Optus rolls out smart cells for Sydney botanic garden

Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden and Domain are banking on Optus' small cells and ENE-HUB's smart pole designs to bring 4G coverage, free Wi-Fi, and digital services to the area.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Optus has partnered with Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden and the Domain to provide free Wi-Fi and expanded Optus 4G coverage via small cells installed inside 40 LED lighting poles, which it said will prepare the area for "5G technology and beyond".

Optus invested AU$5 million to install the small cells -- believed to be from Nokia -- with the coverage trialled during New Year's Eve. During this test, more than 7,000 users simultaneously used the free Wi-Fi across the botanic garden and the Domain.

According to the botanic garden, the coverage stretches across 63 hectares near Sydney harbour, and is enabled by "smart cells" inside of "smart nodes". The garden and the Domain are also aiming to bring smart city capabilities to the space, executive director Kim Ellis said.

"We have over 5 million visitors from all over the world and host up to 20 major events with over 1 million patrons annually. Smart cities are changing the world and the way people connect with one another -- physical-digital spaces are now a standard and expected when people are visiting Sydney, especially international tourists," Ellis said.

"This is only the start of our digital transformation. We want to become the most innovative and progressive botanic garden in the world."

The smart node poles were designed and installed by ENE-HUB, and also include ranger assist buttons, power points, electric vehicle charge points, LED lighting, and beacons. Each smart node has access to 24-hour power and fibre.

The garden has also released an app allowing visitors to embark on self-guided audio tours with augmented reality (AR); find cafes, bars, restaurants, and amenities inside the garden; and integrate with the Apple Watch for real-time navigation.

"Optus ... customised a solution that meets their needs today and prepares them for the digital future, like 5G," Optus MD of Networks Dennis Wong said.

"Putting on our innovation hat, we have selected small cell so that we can integrate the solution into a bespoke smart pole design so there is no impact to visitors' visual experiences in these beautiful surrounds while enjoying the great experience on their mobile service."

Optus has also been installing small cells across Australia, including in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia, and will be providing 49 small cells under round two of the federal government's mobile blackspots program.

The miniature base stations increase capacity without the expense of having to build new mobile towers.

The telco is planning to roll out 5G services in 2019.

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