When the Australian government’s National Broadband Network was announced in 2009, Ipswich partnered with surrounding regions to create what they called the Western Corridor National Broadband Network in order to attract national interests and investments. This early start paid off well for the council as it became one of the first recipients of the NBN – and even more importantly of the FttH version of this infrastructure
In 2011, Ipswich published a 20-year economic development plan designed to meet its challenges and prepare for the ones to come. It forecast the addition of 292,000 new residents, who will require an additional 120,000 jobs, and will live in a network of distinct communities interwoven with centres of employment, recreational facilities and green space.
This included plans that were already underway, such as the Digital Hub project and Digital Enterprise program, aimed at equipping citizens and businesses with digital skills. It also coincided with Ipswich launching a major redevelopment of its city centre, where digital technologies are used to attract tenants and to improve public safety. Green standards are making the centre one of the most sustainable in Australia.
Another interesting initiative involved the council, in partnership with RDA Ipswich and West Moreton conducting independent mobile coverage testing throughout the region by sending testing vehicles across more than 2,300 kilometres of roads. This exercise paid off by bringing objective data to bear in their negotiations with the mobile carriers about where towers should go to provide the broadest possible coverage.
Now in 2016, Ipswich has good urban mobile coverage and two-thirds of the citizens have access to a fibre-to-the-home network, these developments have been a catalyst for the development of their smart city concept. The concept is led from the top by the CEO and the mayor, and is widely supported throughout the community. Council has taken a holistic approach and have developed a smart city plan that takes into account safety and privacy, smart compliance, IoT and M2M (mobile automation), transport applications around numberplate recognition and data analytics. They have selected Accenture to assist them with the development of a blueprint for their smart digital city; key elements of the plan include, open government, open data, data analytics and a intelligent smart city platform.
With the change in Federal Government in 2013 not only the future of the development of the NBN in Ipswich has come under fire but also their early initiatives in the Digital Hub. Regarding the latter, council has taken the initiative to evolve this concept on its own and it has turned the old City Fire Station into a new digital innovation hub. At the start, in March 2016, the hub – known as Fire Station 101 – opened with 20 start-up companies. Innovation and Success are the key themes here.
The result of this initiative will be measured by how many of the start-ups will attract funding that will see them growing into larger organisations.
While hard results are difficult to measure council believes that its early start with the NBN is already showing results. The combination of affordable housing with NBN connections is attracting a younger generation (the city is getting younger), and the uptake of the NBN is above the national average. It is the need for capacity within households that is driving the uptake of the NBN. Small businesses are also embracing the NBN where it is available and this has a positive effect on real estate values and business occupation levels.
However there are concerns with the NBN Multi Technology Mix, which will mean different NBN access infrastructure across different parts of the city, creating a situation of ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in terms of parity of high speed broadband infrastructure availability and access.