless’ Control Center

The bottom line here is interoperability and the availability of ubiquitous coverage and seamless continuity of service. The M2M service delivery platform provider, Jasper Wireless, has always advocated the benefits of interoperability and the carrier alliance is a big step in the right direction

The other telcos in the alliance include Dutch telco KPN, Japan's NTT Docomo, Canada's Rogers, Singapore's SingTel, Spain's TELEFÓNICA and Russia's Vimpelcom. This isn’t the first M2M alliance and other high-profile carrier collaborations created specifically for the sake of the machine-to-machine industry include the strategic alliance between Vodafone and Verizon; and the M2M Service Alliance between Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, TeliaSonera, Everything Everywhere and Sprint.

According to Informa Telecoms & Media senior analyst Jamie Moss, the alliance underscores the two most critical features of the M2M market, the need to establish partnership and the need to focus on one’s own core competency for the common benefit of all involved. According to Moss, there is substantial value and application potential in the M2M market with124.4 million M2M device connections at the end of 2012 and expected to generate up to five per cent of total telco revenues by 2015.