David Birrell: Capital must become a gigabit city

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Our capital city is and should be a place people aspire to be. It is one of the world’s great cities and should be mentioned in the same breath as New York, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin etc. However, communications is increasingly at the heart of our cities. Globally, places like Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tokyo regularly lead the challenge for most connected city. Closer to home, London and Amsterdam are also very much up there.

As businesses and people value city centre locations more and more, it is great to see the many exciting developments taking place and the potential for Edinburgh to be a leading gigabit city.

This is being supported with the investment plans for 150 kilometres of ultra-fast pure fibre broadband. We need to future proof our capital as the thirst for greater bandwidth grows. This includes exploring and testing next generation opportunities as demonstrated by the success of our li-fi centre at the University of Edinburgh where engineers are using visible light to provide more channels of communication.

Much of the infrastructure in key cities today is ill-equipped to handle the growing needs of a modern and connected society. We must continue to develop our infrastructure way beyond the current focus of improved connectivity, with the ultimate goal of developing an “intelligent” city where data is used to change the future rather than just to understand what has already happened.

Edinburgh has the chance to gain a competitive advantage. There is fantastic work being done. The University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics is one of the world’s best regarded and Edinburgh Napier University has a similar offering for informatics and digital innovation.

These courses attract talent which makes the city more appealing to businesses and consumers. Of course, the provision of broadband is one part of the mix. If we are to become an “intelligent” or smart city we also need to gather data and make it work for us. This too is under way. Mass transit is the city’s lifeblood, people, moving from one place to another. For example, with 4G connectivity, being smart on the move is easy in Edinburgh and this has helped drive 250,000 downloads of the Transport for Edinburgh app and we are well over the 1.5 million mark for the use of mobile or m-tickets.

Edinburgh is famous for leading change and the developments in technology and data usage will be no exception. Our strength and depth of talent, our international reach and alliances across business, education and culture provide great opportunities. We have the ambition and with greater collaboration we have every chance of being a leading “intelligent city” in the future.

David Birrell is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce