Broadband is the “killer app” for modernizing cities large and small: analyst

Whatever happened to the promise of the “gigabit city?” There are still barriers to fast, available, and consistent broadband connections but this is slowly changing, notes one industry observer.

According to broadband industry analyst Craig Settles, high-speed broadband is the “killer app” that will kickstart innovation and growth within North American communities.

Broadband industry analyst Craig Settles,
Broadband industry analyst Craig Settles

Settles will explore the topic in depth at next month’s World Future Cities Summit conference in Toronto. The two-day event will explore the “gigabit city movement” concept and how IT can lead the way in terms of innovation and improving the general quality of life throughout municipalities. This includes encouraging faster adoption of network fibre development to enable emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), mobility, web-based applications and the cloud.

It’s a bit of a “myth” that gigabit networks aren’t required by citizens, Settles said. Access to high-speed and reliable gigabit broadband connections have the potential to stimulate greater innovation within various fields, including government, medical and the education sector. It also has the potential to boost economic development and reduce operational costs within communities.

The continued growth of Google Inc.’s network plan to establish fibre optic pipes within selected U.S cities has spurred industry development and interest for the technology, said Settles. Google Fibre, the company’s fiber-to-the-premises service was first deployed in the Kansas City metropolitan region and has expanded to cities including  Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh–Durham, Nashville, and Salt Lake City. The technology provides an Internet connection speed of up to one gigabit per second (1,000 Mbit/s) for both download and upload, which is competitive with traditional cable and ISP providers.

“Google…started the ball rolling and people started to take things very seriously. The presence of Google has changed the broadband discussion rather significantly and I’m assuming this has a residual effect in Canada,” Settles said.

In Canada, incumbents are tentatively looking at high-speed Internet rollouts: Bell last year announced a $1.4 billion strategy to provide its Gigabit Fibe service to more than 50,000 businesses and residences in Toronto with plans to expand to an additional 1.1-million users within 36 months.

That said, there are still barriers to adoption and cities are still faced with unique challenges and issues, Settles noted. This is true considering that traditionally, network projects are driven by infrastructure vendors.

He argues, however, the economic development, local government, and health care delivery can be the “killer apps” for community growth. These are all enabled by the presence of enhanced broadband capability, he said, adding with this in mind, communities across North America should already be developing a long-range plan for network growth. This includes establishing public-private partnerships and future-minded business models, he added.

Once the civic mindset switches from simply ensuring citizens have Internet access to an “always-on, always-connected” broadband model, this can help enable greater innovation, he offered. This includes taking advantage of gigabit network capacity to facilitate emerging tech and critical technologies such as 3D printing and tele-health applications in both urban and rural locations.

“People are finding validity in the business case…this is no longer pie-in-the-sky,” Settles added, adding that there is now a greater push to move things forward by stakeholders within the financial community, particularly “venture capitalists, financiers, and other monied folks who are paying attention to broadband.”

Better networks can mean better care, particularly in small and remote communities — broadband essentially levels the playing field by way of fostering Internet-enabled applications and communication, said Settles.

The World Future Cities Summit takes place this June 9-10 at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Ryan Patrick
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