An ambitious fibre-optic network rollout is creating headaches for the national broadband network (NBN)’s prospects among Adelaide businesses, with 1,000 CBD buildings now able to access 10Gbps interconnections via the TPG Telecom-driven Ten Gigabit Adelaide (TGA) rollout.

Conceived by city officials in late 2017 as a “gamechanger for the city of Adelaide”, the network began its rollout in 2018 and had connected 400 buildings by mid 2019, with free connection and prices starting at $399 per month.

Its rollout was extended to North Adelaide in February with the project team initially expecting to reach the 1,000-building milestone by June, but the project is commemorating that success now after a chaotic and disruptive year.

Reaching the 1,000-building mark will “usher Adelaide into a new era of connectivity,” Adelaide lord mayor Sandy Verschoor said in a video marking the on-time, on-budget delivery of a project that she called “a significant strategic commitment by the City of Adelaide”.

“Establishing the 10Gbps Adelaide network today aligns with our city’s history of thoughtful innovation,” she said, calling the network “a boon for local businesses and… a compelling factor to attract business from interstate or around the globe.”

Adelaide’s “proactive approach” is a “template that cities everywhere could, and should, rapidly copy,” KPMG global head of infrastructure Richard Threlfall has said in flagging the success of a project that has been particularly well-timed given Adelaide’s play to position itself at the centre of Australia’s fledgling space industry.

The Australian Space Agency’s (ASA’s) Adelaide headquarters were unveiled in February and are due to be completed next year, by which point the widespread availability of 10Gbps broadband – which is targeted at enabling fast point-to-point network connections between businesses, rather than just providing massive Internet download pipes – is expected to have further helped attract associated businesses to the CBD.

Flush with success

Given its limited geographical scope, the TGA network is hardly going to become a complete replacement for the NBN.

However, by cherry-picking the customers at the city’s business heart, widespread network adoption could create a major headache for the national network builder – which recently announced it would deliver 1Gbps fibre services to millions of premises as it seeks to improve its financials in the runup to its mooted privatisation.

It’s not the first time an Australian city has tried to pre-empt the NBN – witness Brisbane’s abortive 2010 plan to roll out fibre through its sewers, a $600m investment that was cancelled months later as concerns emerged about chosen supplier i3 Asia Pacific.

TPG’s Adelaide fibre rollout, however, came at a more fortuitous juncture as the company was ramping up its fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB) ambitions, which it hatched in 2014 as a way to circumvent the NBN’s then-nascent footprint across the country.

Although the ACCC declined to entertain complaints that TPG’s FTTB rollout would constitute anti-competitive ‘cherry-picking’, Turnbull-era regulatory changes were intended to force TPG to be transparent about its rollout – which at the time was recognised as a competitive threat to the NBN’s own plan to target high-density residential and commercial buildings.

TGA’s entire business strategy is based on a similar premise, which means NBN could find itself marginalised in the rush to network Adelaide’s most bandwidth-hungry businesses even as an ambitious $551m growth program actively works to attract business to the Lot Fourteen precinct that will, among other things, house the ASA.

TGA is not, however, without its controversies – most significantly, that its use of network equipment from blacklisted Chinese network vendor Huawei has raised concerns that it may pose a security risk to the ASA and other sensitive industrial and military applications.

Regardless of its eventual user base, the success of the TGA project has turned heads worldwide, with Adelaide the first non-US member of the two dozen-strong US Ignite Smart Gigabit Communities (SGC) project – a consortium of like-minded local governments that have taken their fibre futures into their own hands.

Sharing of use global cases and resources could help the network evolve into a core element of Adelaide’s business future – and Verschoor isn’t shy about singing the praises of the “scalable and affordable” network, remembering to aim a backhander at the NBN.

“With ultra-fast, low-latency connections,” she said, the TGA network “can support the digital transformation of businesses moving from onsite servers or storage to cloud-based technologies.”

“The possibilities for these businesses are unlimited, with a data connection uninhibited by the restrictions and congestion often experienced with traditional networks.”