Smart City 1.4: ICT Infrastructure

mobile-city“There is a correlation, based on studies in other cities, between broadband uptake and an improvement in socioeconomic conditions. There’s little to indicate that Wellington will be any different. I’ve been a huge advocate for broadband and free wifi from day one and my position has not changed. The growth in the wifi programme shows it was the right thing to do. Increasing our internet infrastructure is saying that Wellington is open for business on the tech side. If we don’t do it, Christchurch’s rebuild will see to it. Wifi needs to be expanded and the sums required for each new area is, according to the figures a current provider gave me, $250,000. It’s actually more effective than we think. This needs to go to areas where funding has hurt our libraries for starters, with no cap on educational websites so young people can explore those readily. Many sites in the dot nz space can be delivered without international traffic charges. It also needs to grow to areas where the rich–poor gap has widened, to bridge the digital divide”- Jack Yan, Mayoral Candidate.

In order to unlock a Smart City an ICT infrastructure layer is critical. It is what connects the various elements of the Smart City to each other and to the Smart Community Cloud. Without the City investing in this infrastructure, it is left to the mercy of large corporations and Central Government, who are not insentivised to build City specific ICT infrastructure. In order to unlock ICT infrastructure there are a number of problems that need to be overcome.

Most of the local Council ICT organisations are in the pre-Cloud state. They are internal organisations, as opposed to outsourced, they still buy their own infrastructure, as opposed to utilising Cloud, and they still operating in an old school IT Department fashion, as opposed to embracing ICT service management.

To highlight this, when Nick Leggett, Mayor of Porirua, joined the council the first thing he did was try to access his social media accounts from his provided PC. They were all locked down. The IT Department’s answer to this was to put an external internet connection into his office so he could access those sites, rather than taking a modern approach recognising that social media is a powerful tool that should be available to everyone. This kind of Internet censorship is endemic in organisations.

The bandwidth that is available to Wellington City is locked up by large telecommunications corporations in much the same way electricity is locked up by the energy market.

Bandwidth, latency, and data caps are all poor when measured against developing countries. We see speeds overseas of 1Gb while in New Zealand UFB (fibre) and VDSL (copper), barely reach 100Mb with the default standard still being 10Mb. Internationally, there are no data caps while in New Zealand we are constrained with the average being around 30Gb per month.

The rollout of UFB is painfully slow and based on recent timeframes is likely to be finished somewhere in the year 2200. That’s not a mistype.

“I live in the heart of Te Aro, surrounded by some of our fizziest ICT companies, and yet UFB is still at least a year away for this area; I know, because I contact my provider regularly.” – NIcola Young, Candidate Lambton Ward

The free Wi-Fi on the CBD edge is a good start, however it is slow, not easy to use (with all that advertising), and doesn’t provide enough coverage to the city.

For the lower socio-economic parts of the city, there are no free-wireless, high-speed nodes available in urban centres or libraries for example. It is important that internet access is made available for everyone as development tool and way to interact with the City.

“Free WiFi should be available at all public libraries; it’s pretty much standard in most major cities (even places like Gisborne!). Internet access is a vital learning tool, so free access in libraries would be a great help to those on lower incomes – and that includes our older citizens, especially those on fixed incomes.  It’s ridiculous that libraries include DVDs of movies (in competition with struggling retail outlets – such as the wonderful Aro Street Video), but don’t provide free WiFi.  After all, it’s cheap!” – Nicola Young, Candidate Lambton Ward

Lastly, ICT infrastructure is not recognised as a critical piece of the City’s infrastructure. This means that in any kind of planning, it is missed altogether.

The Council must lead by example. In order to unlock the ICT infrastructure we need there are multiple angles of attack, however at the center of it, the Council ICT organisations must lead.

This means that their own organisations must move from the traditional IT Management model of command, control, owning everything, and censorship to one that is open, transparent, utilises modern technology such as Cloud computing and is Service focused rather than compliance focused.

By doing that, a lot of money will be unlocked that can be reused to invest in infrastructure and supporting services such as the Community Cloud. The cost savings in Cloud cannot be under-estimated. Snapper, as an example, pays less than $100 per month for their ICT infrastructure which is in the Cloud. While Snapper is smaller than the City council, obviously, the costs saved by Cloud Computing are in the order of 75%, conservatively if you buy Cloud in New Zealand and .

The traditional IT approach will fight this kind of move tooth and nail. Excuses will erupt from them in the form of security, privacy, data sovereignty, control, viruses, spies, you name it they’ll come up with it.

The reality is that Cloud computing is not only cheaper, it’s far more secure and flexible. When you point out the total cost of ownership across all ICT services in moving to cloud averages a 75% reduction in cost, you have a compelling argument.

Regardless, the attitude and culture of internal ICT needs to change, if nothing else, in order to support the goals of a Smart City. If it doesn’t, then it will simply become a pack of naysayers that slow the process down.

Wellington City needs to lean on the telecommunications providers to increase the speed of UFB and VDSL delivery. They have a certain weight and it is ridiculous to think that even the inner suburbs of Wellington don’t have an ETA for fibre deployment.

Wellington City also needs to consider investing themselves in local ICT infrastructure in a public private arrangement, potentially with a provider like City Link who is local, has a large network already, currently provides the free Wi-Fi, and is well established in the city and surrounds.

We need free, high-speed, uncensored Wi-Fi right through the CBD. Other cities in the developing world have this by right. It supports public transport, tourism, start-ups, commerce, flexi-working, smart applications, and delivery of web services by the City to its ratepayers. It would probably cost around $250,000 to implement. If we can afford to pay $250,000 for a few trees on Taranaki St, or $1,000,000 upgrading an alleyway, then surely we can afford free Wi-Fi for the CBD.

Further, working with a City Link, it would be possible to create free Wi-Fi spots in suburbs for similar costs. Certainly in and around libraries with the potential to broadcast to large slices of the suburbs from those locations. UFB and VDSL are seen as the physical answer to all our bandwidth woes, but wireless is up there in terms of speed as well.

This uncensored, free access will provide nodes for teleworking and access for the lower socio-economic areas. All of this connectivity is what makes a Smart City start to hum.

Just like roads and other infrastructure, ICT connectivity is critical can we need to start investing now.

If we want smart management of our public transport and traffic flows, we need wide wireless coverage.

If we want all ratepayers to have access to Council services all the time, we need wide wireless coverage.

If we want innovative businesses and start-ups, we need wide and easy connectivity.

If we want to retain and attract our ICT industry, we need wide and easy connectivity.

It will take years to build the infrastructure and we need to realise that we aren’t dinosaurs living in the eighties but that we actually made it to the twenty first century and found, surprise, its connected.

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