Making smart cities a reality

Smart cities have the ability to drastically transform the way we work, live, and play. From the way traffic is regulated to the disposal of waste, the opportunities smart cities provide are endless. Whether it is developing countries in Africa or Asia, or connecting the ‘urban unconnected’, smart cities will not only change the way communities operate, it will make huge inroads into improving the quality of life.

On the face of it, the benefits of the smart city vision are abundant, yet making a smart city a reality goes far beyond simply deploying networks and sensors. Those responsible for realising the smart city vision need to consider how to adapt existing city assets, as well as establishing the public and private partnerships required to manage connected services. Underpinning all of this is the issue of licensed and unlicensed network technologies being used to knit the smart technology together.

There has been much debate around licensed vs unlicensed spectrum and whether these technologies can coexist. While there are concerns over the network interference that coexistence will bring, the use of public WiFi and unlicensed wireless technologies will be an integral building block for smart cities. Not only is WiFi reliable and cost-effective, it is also widely available and easy to deploy. Ultimately, in our vision an effective convergence between licensed and unlicensed technologies will result in cost effective high quality broadband access for all.

WiFi: A given

Given how often consumers are already using WiFi, it’s become an almost expected service. Whether in coffee shops or out and about, consumers are increasingly expecting to use WiFi hotspots to keep themselves connected. Take London Underground for example - WiFi on the tube is now considered the norm, with access available at 250 stations. Intrinsically linked to this is having robust security protocols in place to protect data. Particularly to garner consumer buy-in, getting the security deployment right will help foster further adoption of smart city concepts.

This rise in connectivity will also have a positive impact on communication services from telecoms providers as well as cable and satellite providers, but it is important to assess which services are currently in-place, which need to be improved and which services are missing. Developing smart cities will help improve the overall communications infrastructure and as a result, lead to improvements in broadband connectivity throughout cities.

Understanding smart cities

Linked with the need for connectivity is how you establish the networks you will rely upon. This is where utilising city assets can be used to install some of the technology needed to bring together the patchwork of connectivity smart cities require. By understanding the assets available, it helps inform which public services to plan for being connected. For example, if streetlights are going to be outfitted with small cell technology, then buses operating on those routes, then access to traffic flow information can become instantaneous.

Finally, it is key to establish public/private partnership models to share the cost of developing smart cities and creating a sustainable communications infrastructure. Smart cities will never be based solely on public funding, so public/private partnership deals will need to be struck to help fund initiatives and work out roles and responsibilities. These partners will come from an array of parties, from governments to operators, wireless infrastructure providers and solution providers. As ever with successful private/public partnerships, they will need to work together to develop trust models that can be used to create a transparent way of working with responsibilities and expectations clearly defined. These partnerships, and how they grow together, will play a key role in delivering the smart cities concept.

The great unknown

The great unknown, however, is the current lack of expertise within the industry in terms of examples and deployment benchmarks. Quantifying the success of existing smart city initiatives is patchy, and there is no one gold standard everyone is striving for. Although the infrastructure is ready and tested in-field, some deployment launches are on hold because of the absence of visibility on clear monetisation plans. It is all very much a work in progress where suppliers and administrators are learning on the job.

Ultimately, developing a connected city creates the opportunity for a smart city to be able to run a more efficient and eco-friendly city, and more over running city services in a more cost efficient manner. It also means improving the quality of life for citizens around the world. Yet collaboration throughout the industry is key if we truly want to make smart cities a reality.

Shrikant Shenwai, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance

Image Credit: Shutterstock/hin255