Digital transformation

Mapping a robust smart city nervous system

Oct 05, 2018

If data is the lifeblood of a smart city, then telecommunications networks are the nervous system – constantly humming under a city’s street network to power IoT infrastructure, connect people and keep smart applications online.

But serving as a robust and reliable nervous system capable of supporting Australia’s Smart City Plan requires collaboration and innovation at an unparalleled scale, not only from local telecommunications companies, but also from every level of government – as well as the broader region’s telco sector which is increasingly being called on to support the ever-growing demand for data streaming from Australia.

For decades, the country’s leading local, state and federal government authorities have leveraged advanced analytics software – such as GIS technology – as a foundational platform to bring their smart city thinking to life.

GIS technology connects, maps and analyses disparate data sources, enabling these organisations to weave intricate networks of intelligent applications, information hubs and smart workflows. The resulting insights provide clarity over operations, to guide leaders in making accurate decisions.

As a result, the technology is now being looked to by the government and telecommunications sectors alike to underpin a new strategic smart city priority: submarine cabling.

How submarine cables will support Australia’s smart city thinking

A submarine communications cable is laid on the seafloor between land-based stations to carry telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean. It’s an essential infrastructure for enabling smart city capabilities, inter-country connectivity and higher quality telecommunications services, such as 4G or 5G data streaming.

Managing and deploying Australia’s cables is an area of tandem responsibility. While the deployment of cables is largely managed by global ICT and telecommunications consortia, the approval of cable deployment and their ongoing protection rests with local authorities, like the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Submarine cabling requires an accurate understanding of the seafloor to inform cable and pipeline routing. This includes accessing accurate information about ocean depths and terrain, environmental change, weather forecasting, existing oil and gas pipelines, and planned infrastructure construction – to name just a few areas.

GIS technology provides a multi-dimensional, real-time view of this required information to enable authorities and consortia alike to more efficiently, accurately and safely manage this critical infrastructure.

The pedigree of GIS in underwater cable management

GIS technology is already widely used in a similar capacity by agencies such as Geoscience Australia, which recently mapped the world's deep-seabed in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Using GIS in the search for MH370 led to discoveries including new underwater volcanoes, mountains and trenches, and improved the accuracy of measuring ocean depths by up to 2,000m.

Looking ahead, these findings from Geoscience Australia will have a profound impact on inter-country connectivity and the broader submarine cable industry – as they provide clarity over the best locations for a seabed cable network, and deliver clearer insight into the strategies required to ensure these systems are protected.

Interestingly, it’s also an approach used by the world’s leading oil and gas companies, which have relied on GIS technology to plan and manage their pipe networks – both undersea and underground – for decades.  Beyond providing initial insight into where pipes should be deployed for maximum productivity and efficiency, GIS technology also provides critical insight into how to protect pipelines and ensure lifespan longevity.

Many petroleum companies also use GIS to undertake pipeline risk analysis, to understand and pre-emptively manage the threats that may cause pipeline failure – whether it’s corrosion, excavation or damage from third parties. The technology is also a key aspect of asset maintenance programs, creating automated schedules for repairs and replacement based on urgency and likely risk.

Where to next for Australia’s submarine cables?

With the average lifespan of submarine cables sitting at around 25 years, the insight delivered through GIS technology is critical to ensuring cables are protected – and their performance optimised – to ensure they remain robust and reliable infrastructure for years to come.

We need look no further than the recently announced agreement between the Sunshine Coast Council and RTI Connectivity Pty Ltd (RTI-C) for a new submarine cable landing in 2020 – which will deliver Australia’s fastest telecommunications connection to Asia – to know that this infrastructure is becoming the fundamental nerve centre of our country’s smart communities.

To learn more about the role of GIS technology in submarine cabling, speak with an expert – or for a simple demonstration into how prolific submarine cables are around the world, check out this interactive map which shows global cable connections.