The digital city network and the quest for innovation


Connecting cities and communities across the world through a fibre-optic network is now a vision Toronto shares with other global metros, including Los Angeles, Singapore and Dublin.

That goal seemed a little closer as Toronto recently became the newest member of the Digital City Network (DCN).

DCN’s member cities are working together to build an optical fibre network that will one day enable transmission of digital data across the globe. Members of the network share ideas and collaborate on initiatives related to this goal.

Fibre optics, a branch of applied science and engineering, uses optical fibres made of glass or plastic to guide light along its length by internal reflection.

Being part of the DCN will have a tremendous impact on Toronto and will open doors to new opportunities, says Rob Berry, manager of sector and strategic partnerships in the economic development, culture and tourism division at the City of Toronto.

“The DCN is a vast umbrella – a catch-all – for new innovative technologies that are coming along,” he says.

Long-distance digital data transmission will be of immense benefit to the city’s educational and cultural sectors, says Berry, but in particular, it will advance the digital, information communications technology (ICT) and new media arenas.

Eventually, he says, use of traditional film stock in movie production, for instance, will give way to digital movie cameras and digital editing. This is particularly important given the collaborative nature of the film industry where “if you’re a producer, you want to see ‘daily rushes’ to keep track of a director’s progress.”

“Daily rushes” is industry parlance that describes film footage sent to producers each day from the movie set, which may be located in another city or even another country. This footage keeps the producer abreast of what’s been accomplished.

Transferring daily rushes, in digital form, through a global optical-fibre network will no doubt expedite the process, Berry says.

DCN is led by the Institute for Next Generation Internet (INGI), that’s part of San Francisco State University. INGI’s mandate is to develop and adopt the Internet infrastructure of the future. It’s “the next architectural layer of network [and is] based on synchronous light paths,” says Joaquin Alvarado, director of INGI.

With synchronous light paths – or optical fibre channels – users can transfer uncompressed high-definition video, for instance, via multiple channels, says Alvarado. “In addition, it’s more secure than the Internet’s [current] TCP/IP infrastructure because it’s based on end-to-end dedicated connections.”

“A visual effects producer in San Francisco working with a film producer in Toronto needs to see things in real time on screens that are 5,000 miles apart. They have to be able to trust that what they’re reviewing is the same on both sides,” he says.

Besides developing the “foundation” for the Internet of tomorrow, INGI builds tools for digital communication, and facilitates community relationships and projects, such as DCN.

The aim is to create a community of like-minded regions, says Alvarado. “While there are a number of discussion topics, questions around the infrastructure of fibre optics, or wireless in municipalities is unique at the moment. If we’re going to get it right, we’re going to need to depend on shared intelligence among cities.”

Alvarado says the city of Toronto has not only a “world-class ICT sector, but [also] a deep capacity around new media.”

Fibre-optic communications across the world is a definite advantage to the movie industry, given that the production side of things has become more collaborative and distributed, says Bill Roberts, director of product management at Montr

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