What is special in Adelaide is the vision of the City of Adelaide authority which encompasses both business and public sector outcomes
It was New Year and we were in the middle of nowhere. Deliberately. The nearest small towns were 20 miles away, whichever way you drove. There were only a few dozen houses in the village, whose haphazard walls had been standing at least 200 years, including The Old Mill that we had rented for a few days, the nearest pub was a 20-minute walk, and everything around us was farmland. Idyllic and isolated.
Too isolated, it turned out. Not for us, but for those who were trying to live there. I thought I would be getting away from my passion of infrastructure for a few days but found myself in a conversation with a local resident whose earnest knocking on the old wooden front door was to inquire if we would sign up for a community broadband scheme. Despairing of the failure of either the government or BT to connect them up to the modern world, a small committee had been formed to try to do it themselves. They were negotiating the right to lay fibre optic cables across the nearby farms and securing advanced commitments from local residents to subscribe to the service for the first year, for £30 a month. The venture was being backed by Broadband for the Rural North Ltd (B4RN), a community benefit society, which has already connected more than 3,000 properties in hard-to-reach places.
Fast forward 2 months and nearly 9,000 miles to Adelaide in South Australia, where a similar level determination and innovation is delivering something quite extraordinary, but driven by the same underlying logic that in today’s world without high-speed digital infrastructure a community will die, as those who are able will flee to where they can connect.
10 Gigabit Adelaide is a programme to connect the entirety of the City’s Square mile and parts of North Adelaide with a grid of fibre-optic cable, giving every business the ability to access 10 GB per second capacity connectivity. But it doesn’t just do that. It creates the potential for Adelaide to become one of the world’s smartest cities.
The technology to do that is nothing special. What is special in Adelaide is the vision of the City of Adelaide authority which encompasses both business and public sector outcomes, and the business model which they have adopted to make it happen.
It is a perfect example of a public-private partnership. The City of Adelaide has signed a long-term contract with TPG Telecom, who will lay and own the fibre optic. Fortuitously many of the streets of Adelaide have capacity in the conduits running beneath them, so, for the most part, there is not the cost and inconvenience of digging up streets involved. The City’s ownership of the conduits means that they retain the long-term public interest in the infrastructure and when the current contract with TPG Telecom expires they can negotiate an extension or let a concession to a new provider. The contract with TPG Telecom means the private sector is meeting much of the installation cost as well as providing the service.
The intention is to provide a connection to 1000 building’s in the Central Business District, and more than 3,000 businesses within these buildings are expected to sign up for the service they can then access. The roll-out has only just commenced, before Christmas, and so far 40 buildings are on the grid.
The team driving the programme are visionary and enthusiastic about the potential impact. To quote Peter Auhl, City of Adelaide Associate Director Information Management, “Imagine having a business streaming real-time medical imagery to our hospitals without having to be co-located, or legal firms having a private secure and reliable link across the city to each other and to the Courts and Government agencies. When geography no-longer matters, it’s Adelaide!”
As a proactive and efficient approach to maximising business opportunity in Adelaide, that would be impressive enough. But what the City of Adelaide has also done is reserved a chunk of the capacity in the network to deliver a smart city.
The technology that sits behind the allocation of the capacity in the fibre optic cable means that different users, whether public or private, have their own separated WLAN channel, with guaranteed service levels. So the demand by one user will never degregate the service to another.
So the digital web that the City will, within a couple of years, have across the entirety of the centre, will allow it to run one of the smartest transport systems in the country. In the first phase traffic lights, sensors, cameras and LED street lights can all be connected in. In the second phase, the City is already planning for connected and autonomous transport, using the fibre optic for the high capacity data transfer between vehicles and a central traffic management hub.
Transport for London has been talking about a similar vision that would allow complete real-time understanding of movements in the city, the ability to intervene to optimise the capacity in the city, and eventually predictive analytics to anticipate congestion and other disruptions in advance.
Trials of autonomous vehicles have already started by Aurrigo, subsidiary of the UK’s RDM group, in the Tonsley Innovation District, backed by more than AUS $1m from the South Australian government’s Future Mobility Lab fund. And French group Navya is due to start trials of autonomous shuttle buses as Adelaide airport.
I love the fact that Adelaide is taking such a proactive approach, and that it has found a way to deliver best-in-class, and first in Australia, digital infrastructure without simply throwing public money at the problem. It is a template that cities everywhere could, and should rapidly, copy.
Richard Threlfall is Global Head of Infrastructure at KPMG. He has over 20 years’ experience in infrastructure, policy, governance, strategy and financing, advising both public and private sector clients in the UK and overseas.
If you enjoyed this, you may wish to view the following:
SmartCitiesWorld City Profile – Adelaide
“Adelaide is the fifth most livable city in the world,” says Peter Auhl, the city’s chief information officer. “Our ambition is to become the first really livable, citizen-centric, smart city of the 21st century.”
Adelaide trials smart city tech
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