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The future of smart cities and the role of Wi-Fi

(Image credit: Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

As the Internet of Things (IoT) gains traction and continues to expand, it is impacting every area of our lives and quickly turning “smart cities” from a futuristic idea into a reality. Across the globe, cities are becoming more connected, collecting data everywhere to help planners make smarter decisions and deliver new services. 

A report by McKinsey (opens in new tab) estimates that by 2025, our planet’s urban population will grow by a staggering 65 million people per year. The pressure is on to meet the needs of this changing demographic, and smart cities are going to play a crucial role. The smart city industry is tipped to be worth $400 billion by 2020, with 600 cities across the globe generating 60% of the world’s GDP by 2025. 

With 34 billion devices expected to be connected to the Internet within the next three years according to market analyst reports, applications are continuously being innovated to transform the way services are delivered. Approximately $6 trillion (opens in new tab) is being invested in the development of these applications in what is referred to as the “next Industrial Revolution.” The vision is to create cities where everything around us is seamlessly connected into one manageable framework. Using integrated urban information for better city management and optimisation of resource consumption, smart city technology aims to increase productivity and reduce costs, to improve the lives of citizens and visitors.   

As technology continues to advance, cities are required to plan for devices and new uses for data. Before they are able to start meeting those demands, they need to plan for capacity and speed to ensure a high-quality experience. A robust wireless network is a key part of this preparation – it is the “glue” that holds smart cities together, enabling effortless sharing of workloads with datacentres and bridging connectivity across wired and wireless. So, what can we expect from the smart cities of the future?   

Smart utilities 

In a smart city, lighting will automatically be switched off when it isn’t needed. It will be able to detect when people are on the street and turn on and off accordingly, reducing energy waste. In the near future, we can expect to see more city planners equipping their streets with smart lighting that uses sensors to track when there is high or low public footfall. 

Future smart traffic management is likely to be a core feature of smart cities. This includes centrally-controlled traffic sensors and signals automatically regulating the flow of traffic in response to real-time demand, with the aim of smoothing flows of traffic to reduce congestion.   

New technologies will play an important role to help cities of the future promote sustainable energy use. For example, “smart bins,” that alert collectors when they need to be emptied are being used today and we can expect to see more of them crop up in cities across the world as they embrace smart technology.  

Digital signage 

There is a variety of applications for digital signage to make information more accessible, which can be used for a variety of business services, such as displaying local business information, adverts or promotions for tourist information. Interactive digital kiosks can also be deployed, providing people with information at their fingertips. Digital signage can also be used for infrastructure services.  Some cities currently use them to display pollution levels and to communicate emergency warnings. They can also be used for displaying real time transport updates, warning of congestion based on data collected from sensors in the city.   

Engaging tourists 

When travellers arrive from abroad, the first thing they do is switch off their data subscription.  However, this is actually the precise moment when they need it the most. Data is essential to help them navigate the city, providing access to information such as maps and local amenities. They will always be looking for Wi-Fi to enable their journey to continue smoothly. 

Smart cities will be equipped with the technology to help tourists make their way with continuous connectivity. Whether it’s used for accessing local bus timetables on their mobile devices or downloading maps to local museums, city-wide Wi-Fi is key to connecting people to knowledge. In today’s world, access to the Internet is considered a necessity. Connectivity should not drop as people move between shops or hop on and off transit.   


Revenue-generating applications will transform the way businesses in smart cities communicate with their customers. In addition to an increased use of digital signage, to communicate offers and promotions, we can expect to see an increased use of beacons, which send notifications to customers’ smartphones as they enter a store.   

It will also transform the way people work and tech-savvy commuters will benefit from smart city technology to work on-the-go.   

Bridging the digital divide 

Many of us take Internet access for granted. The reality is half of the world’s population does not have access to the Internet, making this a digital divide. Smart cities will help address the economic and social inequality that this divide creates, by providing Internet access to all citizens.   

Bridging this divide will help bring communities closer together and encourage citizens to play a more active role to local councils. Flawless connectivity will improve city infrastructure and make it possible for citizens to engage with their community, such as removing the roadblocks that complicate access to local services.   

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the vision of the future is still emerging and we have yet to see what a true smart city will look like. Smart City IoT is still an emerging concept, with lots of ideas but only a few complete deployments. Wi-Fi is the platform that will provide the foundation for smart city success, as it has immediate applications and can effectively connect a vast range of wireless technologies that will be involved in creating smart cities. As Jesse Berst, Chairman of the Smart Cities Council puts it – “fast, reliable broadband is the backbone of a smart city. It’s Job One.” 

Nick Watson, VP EMEA, Ruckus Wireless (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock

Nick Watson, VP EMEA at Ruckus Wireless, has over 30 years’ experience in the networking industry, including roles at HP and Cisco.