Barbara Noonan, the company's head of Public Sector in APAC, outlined one particular experiment carried out in Sendai, Japan, a city that was hit by an earthquake in 2011.
She said that technology of this kind did not have to wait for the full advent of 5G. "There's a lot of sensors today. There's a lot of data that's out there. A lot of that is not being collected and analysed," Noonan said during an interview on the sidelines of the CommsConnect event in Melbourne last week.
Noonan described how Sendai had been made a centre for doing research on public protection using drones. "We have been working with them for a number of years and a few weeks ago we had the opportunity to do a proof-of-concept of a private LTE drone-based solution with two drones where we were doing different use cases."
The second drone had a high-definition camera and thermal sensing that was carrying out a routine to find missing people. "So I mean this was obviously an exercise, but it was done with the city of Sendai and they had their first responders there and they felt very positive about the impacts of what could be done.
"They were quite surprised at how audible the sound was from the warning. For me, that was a great example of how technology can be used on a private LTE network that can be set up very quickly and really give you the early warning of disasters or the monitoring or the finding of lost people."
Jackie Jarvis and Barbara Noonan.
Asked how much human involvement these trials had, Noonan said the sensors on drones were improving and could increasingly detect different chemicals in the air and quality issues. With high-definition cameras and thermal imaging also improving, the type of analysis that could be effected would grow, with the AI that is used also playing a role.
Nokia had an interesting demonstration of driver behaviour on display, where the kind of behaviour exhibited was analysed with regard to things like accelerating, braking, making turns and so on.
The Nokia officials said this could be used to advise companies that have fleets about the way their drivers react to situations and reduce the public impact of their behaviour - once again, a public safety application.
Nokia's head of Marketing and Communications Jackie Jarvis, who was also present at the interview, said the company had already secured 50 5G commercial agreements globally, with Optus, Spark and Vodafone New Zealand being three examples from the APAC region.
"I think it's fair to say, and I think it's been generally reported, that Australia and New Zealand are pretty progressive when it comes to 5G," she said. "There's a lot of leadership being shown in 5G in the Asia Pacific and Japan. I think you've got a very very progressive 5G nation in South Korea where they just had a massive milestone in terms of consumer subscribers for 5G. Of course, Nokia has got a lot of business in South Korea as well in terms of 5G.
She said Japan was also an example of a country making good progress on 5G. "And I think whether that's operators looking at consumer use cases like home broadband, like Optus, for example, whether they're looking at mobile on the go, some operators are looking at both.
"I think momentum is building. I think there's still some operators that still making a decision about what they're going to do. But from our point of view, it's a very positive outlook."
Neither Noonan nor Jarvis wanted to comment on the politics around 5G and politely declined comment on the Huawei issue.
Asked about a probable killer app that could drive 5G adoption, Jarvis said use cases and applications would emerge over time. "I don't think anyone's talking about a killer app and I think that's fair enough because there probably isn't one," she said.
"It's probably been the same with 3G, 4G and now 5G going forward. It's almost like... there's use cases and applications we don't even know about now, they will emerge over time as the networks are actually deployed. But I think it's also clear that enterprise is going to have a key role to play [in 5G take-up] and the whole industry 4.0."
Said Noonan: "You know, we're in what I call that early phase at the moment where certain countries are moving forward with 5G as already listed. My interest is in what I call that next wave, when the 5G is deployed and you then start looking out at the industry use cases and the whole industrial IoT [spectrum].
"When you do look at the significant increase in broadband availability and the reduced latency, topics such as autonomous vehicles, autonomous driving, particularly in industrial applications, where you can improve safety so much by making those autonomous [come to mind]. Once you move into the 5G era, they become much more viable.
"There's the beginnings of them today. But then I think we move down a path where it's a lot more viable, industrial manufacturing [will improve] with the robotics and the precision that will be possible through 5G. We can look at remote health as another area. For me, the passion and the interest is a little bit further forward as to what will be possible.
"I think it will be a whole range of things, rather than a killer app. You know, I'm not sure that we have that any more of what that killer thing is, but I think there's a range of things that will come out and we will see operational technology and ICT technology coming together and bringing the best of both and that's what I think is exciting."