Thursday, 18 March 2010

Communications Innovations: CSIRO must be given greater Oz status

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is arguably one of Australia's greatest assets. Yet little more than lip service tends to be given to this organisation even when its innovations are ground-breaking. To make matters worse, Australia rarely takes advantage of its discoveries in the early stages of adoption.

Traditionally, Australia runs a trade deficit in telecommunications equipment and has been a technology 'taker' since the Canadian Samuel McGowan brought the telegraph with him to Victoria in the 1854. McGowan had to improvise on several occasions to overcome the challenges of deploying telegraph technology where there were manufacturing skills and capability were rare. 

Given that for most of Australia's telecommunications history, the telecoms equipment ndustry existed as a monopsony, it is little wonder that the industry never really developed. But it makes little sense why that should be the case now, unless Australia will simply focus on patenting new innovations.

For example, last year the CSIRO won a settlement for the use of its use of wifi technology by Hewlett-Packard, with many other well-known global communications companies in the firing line. The patent was registed in 1996 with hardly a sigh from the Australian community about the technology's potential.

Today, the CSIRO is producing another world's first with the miniturisation of a radio receiver onto a chip 5 x 5mm in size. The CSIRO has developed the chip with Sappicon Semiconductor which has its headquarters in Sydney. These chips will replace receivers used in radio astronomy which are currently the size of a fridge. 


The National Broadband Network could assist with the development of an innovative Australian communications equipment industry. Given its reputation,  the CSIRO is well-placed to lead such an Australian revolution.

But the old debates over Telstra (not that Telstra is a laggard) and whether we need broadband at all are quietly ignoring a weak area of Australia' seconomy that makes no sense at all. In the meantime, Australians should be very proud of the CSIRO and give this national asset the status it deserves.

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