How to turn Wellington into a Smart City

smartAnyone who missed the media storm this week after the comments from the Prime Minister on the decline of Wellington has been hiding in a cave. The Wellington Mayor was caught flat-footed by the news and that, coupled with some pretty horrific economic stats released recently for the city, seemed to validate what John Key had said. I don’t think that Wellington is dying, but I do think that it is in an unhealthy place and it doesn’t need to be.

Old school town planning focuses on the investment in hard infrastructure (roading), which I certainly argue is very important. However, in order for a city to be competitive, to attract business, and to retain talent, it must recognise that ICT infrastructure  has become as important to the city as hard infrastructure. Without that ICT infrastructure the smart city can’t be developed.

These are ICT focussed, because that’s what I do, and there are other elements to a Smart City that need to be developed as well. However, the common factor for all Smart City design and initiatives is the underlying ICT infrastructure.

Local Government needs to invest in the Network

This means that local government, from the Wellington City Council through the other local Council’s and including the Greater Wellington Regional Council need to lobby for, and invest in, network infrastructure. These could be public private arrangements. There is fiber laid all over the City already from a variety of providers already. But it has to be brought together into some kind of single, intelligent, multi-purpose IP network. It needs to be fast, broad, fixed, and wireless.

Without that network we can’t implement some of the smart city ideas we are seeing overseas.

For example, traffic management powered by smartphones. Because every smartphone is effectively a wireless sensor and source of data it can be utilised to drive behavioral change and ensure traffic flows smoothly. Some of that already exists and simply needs to be promoted and leveraged.

For example, Google Now has been available for a few weeks and has changed the way that I commute. Along with a slew of other intelligent data, Google Now knows where I work and where I live. Utilising other Google users who are driving, it analyses traffic density and alerts me when traffic is peak, or low, suggesting travel routes that avoid the worst traffic. The Wellington City Council could run a very simple campaign to promote that free service. The more users the more accurate the travel information.

Car-parking in the city can be better managed by making the information about free parks available in real-time, not just on a sign in Vivian St. That way less time is spent finding a park.

In some smart cities, street lighting can be dimmed when there is no traffic in the vicinity.

Another example is the rising practice of working from anywhere. With a solid network you can work from home and don’t need to travel as often into the city Even if you can get the majority of city workers to adopt a single-work from home day, you could reduce the traffic by 10% per year (conservatively) and as a consequence reduce carbon emissions by hundreds of thousands of tonnes. 

Without that network, the foundation of the Smart City, none of this is possible.

We need to build a foundation for public – private partnerships

The city can’t afford to buy its own fiber, copper, and wireless network. It must work with private companies to build the infrastructure.

We need to link local and central government with private companies that focus on solutions that drive economic competitiveness, create social cohesion, and help the general environment. Linking community, local government, and private enterprise (particular at an ICT layer) creates unique business models and should push private companies into investing in the infrastructure that is required to support the Smart City.

Treat the Network as any other utility service

The city needs to regulate the ICT network the same as the water, power, sewage, and other utilities. That means that anytime a new apartment is built, or house, or any other building, as part of the sub-division process ICT connectivity must also be put in place. This ensures that in the future investment is continued.

Better interaction with Council and Community

The Alcohol Reform consultation process that was delivered via Loomio was a great pilot that shows that consultation and discussion within the community can work. We need more of that approach.

Providing Cloud skills for free to the Small to Medium Enterprise

Leveraging the network we need to provide skills to small and medium size business when it comes to Cloud computing. The difference that Cloud makes to the SME is substantive. Further, if we can leverage local Cloud providers to help us with that work, again a private / public type arrangement, then we have a key differentiation from other cities. MYOB recently surveyed and discovered that SME’s utilising Cloud will outperform other SME’s who don’t.

Consider a Wellington Community Cloud

Rather than the thousands of businesses, local government, and central agencies all buying Cloud services from outside of the region or internationally, stand up local Cloud services at a subsidised rate for local business.

The cost of those services would be cheaper, faster, and keep the money in the local economy. That, coupled with Cloud skills for SME’s, would power our local economy.

Come up with a City Innovation Hub

Create a physical and virtual space that allows interaction between all city dwellers. Whether ratepayer, business, local, or central government. A place where solutions can be offered and tested by the community and new ideas can be come up with.

Free wireless everywhere, all the time

The CBD wireless project has given us some valuable statistics about how people will utilise such a network. When you travel overseas it is unusual in large cities to find dead spots or pay for wireless only zones. Even places like Ho Chi Minh have free wireless across large parts of the central city and at speeds that are five times our standard broadband.

It allows people to easily and cheaply utilise the Internet wherever they are. It also allows ratepayers who can’t afford direct access to the Internet privately, the ability to go online and learn, the ability to connect to the city.

The problems with UFB

It’s roll-out is far too slow. I live within two suburbs of the city and there is no date for my house to be able to be connected. At least, not between now and 2018.

The roll-out has to be sped up. Data is growing so rapidly that if we don’t get UFB quicker, then we’ll end up with an online traffic jam like we have today with our roads. Two stats show that every year, a household doubles its data usage and that within two-years; Cloud based ICT data will increase twelve-fold.

As an interim measure the city would be better to partner with a Citilink, who already has a massive fiber network around the region, and a good solid wireless provider who could put up wireless hot-spots to cover the city in a high-speed wireless grid.

Waiting for UFB is like waiting for Transmission Gully.


No one is standing up and making this happen or advocating it. We need industry and community leaders to start working together to make these ideas coalesce and move.


    1. “Key was right. Wellington as we knew it is dying, if not already dead. RIP old Wellington, you served us all well. But clear the decks because a new Wellington is emerging.” – I love it. Great Blog.

  1. +1, and ++1 to the points around network and community cloud
    Great post Ian..
    It does need more than network though.. while ‘’ approach for the wellington ‘network’ is right and proper, it needs a light hand on the tiller..and of course transformation of business to make use of it (OASIS TGF offers up a template for that).
    To do that requires, umm, a city capable of understanding ‘strategy in a post internet era’..
    I haven’t seen a groundswell that at the top echelons of management pretty much anywhere in Wellington..
    That said, I admit to probably having ‘tinted spectacles’ on as I write this post from Silicon Valley..:-)

    1. Thanks for the feedback Colin!

      I think you are right, there must be a few good women and men who can help kick start the idea.

      I did a little research around Silicon Valley before I posted, it would be interesting to do some more I think.

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