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Invest in Digital Infrastructure for a Sustainable Future
By Peter Auhl, Principal, EQI Consulting
1. Telecommunications InfrastructureAs roads are being built and as pavements are replaced, cities should consider what conduit and draw cables are required to provide a subterranean home for the most critical telecommunications infrastructure, FIBER. If you aren’t doing this now, you should be. It’s a relatively inexpensive task to deploy conduits as works are occurring – far less expensive than trying to retrofit at a later date. Fiber is just at the beginning of its innovation curve. We are already starting to see speeds over 100 Tb/s (that’s 100,000 Gb/s)! Speeds of this magnitude have no use case currently, but I can imagine a world where transferring data reliably at hyper-fast speed is as ubiquitous as smartphone use is today. And in that world, the cities that have the best connectivity will reign supreme. There are other benefits to fiber, like the ability to split white light into separate wavelengths. This creates security at a “physics” level, rather than just at a digital scale. Each colour bounces down the fiber at a different wavelength, offering the potential to have multiple services traversing the same fibre without compromising each other. And what about 5G? I’m asked about it a lot. While there are lots of positive use cases being marketed, the jury is still out for me. The hyper-fast wireless connectivity sounds appealing, but its detrimental impact on the public realm concerns me a lot. 4G signal is distributed from significantly fewer points than 5G, which relies on many, many more repeaters positioned closer to the ground to deliver its signal.
Digital infrastructure investment should not only address the specific needs of a community but also provide the foundation for realizing economic opportunities, addressing environmental problems and offering great living spaces for future generations
2. Data and Integration PlatformsIf data is the new oil, and I believe it is, then all industry and government organizations should be preparing to realize the benefits that it can provide. Data generation is now growing at more than two quintillion bytes per day. So how do we make sense of this data? What bits (pardon the pun) do we keep and what do we send to the recycle bin? Data and integration platforms are an important part of the solution. Central curation and synthesis of data provide improvement opportunity insights for how we talk to our vendors and their systems; how we internally digest these insights simply; and how we securely and reliably share data with others.
3. Community GridsSomething that I am still learning about, a bit of skunkworks project for me. As a former resident of Adelaide, I faced some of the most expensive energy prices in Australia. Power delivery seems to be one of those wicked problems globally. I am very proud of Adelaide’s leadership role in driving the use of renewable energy. Our innovative approach attracted some headline-generating friendly competition between Tesla’s Elon Musk and Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes. They both saw South Australia as the right place to build the world’s first battery banks to store the energy captured from our sun. By creating an innovation environment, South Australia is also attracting companies like 1414 – innovators who are pioneering storing energy in molten silicon. As solar and other renewable technologies become more prolific and storage becomes more affordable—let’s think about how we can create systems that keep that energy close to where it is produced and is ultimately used. I’m watching with keen interest the use of Blockchain allows energy to be shared, traded or sold to those nearby. Digital infrastructure is the lifeblood of all these environmental and economic opportunities, yet funding it, particularly in government is difficult as there is no ribbon-cutting moment. In 2016, the Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Martin Haese, challenged me to “make the intangible tangible, Peter.” It was great advice and something I believe we should be mindful of as we try to influence investment in digital infrastructure. In Adelaide, we delivered digital infrastructure that addressed a key pain point for existing businesses and repositioned Adelaide as an attractive option for interstate and international businesses. That’s tangible. Tech for tech’s sake is rarely the answer. Digital infrastructure investment needs to address the specific needs of the community it intends to serve. It should provide the foundation for realizing economic opportunities, addressing environmental problems and providing great spaces to live for generations to come.