Digital Wave

December 1, 2015

Digital Wave

There’s a buzz in our region surrounding the proposal for an undersea data communications cable, that if approved will place the Sunshine Coast firmly on the map as a digital hub and internet gateway attracting global corporation headquarters. Anna Rawlings investigates.

It’s the development that could be a vital element of the Sunshine Coast’s evolving digital landscape and the region’s sustainable future, linking directly to foreign internet connectivity and global communications systems to form a strategic piece of national infrastructure.

A proposal outlining the installation of an undersea data communications cable on the Coast, was pitched to then-Communications Minister (now Prime Minister) Malcolm Turnbull at the Sunshine Coast and the New Economy Forum on 4 September, 2014 at the Sunshine Coast Airport.

Already garnering support from the private sector and some key political figures, including Fairfax MP Clive Palmer, the concept would see Australia more intricately networked with data systems in Asia, the Pacific and the United States; and if successful the project will be backed by a consortium of private and public sectors.

From an economic standpoint, global consultants AEC Group has independently forecast $700 million to be injected into the Sunshine Coast’s economy, and $1.1 billion to the Queensland economy, annually.

Driving the bid are computer engineer Gavin Keeley, who is responsible for the initial idea to bring the cable to the Sunshine Coast; and Schoolzine chief digital officer Craig Josic.

Craig (CJ) is part of the local ‘Silicon Valley’-esque movement of the Sunshine Coast.

Craig Josic

The cable will lend itself to creating a new culture in the business community and people will see the Coast as a place to do business.”

“The Coast is an innovative location and the undersea cable is a massive game changer for that,” CJ shares.

“Connectivity is really important in every business and innovation, digital and creativity transcends across all industries, and we can recognise this opportunity is unique.”

CJ imparted this message in September upon invitation from Mayor Mark Jamieson, at the Sunshine Coast and the New Economy Forum.

“Our goal as a business community and at the forum was to highlight this opportunity to approve the cable submission so we can take it to the next level,” he says.

“We have great pillars of success; tourism, agriculture and building will always be here but we always need to look to the future and global opportunities.

“Some people like to keep the status quo,” CJ admits, “but to maintain the lifestyle we have, we need to encourage different businesses and demographics.

“The cable will lend itself to creating a new culture in the business community and people will see the Coast as a place to do business.

“One of the most important things is to secure such a direct backbone, such as the cable and therefore attract a major global player to look at placing a head office here to create activity and employment, transcending the Coast to be a serious player.”

Technologist and business leader with a career in international consultancy spanning 30 years, Gavin Keeley moved to the Sunshine Coast nine years ago, and after working on similar IT and communications projects internationally, incepted the idea four years ago and is welcoming the progression of the proposal.

“What the council has done (with the forum) is take the lead in order to demonstrate political will and force the state and federal government and other political players to align,” he says.

The cable would be Australia’s sixth undersea data communications cable; Sydney has four, Perth has one and the Coast’s will be one of the world’s most modern with the last cable of this nature being installed more than 10 years ago.

With areas further north than Noosa classed as National Parks or lacking population density and shallow Moreton Bay and built up infrastructure of the Gold Coast to the south, a 1km wide and 40km long suitable corridor on the Sunshine Coast has been identified, although Fisheries and the ACMA are still assessing the intended protection zone.

“There is only one place suitable in Australia and it is the Sunshine Coast. You only have to go 40km offshore to get the Continental Shelf and it drops into 2000m of water, so there’s only a short run where the cable is exposed to shallow water,” says Gavin.

“A lot of that area is equivalent to the Sahara Desert, which is good as we don’t have to destroy any marine habitats and sandy seabeds.”

Gavin is still in the preliminary stages of liaison with cable manufacturers and a seabed surveyor, however, “we know what the cable run would look like and have prelim costing.”

The five existing submarine cables are reported to carry around 98 per cent of Australia’s international internet traffic, with 80 per cent of the content we access mostly from the US, and the NBN increasing only domestic capacity; which Gavin compares to an analogy of a busy airport hub, and he pinpoints the four cables in New South Wales as vulnerable points of failure.

“One of the reasons for wanting to put a cable into Queensland is geographical diversity so we aren’t beholden to those Sydney cables.”

The Coast’s cable will link with one of the existing cables connecting Guam to Sydney, and meet land at the Sunshine Coast Airport, reported by Fairfax Media to have an estimated cost of $200 million to implement.

As the proposal is still in the early stages, Gavin has to keep much of the technical information under wraps for legal reasons but says the cable’s build, lay and connect process is estimated to take 12 months, and will be installed by ships, of which there are only four in the world capable of such a task.

But in the meantime, “We still need local and federal government permission and legal clearance. We’ve had different political parties in different levels deliberately disagreeing with each other … what we are now trying to do is get all of them on either side totally supporting it, because then the investors will get on board,” says Gavin.

CJ is optimistic. “I believe there is a good chance it will be successful, and especially after the forum, it will set a great foundation to show we are a growing economy, our region can be a significant global player and we can make a difference in Australia’s economy,” he says.

“The next step for us is getting that message very clear through the approval process and then taking it to the next level and riding that wave.”

Stay tuned to Profile Magazine and the Sunshine Coast Council website for further announcements on the undersea communications cable development, and follow the hashtag #speeditupsunshinecoast online.

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