Many smart city projects still feel like proofs of concept, rather than transformative projects. The 10 Gigabit Adelaide Project, by contrast, has demonstrated tangible benefits — improving the lives of citizens and businesses and generating an economic return for the city. It has also put in place the underlying connectivity required for future smart city initiatives.

For these reasons, Which-50 has selected Peter Auhl, the former CIO for the City of Adelaide who conceived and delivered the 10 Gigabit Adelaide Project, as our Digital Innovator Of The Year in the inaugural Which-50 Awards. Auhl is now the CIO of Central Coast Council and Principal of EQI Consulting.

The awards, the winners of which we are announcing today, recognise the efforts of Australian businesses and digital practitioners who have succeeded in making life fast, simple, and easy for their customers.

The Digital Innovator of the Year award is the major award, and also the only individual honour. It was designed to recognise the power of leaders to drive transformational change.

What is the 10 Gigabit Adelaide Project?

The City of Adelaide’s “Ten Gigabit City” project — a public-private partnership between the City of Adelaide and TPG Telecom — involved the creation of a ten-gigabit fibre-optic network, giving more than 1000 buildings and 3500 businesses in the CBD and North Adelaide cheaper and faster connectivity. The first buildings were connected in March 2018.

Auhl came up with the concept at home in the Adelaide Hills four and a half years ago, after spending three months speaking to businesses asking what problems they were facing.

The project set out to address a specific problem businesses experienced every day around 4pm: their productivity plummeted as kids got home from school and fired up Netflix, YouTube and other streaming services.

Peter Auhl

Peter Auhl, Which-50 Digital Innovator of the Year

“Part of the problem with the internet is it is an unmanaged environment,” Auhl told Which-50.

“The congestion on the internet was causing problems for companies that were trying to do extremely advanced activities, like advanced manufacturing or movie production and medical technology transactions. Using the internet was just no longer reliable.”

Auhl strongly believes that digital and rich connectivity through a city is the cornerstone of economic development, and the 10 Gigabit Adelaide Project was conceived to take as much traffic as possible off the internet, and onto private fibre connections.

He told Which-50 this opens up a range of possibilities for all kinds of businesses. For example, medical imaging companies could transfer image files to hospitals in real time, or production companies could collaborate on a movie across the CBD without having to use the internet.

“In its essence, it’s about how could you get as much of these business transactions away from the congestion of the internet and on to private links, and keep that separate from each other,” he explained. “10 Gigabit Adelaide is infinitely scalable. As technology advances, this network will continue to increase its speed and capacity.”

Renewed investment

Independent assessment of the 10 Gigabit Adelaide Project estimates that the project will result in $3 billion of economic impact, and will create over 2500 jobs in the first six years.

According to Auhl, the first customers saw a 90 per cent drop in the cost of their internet service. They were paying around $9000 a month for a 500 megabit per second service, and with 10 Gigabit Adelaide they purchased a 2 gigabit per second service for $798 — with speeds that are four times faster for a fraction of the cost.

“This disruption in price point was another deliberate consequence of the strategy itself,” he said.

The Project has been globally significant in repositioning Adelaide as a destination for data-hungry companies.

Rather than attracting tech start-ups to the city, the plan is designed to benefit big companies that require high levels of connectivity — such as Boeing, which requires these service levels to run flight simulations for training.

Global special effects giant Technicolor also recently selected Adelaide for its Australian headquarters, adding 400 jobs to the city.  And Lot Fourteen is set to house the Australian Space Agency and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Lab.

Commercial property leasing companies have also cited Ten Gigabit Adelaide as the reason for returning investment, including the sale of three major buildings in the CBD.

“This shows the power of digital connectivity and digital investment and its ability to attract investment, jobs and economic growth to a city that was already beautiful, but was geographically challenged.”

Smart city

The City of Adelaide will derive an ongoing income from the infrastructure, but the deal also includes 300 end-points of fibre for the city’s own use for the life of the project at no cost.

“Not only did it deliver economically and financially, but those 300 end-points of fibre will also prevent future costs for the city as they further explore smart city type technology,” Auhl said.

For example, the end-points provide a solution to Adelaide’s ageing connectivity infrastructure in the traffic signaling system. It also creates a presence at these intersections for future projects beyond the measurement and management of traffic — including things like CCTV, environmental sensors or people-movement sensors.

“To have that level of connectivity through the city — to be able to connect to traffic signaling systems or free wi-fi networks or smart city IoT devices — that public-private partnership was really the cornerstone of being able to think laterally about how the city can partner with a commercial company and get a multitude of different and varying benefits from the project,” Auhl said.

The city has also rolled out 3000 smart sensors through the city, and a comprehensive free wi-fi network. The infrastructure is able to provide additional services to citizens throughout the city, such as the Smart Parking Project and the Economic Insights Dashboard.

“There are a number of projects that have been delivered on the back of this project or in line with this project to make sure it’s not just about connectivity,” Auhl said.

Solving the Central Coast commute

Auhl joined the Central Coast Council as CIO in November 2018 and is presently working with the Council’s CEO, Gary Murphy, to explore how technology can solve a different problem for the local community.

“In excess of 40,000 people a day leave the Central Coast and travel to Sydney,” Auhl said.

Those people spend in excess of two hours commuting each day, leaving home when it’s dark and arriving back home in the dark, cutting down on the time they spend with their families and precious time with their children. They’re using around 250,000 litres of fuel a day doing their commute, which is the equivalent of 500 tonnes of carbon or burning 3.2 rail cars full of coal a day.

“A lot of things have come out of this particular study that we’re undertaking at the moment around this commuting population that are pretty confronting,” Auhl said.

While the Adelaide Project was about driving reinvestment in the city, the Central Coast is concerned with getting a portion of those 40,000 commuters to stay — to do their work from the Coast rather than having to travel to Sydney every day, creating a better life for them and their families.

“It’s a problem that’s there to be solved,” he said.

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