Digital city to expand horizons

(Australian Associated Press)


A year after the Commonwealth Games brought the world to south-east Queensland, the Gold Coast has doubled down on its status as Australia’s leading digital city.

The city has expanded its telecommunications infrastructure to establish the country’s largest and most diverse Internet of Things network, which will galvanise the delivery of council services.

Water meter reading, garbage collection and public wifi are among the beneficiaries of the upgrades. Twenty-one kilometres of carrier-grade fibre optic network will handle the heavy lifting, and will be expanded to 37 kilometres later this year.

It’s a new frontier for the Gold Coast, which is one of few councils in Australia to hold an Australian Communications and Media Authority carrier licence.

“We see the network as a foundation, a piece of infrastructure that allows us to do other things,” says City of Gold Coast Chief Innovation Officer Ian Hatton.

“The infrastructure was put in place back when we developed the light rail network in 2008-09, and as we were preparing for the Commonwealth Games in late 2015 we realised it was an opportunity to update the wifi network.”

The primary function of the upgrades was to double the city’s CCTV network and make the jump to high definition, but council foresight led to the installation of the 864-core fibre optic line – the highest amount available at the time.

“We put in as much as we could,” Hatton says. “It’s only now that we’re expanding it, but even so it’ll pay for itself within seven years.

“The decision-makers should be applauded for their vision because it’s allowed us to do something really special.”

The Surf Network public wifi delivers speeds of 1Gbps, which is 60 times faster than the average internet services in the city.

“Tourism research highlights a perception among tourists that public wifi in Australia is generally pretty poor,” Hatton says.

“We have 12 million visitors a year, so we had to buck that trend.”

It may be unusual for council to get so heavily involved in telecommunications, but Hatton says the Commonwealth Games made it imperative.

“The BBC and the Seven Network ran their Games telecommunications through our network. We had 25,000 public users a day throughout the event. Post-Games it’s down to 8,000, but it’s growing month on month.”

Following the Games, council saw the potential to put the powerful network to use in other ways.

“When you’ve invested so heavily in infrastructure like this, there has to be a return on that investment for residents. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing,” Hatton says.

The network features 600,000 sensors and real-time management tools that can provide residents with up-to-the-minute information on water consumption to help keep bills low.

“We saw an opportunity to improve council services, so we’ve successfully conducted field trials of IoT initiatives like smart water and smart bins. The feedback is positive, and the fibre optic backbone makes it possible.”

According to Hatton, the Gold Coast’s biggest challenge was to prove it could run such a network.

“We had to show the telecommunications industry we knew what we were doing, and to find a way to work with them that didn’t compromise their commercial position,” he says.

“But so far, the industry is impressed.”

It’s a constant in the 21st century that technology forces change in the way we live, but Gold Coast residents may see that change a little sooner. The IoT may be high tech, but Hatton says it’s just another tool to help council do its job.

“We’re focused on our niche, and that’s to try to solve problems for people on the Gold Coast.”


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