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Smart cities: Changing the world with a new era of connectivity

Businesses and consumers alike have talked relentlessly about the launch of the fifth generation network (5G) in anticipation of the long-awaited death of stalling apps and that tiresome loading sign. But now that it’s here, what will 5G really mean for consumers, businesses and governments globally? Will it really signal the beginning of smarter cities and the IoT? What are we likely to see change in the next 5-10 years?

Problematic city infrastructure

The EU aims to heavily invest in technology to make cities more sustainable in view of Europe's 20-20-20 targets. But in reality, due to insufficient infrastructure in developing cities across the world, smart cities may remain something of a distant pipe dream if we do not invest heavily at the right time in the right areas.

The speed of innovation of cloud service providers such as Amazon and Google, in combination with the low cost of delivery, is creating a relevancy gap for IT departments and traditional service providers. Demands for a faster pace of innovation are rising by the day for all companies. Yet for many companies, the IT department struggles to keep pace. The network architecture is outdated, because it was never designed to meet these needs, and 70 per cent of the IT budget is used just to maintain the old infrastructure.

To realise the true smart city concept, cities need to go beyond the use of technology for basic back office processes and instead, use it for better resource distribution and lowering emissions. This means creating smarter urban transport networks, upgrading water supply and waste disposal facilities, and creating more efficient ways to light and heat buildings. And it also encompasses putting in place a more interactive and responsive city administration, safer public spaces and meeting the needs of an ageing population. Unlike previous generation networks, if used in the right way, 5G can be the answer of all of these problems.

From supporting our ideal of completely secure and environmentally friendly driverless cars that only emit water as a by-product, or devices that enable us to supervise our pets remotely whilst we are at work and keep an eye on our homes, we are in need of an infrastructure that is able to support this. The NHS is a great example of this. Pressure to meet waiting times in A&E and a surge in requirements for GP appointments is putting huge strain on resources and budget. As we all live longer, we need to better support and upgrade the NHS infrastructure before costs spiral out of control.

Yet, a smarter city infrastructure could change this. The benefits of remote healthcare are countless – from enabling, cloud-based patient records to be accessible by doctors anywhere at any time, and allowing specialist healthcare experts to thoroughly assess, diagnose and even treat patients remotely, to creating greater efficiency and ease for patients who struggle to get to surgeries or hospitals. While we still have a long way to go, a smarter infrastructure can lead to a world of possibilities.

The New IP: From theory to practice

In order to achieve true innovation, governments and businesses across all industries need to make sure they have a fast, scalable, and secure network in place, which is able to act as a platform for innovation. Without the sufficient infrastructure to cope with the demands of 5G, cities and their ‘smart’ plans will not be achievable. The New IP – a new type of network that offers a more automated and dynamic range of capabilities based on software and virtualisation – will play a major in this revolution in technology across often old and outdated city infrastructures. We need not look far for examples of success!

Unsurprisingly, Reykjavik in Iceland is one of the smartest cities in the world. Along with the rest of Iceland, Reykjavik relies on renewable hydropower and geothermal plants to provide all of the heat, electricity and hot water for its more than 120,000 citizens. The city plans on becoming fossil-fuel-free by 2050 and the final piece of that puzzle is hydrogen power. In the mid-2000s, the city began replacing its public transportation with hydrogen-fueled buses. The only 'pollution' emitted from these vehicles is pure water.

Although Reykjavik may be in the minority of cities currently well on their way, its big energy ambitions are leading the way for the rest of the world. And with the tools and technology already at our fingertips, it is clear that if we are to meet goals set out in 20-20-20 then all that’s left to do is dramatically change our thinking.

Joy Gardham, Head of Western Europe, Brocade