Being connected has become one of our greatest dependencies and as Australia’s communication landscape evolves, so too must the connectivity solutions we depend upon.

For the first time in four years, Australia’s ranking in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking rose six places to 14th in the world. Despite the overall improvement, Australia’s greatest opportunity for growth is in communications technology, where it ranked 47th.

Australia’s capacity to remain competitive in the digital economy hinges on having the foundational infrastructure to support transformative technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), big data, edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI). Elsewhere, in countries like the UK and US, enterprises and governments are embracing emerging and intuitive infrastructure models necessary to support a more connected future — shared infrastructure and access networks.

Overseas, we have seen great success utilising the shared infrastructure model across a range of industries, including transport and smart precincts. How can we learn from this and apply it locally to adopt smart technologies for public safety and enhance quality of living standards in Australia?

Using shared infrastructure to enable a connected community

Transport connectivity plays an essential role in the continuous growth of Australia.

Faced with the challenges of increased demand from passengers for continuous connectivity in underground tunnels, while also having to modernise their infrastructure, a central network with shared connectivity makes better commercial sense. Mobile network operators (MNOs) and transport operators no longer need to develop siloed projects with separate networks; the open access network model can help deploy cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity for commuters.

BAI’s 20-year partnership with Transport for London (TfL) is a good example of this. Aimed at delivering high-speed mobile connectivity across the capital, TfL’s transformation will serve as a leading example (or shining light) for other cities keen to embrace the benefits of smart city technologies, and private investments in public infrastructure can help turn their vision into a reality.

It does not stop there.

Transport connectivity will form part of a network of smart precinct developments. At the foundation of smart precinct projects is the reliance on robust and reliable communications networks to support a range of use cases that make for better places to live.

For instance, Sunderland City Council entered a unique 20-year public–private partnership with BAI to create a 5G-centric network of networks. As part of this collaboration, the partners are working closely with the University of Sunderland to deploy advanced wireless technologies to support and enhance research, teaching and student experience.

The rollout of an IoT network across the university’s campuses will improve operational efficiency for services such as estate management and footfall analytics. Superfast public Wi-Fi will be made available for students, staff and guests via EduROAM and a 5G test lab will be established, creating a hub for research into the potential uses of 5G and IoT technologies in manufacturing, health care and other sectors.

Is shared infrastructure really worth the investment?

study by BAI Communications recently found that 99% of organisations in the US and UK agree that the open access network model can help them to achieve their business and connectivity goals. In addition, the complexities of 5G networks, compared to previous generations, mean shared infrastructure is a necessity and not just a ‘nice to have’.

In the open access network model, the managed service provider for the shared connectivity infrastructure — the single entity responsible for deployment, operation and maintenance — can provide solutions that are fully integrated and ‘plug and play’, enabling high speed to market and low total cost of ownership. Not to mention, this provides customers with the focus they need to concentrate on their core business.

How do we ensure long-term success?

The reality is that many of the outcomes we desire from smart precincts might take years of work behind the scenes.

To address the many challenges faced when making smart, transformative communities, public–private partnerships are key. Smart, connected precincts are not built by governments alone; they demand the coordinated efforts of a range of stakeholders, including public sector organisations, network service providers and private businesses.

Many are eager to move ahead with new technologies and solutions, but there are network challenges to overcome first to deliver widespread benefits to citizens. Building on partnerships with a shared infrastructure or access network provider can help serve as a bridge between stakeholders and provide the kind of long-term commitment to put Australia on the path of continued success.