Three words to describe Edmonton? Young, educated and growing
Entrepreneurs and innovators are flocking to the City of Edmonton as it solidifies its identity as one of Canada’s first smart cities, powered by a billion-dollar fibre-optic investment from Telus.
There is an untold story of Edmonton— Alberta’s capital city of nearly one million people, nestled in a deep valley bisected by the magnificent North Saskatchewan River. It is a story of the internet and connectivity, and the rich relationships now developing within its young and growing entrepreneurial population as it begins to emerge as one of Canada’s first smart cities.
Leading this transformation is Don Iveson. Six years ago, when he was first elected Edmonton’s mayor at age 34, Iveson saw the future – a lively, prosperous city bursting with innovation and opportunities. A centre where citizens, government, schools and businesses are connected to the world by powerful, next-generation networks that send stream and share virtually unlimited amounts of data at lightning speed.
“The kind of connectivity that will enable people to be productive in very, very different ways into the future,” said Iveson in a recent interview. “And so having an edge on that is good for our workforce, good for our productivity and good for investment.”
Helping Iveson achieve this vision is Telus and the company’s decision, in 2015, to make Edmonton its first fibre-enabled city following a billion-dollar investment in its PureFibre network. Each hair-thin fibre-optic strand vastly boosts internet speeds to homes, businesses, hospitals, universities and high schools, and will support data demands for generations to come.
Critically, the network gives the city a technological and economic upper hand when it comes to taking full advantage of the impending global 5G revolution. New 5G wireless networks – the backbone of smart cities and a forecasted 30 billion life-changing connected devices to come – are expected to create more than 250,000 permanent jobs and contribute an estimated $40 billion annually to Canada's economy over the next few years.
Telus has now committed another $16 billion to Alberta over the next five years to connect even more homes and businesses to PureFibre, improve access to healthcare technology, support Internet of Things capabilities and agricultural tech, and prepare the province for the introduction of 5G.
With fibre already in place, Edmonton is well positioned to lead the way in Alberta’s digital economy, says Iveson.
A high-tech haven
It’s a long way from where the city was 25 years ago. For most of the 1990s, confidence was low as the province’s resource-based economy struggled. Edmonton’s population growth was flat. One year it actually shrank. Iveson himself experienced friends leaving the city in search of better opportunities.
Those who stayed have worked hard to make Edmonton the booming hub it is today. Now, halfway through Iveson’s second term, people are flocking to the city as it evolves into a globally competitive high-tech haven.
At the heart of all this change are the people. In so many ways, Iveson reflects the city that is Edmonton today. He is young – Edmonton is one of the youngest cities in the country, and in 2019, the YouthfulCities Urban Work Index ranked it as the number one city for youth to work in.
Education levels are high, and its educational institutions, such as the University of Alberta and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), are recognized for academic excellence in areas, including artificial intelligence, computing, tech and machine learning. Edmontonians have among the highest disposable incomes in the country; housing is affordable, taxes are reasonable, the food and arts scene is lively and newcomers are made welcome.
“People can afford to have fun here and grow their businesses,” said Iveson.
A new feeling of optimism
Improbable Canada Inc. is doing just that. The U.K.-based games tech start-up opened its North American headquarters in Edmonton just 15 months ago with Aaryn Flynn, a computer programmer, Edmontonian and former leader of a video games company, as its general manager.
From one employee, Improbable has already grown to 60 and is investing millions of dollars as it develops a new, online role-playing game with its technology. The goal is to create virtual worlds that allow for thousands of players to join and experience together.
Internet speed, capacity and reliability are key to Improbable’s success. In fact, without a fibre connection, Flynn said the company wouldn’t be in Edmonton. With high-speed bandwidth from Telus, for example, he and his team are able to seamlessly connect with Improbable’s head office in London, U.K.
“We use pretty high-end equipment to do our video conferencing. There is nothing to suggest we’re not right next door to them in London,” he said. “We get beautiful, high-definition imagery – it’s 30 frames a second and butter smooth.
“We look and feel like a high-tech city when we connect in and do these things. It makes me proud.”
That fibre is widely available to homes and businesses in Edmonton is also a boon to Improbable. The company is about harnessing computing resources in the cloud. That means the more bandwidth potential users of the service have, the more advantage they can take of Improbable’s platform.
“We are definitely big believers in seeing high-speed bandwidth and low latency connections penetrate more for consumers,” said Flynn. “We’re an adjacent business to what Telus is doing with fibre, but we are huge beneficiaries of it and big supporters of it.”
It’s success stories like Improbable, its decision to locate in Edmonton and its ability to instantly connect and compete globally that prove to Iveson this city is on the right track.
He can feel the confidence returning to the city and solidifying around the emerging areas of technology and innovation. There is a new feeling of optimism – and Iveson finds inspiration everywhere, even in something as simple as the city’s airport code: YEG. For him that means “young, educated and growing.”