High-tech shortages loom as coronavirus shutdowns hit manufacturers


John L Hopkins, Swinburne University of Technology

There are now more than 45,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, and the disease has caused at least 1,115 deaths. The impact of the virus is now reaching way beyond public health: China is at the heart of global manufacturing, and as supply chains suffer, panic is beginning to set in.

In many provinces across China the government has urged hundreds of millions of workers to stay home to help reduce the spread of the virus. As a result, many factories have stayed closed since the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, halting the production of products and parts destined for countries around the world, including Australia.

Apple is one of the most high-profile companies affected, with its manufacturing partner Foxconn hitting a lengthy production delay, but they are far from alone.

Global supply chains, global problems

The sectors hit hardest appear to be high-tech electronics, pharmaceuticals and the automotive industry.

Globalised supply chains and just-in-time manufacturing mean many seemingly unrelated products are vulnerable to pauses in the flow of goods from China.

It only takes one small missing part to bring entire supply chains to a standstill. If a tyre manufacturer in the United States doesn’t receive valves from a supplier in China, a car plant in Germany won’t receive any tyres, and therefore can’t ship finished cars to its customers.

Something similar happened to automotive giant Hyundai, which had to suspend all operations at its manufacturing plant in South Korea due to a lack of parts from China.




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Even tech companies such as Samsung, Google and Sony, which have moved their factories out of China in recent years, are being affected. They still rely on China for many components such as sensors or smartphone screens.

It is not just large businesses that will feel these effects. Many small businesses around the world also source products and parts from China.

The supply of these is now uncertain, with no sign yet as to when normal service may resume. For products and parts that are still being manufactured in China, new enhanced screening measures at all Chinese border crossings are likely to cause further delays.

How will Australia be affected?

The effects of the coronavirus are also being felt in Australia. China is our largest trading partner for both imports and exports. According to the United Nations Comtrade database, Australian imports from China were valued at A$85.9 billion in 2018. The biggest product categories were electronics and electrical equipment, making up A$19.8 billion, and machinery, which accounts for another A$15.7 billion.

Moreover, 90% of all Australia’s merchandise imports are from China, and half of those are engineering products such as office and telecommunications equipment.

Besides the well-publicised impact on airlines, universities and tourism, Australian construction companies are warning clients of upcoming project delays as a result of forecast disruptions in materials sourced from China. Aurizon, Australia’s largest rail operator, has said the coronavirus will delay the arrival of 66 new rail wagons being made in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the outbreak.

Expect shortages of high-tech goods

Product shortages could also soon be visible on retailers’ shelves, with electronics stores such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman expected to experience significant disruption to their supply of computers, televisions and smartphones.

When shortages like this occur, customers will struggle to buy the products they want, when they want them. The only channels available might be third-party resellers offering highly inflated prices. In extreme cases, supply shortages like these can also lead to panic buying and stockpiling.

More uncertainty ahead

It is commonly said that “when China sneezes, the world catches a cold”. So what is the long-term diagnosis for the coronavirus breakout, and what will the economic symptoms be?

As so much is still unknown about COVID-19, with no vaccine or formal means of preventing it spreading having emerged yet, it’s too early to predict what the full impact will be.

For many industries the next few months will bring high levels of uncertainty, with disruptions certain to continue, before recovery programs can start to gain traction.

This is obviously a worry for many organisations, but could also be a period of new opportunity for others, as the world comes to terms with this latest global health crisis. Supply chains that are agile enough to react quicker than their competitors’, or those with more robust risk management plans, might find themselves gaining greater market share as a result of this crisis.The Conversation

John L Hopkins, Theme Leader (Future Urban Mobility), Smart Cities Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Telstra’s new high-tech payphones are meeting resistance from councils, but why?



Telstra’s new digital advertising payphones can be found at Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall. In this photo, the older centre booth sits between two of Telstra’s larger high-tech booths.
City of Melbourne

Mark A Gregory, RMIT University

Australia is witnessing the first major redesign of the payphone booth since 1983. But Telstra’s new vision is meeting resistance from some councils, and the matter is in the courts.

In an effort to make payphones relevant to the needs of modern Australians, Telstra’s revamped payphones feature mobile charging, Wi-Fi access through Telstra Air (free or via a Telstra broadband plan, depending on the area), and large digital advertising displays.

Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore described the new booths as “a craven attempt” to profit from “already crowded CBD footpaths”, and a “Trojan horse for advertising”.




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Under existing Universal Service Obligation (USO) agreements, Telstra has to provide payphones as part of its standard telephone service. The USO is a consumer protection measure that ensures everyone has access to landline telephones and payphones, regardless of where they live or work. Telstra is the sole provider of USO services in Australia.

The USO is funded through an industry levy administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. This means registered carriers with revenues over A$25 million per year contribute to the levy, including Telstra.

The face of the new Aussie payphone

In a blog post last March, a Telstra employee said the new “smart payphones” provided emergency alerts, multilingual services, and content services including public transport information, city maps, weather, tourist advice, and information on cultural attractions.

The booths are 2.64m tall, 1.09m wide, and are fitted with 75-inch LCD screens on one side. In 2016, 40 payphones were approved by City of Melbourne planners and installed over the following year, marking the start of Telstra’s plans for a nationwide rollout.

Telstra’s submission to the city claimed the booths were “low-impact” infrastructure and therefore planning approval was not required, in accordance with the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth).

In 2017, Telstra and outdoor advertising company JC Decaux announced a partnership to “bring the phone box into the 21st century”.




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It would initially have 1,860 payphones upgraded in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. These five cities represent 64% of the country’s population and 77% of advertising spend.

Taking matters to court

Earlier this year, Telstra’s application for 81 new booths was blocked by the City of Melbourne, and the city commenced proceedings in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have the booths redefined as not being low-impact.

Given the council allowed 40 booths to be installed in 2017, it’s unclear why its position has since changed.

In May, Telstra hit back by starting federal court proceedings against the council in an effort to overturn prior proceedings. In June, the Brisbane and Sydney city councils joined the City of Melbourne as co-respondents.

Melbourne Councillor and Chair of Planning Nicholas Reece said the new payphones would create congestion on busy footpaths, describing them as “monstrous electric billboards masquerading as payphones”.

He said the booths were “part of a revenue strategy for Telstra”.

But Telstra claims the new payphones are only 15cm wider than previous ones. A company spokesperson said the extra size was necessary to accommodate fibre connections and other equipment needed to operate the booth’s services.

Who pays for, and profits from, payphones?

In 2017, a Productivity Commission inquiry into the USO reported an average annual subsidy of A$2,600-50,000 per payphone, funded through the industry levy.

But the levy doesn’t cover the cost of installing and providing advertising on booths. Also, Telstra’s advertising-generated revenue doesn’t directly offset the cost of installing and operating the payphones.

Telstra has advertised on its payphones for the past 30 years. But display screens for advertising on new booths are 60% larger than previous ones.

The City of Melbourne is concerned because commissioned research by SGS Economics and Planning estimates a 10% reduction in pedestrian flow because of the new booths. This would happen as a result of people getting distracted by the payphone advertising, and would cost the city A$2.1 billion in lost productivity.




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That said, federal legislation doesn’t prevent Telstra from placing advertising on payphones. So the existing court case could hinge on Melbourne city council’s argument that by increasing the size of digital displays, Telstra’s new payphones are no longer low-impact.

The outcome should be known early next year.

Do we still need payphones?

At a time when consumers and businesses use about 24.3 million mobile handsets, it’s reasonable to question whether payphones are still required.

The number of payphones in operation today is sharply down compared with the payphone’s heyday in the early 1990s, when more than 80,000 could be found across Australia.

But there’s strong evidence they continue to supply a vital public service.

Telstra’s payphones operate in many small regional communities such as Woomera, South Australia. It has a population of less than 200 people.
georgiesharp/flickr

Currently, Telstra provides more than 16,000 public payphones. Last year, these were used to make about 13 million phone calls, of which about 200,000 were emergency calls to 000.

So regardless of the verdict on the Telstra case, the public payphone is and will continue to be an iconic and integral part of our telecommunications landscape.The Conversation

Mark A Gregory, Associate professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vertical retirement villages are on the rise, and they’re high-tech too



File 20180614 32304 wub31n.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
High-rise retirement homes in the city are the future for baby boomers.
from www.shutterstock.com

David Tuffley, Griffith University

It is no secret people are living longer, thanks to advances in medical technology. Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts we are approaching a point of breaking even – where for every year lived, science can extend lifespans by at least that much. And more than 80% of Kurzweil’s predictions have so far proved correct.

But length of life and quality of life are not the same thing. For good quality of life as one ages, there must be optimal retirement options. The default is to stay in one’s current home for as long as possible, or downsize. Some will settle into the quiet life of a retirement village on the urban fringes.




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But a growing number of retirees who are leading a more active retirement, perhaps still working part-time, want to live closer to the bright lights of the city. It is here that the next generation of retirement living is becoming established in cities around Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US.

Driving the trend are well-heeled baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) who have been using technology at home and work for years. For some, technology has been integral to their lives. And it seems it might be integral to the future of retirement living.

Vertical retirement communities

The chair of the NSW inquiry into retirement villages, Kathryn Greiner, recently recommended integrating designated seniors’ apartments in medium or high-rise residential developments where people of all ages live. Experts have said such retirement communities are the “way of the future”.

But the future is already here, as greater numbers of vertical retirement communities in high-rise apartment buildings are being built in inner-urban areas around Australia. They offer high levels of luxury with ready access to the kinds of amenities inner-city dwellers have grown accustomed to.

High-rise retirement villages would typically be equipped with various smart technologies that connect with the larger technological infrastructure of the city.




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Similar to luxury hotel suites, residents would have a spectrum of in-house services and entertainment options presented via internet-connected smart TVs.
Multimedia suites would be there for augmented or virtual reality experiences – travel and education being among them. In-house cinemas would host movie nights.

The future of retirement living has sophisticated in-house cinemas included.
from www.shutterstock.com

Health care

The way we’re heading, technology-enabled, proactive health management will likely be built into the infrastructure of these retirement villages. It will allow people to stay healthy and live independently at an advanced age, forestalling the time when a move to aged care becomes necessary.

The health-maintenance technology available today means retirees hardly need to leave home for a checkup. Telehealth gives on-demand access to doctors via the internet. Visiting nurses have their role in looking after the elderly at home.

Then there are the dozens of smartphone apps that monitor vital signs, some of which send timely warnings before something becomes a problem.

And while high-rise living may not offer the same access to the outdoors for walking and exercise, technology has other options.

“Exergames” – video games that enable physical activity – are a segment of the computer game industry known to be beneficial to people of all ages, including the elderly. Exergames lend themselves well to vertical communities by not needing much space. They are played either alone or with friends in self-contained virtual environments.

In the future, yoga can be practised in a self-contained, virtual environment.
from www.shutterstock.com

Apart from the physical benefits of exercise, exergames have also been shown to improve mental alertness, balance and coordination, all of which contributes to fewer injuries common to the elderly, such as fractured hips from falling.




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Good help is not hard to find now with assistive technologies like Google’s Duplex. These personal assistants fit right into the high-tech home and allow people, wherever they live, to stay independent for longer.

The assistant can keep your diary, make appointments over the phone, buy flowers and have them delivered, turn on the lights, call a taxi and more. Autonomy aids like this could delay the transition to aged care.

A win-win

High-rise apartments are a thorny issue in suburban neighbourhoods, regardless of who is living in them. There are already some objections to high-rise aged-care facilities. But these mainly come from existing low-rise residents who are not happy to have any high-rise buildings in their neighbourhood.

Some are concerned that high-rise communities will lead to social isolation. Traffic congestion is also a concern.

When managed well in an architectural and town planning sense, vertical communities offer high-quality living while occupying a smaller urban footprint than a hundred detached dwellings. They can help reverse the urban sprawl of Australian cities, which are among the largest and least densely settled in the world. We love our big suburban houses, but they do consume vast tracts of countryside.

The ConversationPeople want to live out their days in the freedom of their own home, not in an institution, no matter how benevolent. And it’s in the national interest to relieve pressure on the public health system. Emerging health-optimising technology and vertical communities can enable this. It’s a win-win.

David Tuffley, Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics and Socio-Technical Studies, School of ICT., Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.