Cisco joins developer in Alberta real estate project

An Edmonton bedroom community will be the next area the Canadian division of Cisco Systems Inc. hopes to use to expand its global strategy of getting closer to the real estate industry.

It is partnering with a developer, Rampart Group, to be part of a team designing a what it calls a state-of-the-art sustainable subdivision for about 10,000 people in the city of St. Albert, Alta., which could include a fibre optic network delivering 1 Gigabit per second connectivity to every residence and business.

Called Avenir, it would have a “data utility” capable of handling not only high speed Internet, television and voice through a single pipe in homes, there would also be a smart work centre for businesses with videoconferencing links to oil sands fields in the north of the province.

Avenir would be “not only a place to live, but a supplier of a professional and intermediate administrative workforce for northern Alberta resource development,” says project manager David Bromley.

Ideally, it will produce much of its own energy, reuse water, produce food using hothouse technology and have energy-saving buildings.

The data utility will be a digital highway that will offer a range of advanced applications from providers such as medical, home automation and educational services.

“This goes well beyond telephony and television and high-speed Internet,” says Rick Huijbregts, vice-president of Cisco Canada’s Smart+Connected communities division.

Cisco’s role is to design the infrastructure that will be laid under the office units and projected 4,000 units of housing to be built over at least a decade as well as create the business case that says residents will pay for the capacity that’s envisaged.

Huijbregts said his company could also benefit in other ways: Perhaps building and running a data centre in the community that would supply the surrounding region, as well as selling its home automation, digital signage and physical security solutions.

Avenir is also another opportunity for Cisco Canada to get closer to engineering and constructions firms, Huijbregts said. “We see Rampart as a jumping board for that.”

However, while Rampart hopes construction will start late next summer, there are still many details to be worked out, acknowledge Bromley and Huijbregts.

For example, while the ultra high-speed fibre optic would be brought to the land where homes are being built, will developers want to include costly wiring to support it? Will a 1 Gbps pipe be necessary? Are providers willing to offer advanced data services, what are they, will people be willing to buy them, and how much will they pay?

Bromley is confident the cost to builders “would not be significant,” but the business case has yet to be finalized.

Although it has been consulting with several residential developers, Avenir is the first residential project Cisco Canada has a contract with, said Huijbregts. Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] has created a consulting division and a number of real estate-related IT solutions with which it is going to the industry around the world. It’s latest effort is in Toronto, where Pricewaterhouse Cooper Tower has just been finished. 
Cisco’s involvement in Avenir came by a chance meeting with Rampart Group CEO Gerry De Klerk and Bromley, Huijbregts said. After talking about Rampart’s plan, Cisco signed on. Other partners include the National Research Council, the National Institute for Nanotechnology in Edmonton and Toronto’s MaRS technology incubator.

Rampart Group is a Vancouver-based company owned by the De Klerk family that has real estate and feature film arms. The Web site of Rampart Capital says the division acts as an intermediary between companies seeking capital and institutions and private investors who have capital to invest.

Bromley said Rampart hopes Avenir is the first of several advanced communities the company hopes to develop.
According to city councillor Cathy Heron, the project is moving along. The city has rezoned the land Avenir will be built on and is now waiting for the developer to file an area structure plan. That has been promised by the end of this year. A nearby landfill has to be dealt with to get provincial approval, but Heron said in an email the clean-up should be easy.

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