Digital transformation has jumped forward five to seven years with the events of the last 12 months. While 2020 was a difficult year for many reasons, it has provided some signs of encouragement when it comes to the development of smart cities. The Government’s plans to equip 20 percent of the UK with gigabit connectivity by 2025 may seem a tad ambitious, but that’s not to say the UK is standing still. Businesses up and down the UK have had to think in a digital-first way in order to function effectively through the pandemic. The steps taken to enable remote working and to futureproof operations will serve the public sector well as third parties look to provide the supporting network architecture for smart cities.
The reality is that talk of smart cities is not new. Our urban hubs have been going through a period of transformation for some time; from the implementation of connected sensors that alert councils when the bins need emptying, to the rising popularity of dockless bike-share schemes. This is only the tip of the iceberg however, with many more intelligent offerings set to be developed in the coming months and years such as driverless cars and VR-integrated infrastructure.
Although a smarter future must be encouraged, we must also remember that data-intensive, smart applications will put increasing pressure and demand on the networks that support them. Therefore, in order for smart cities to become a reality, it will be vital that the necessary infrastructure exists and is deployed on schedule. This is especially important as existing infrastructure like Fiber to the Cabinet (FTTC) and 4G networks will struggle to handle the increasing level of traffic, or provide the low-latency, high-speed connectivity required by the future smart city. Creating a truly smart city therefore lies in the hands of the telecoms operators and service providers.
Smart benefits for all
From simply expanding the number of services available in a given city to improving the way local government is run, smarter cities could revolutionize the way businesses, councils and government interact with their citizens. There will be a plethora of benefits from this smarter future, ranging from improved public services, such as policing and healthcare, to the utilization of smart ID and mobile systems to improve transport networks and access to public sector institutions. As more businesses and individuals utilize these smart devices, a vast amount of data will be generated to provide local and national government bodies with further insights into priority issues and make their services even better over time.
The enablement of connected transport systems could deliver smarter mobility and ease of movement. This could include traffic lights that ‘talk’ with nearby vehicles to change their timing in response to real-time traffic, reducing road congestion. Or connected cars (private or ride-sharing) to guide drivers to the closest parking meters or charging docks. Connected bike-sharing programs could also provide data to improve cycle routes, and the list goes on.
A need for better infrastructure
The resulting explosion of new technology will play an essential role in the realization of smart cities, but these exciting developments come at a cost. Future smart city applications will generate a greater demand for density of fiber as a result – requiring serious investment in infrastructure to make 5G viable.
Providers will be working hard to lay the foundations for 5G, from erecting masts to installing and maintaining Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) connections. The installation of last mile telecommunications links may also mean a reshuffling of physical public assets. As a result, connectivity providers will look to non-disruptive infrastructure items like street furniture, buildings and underground ducts to play a key role in facilitating both fixed and mobile networks in a creative fashion. By taking investment in these physical infrastructure assets into consideration, the connected cities of tomorrow will have the benefits of a smarter city powered by 5G.
The role of local government
To help bring these rich opportunities of a smart future to life connectivity providers are also looking to build out ‘root and branch’ networks that aid not just the heart of the city, but the surrounding boroughs and regions too.
It’s no surprise such connectivity projects have drawn the attention and support of local governments, who will play a critical role in helping to fund their rollout and thus secure the economic wellbeing of their cities and regions for decades to come.
Ensuring that everyone has fast, reliable and affordable broadband access by facilitating full-fiber rollout will futureproof local businesses to evolve with the digital economy and support critical public services and community assets as they continue to evolve. By working hand in hand, telcos and local governments will be able to bring better connectivity to all, and help drive forward a smarter future.
Collaborating with third parties
Connectivity and communications infrastructure will be at the heart of any project to create a better-connected city. While commercial 5G services are essential, core networks will also need high capacity fiber connectivity to ensure fast, reliable, secure services. Local authorities will need trusted telecoms partners for connectivity and data center services, with experience in operations and security, to enable their smart goals.
Councils know what they want for their area, with many preparing to embrace the next generation of networks. However, getting an entire city ready for full-fiber connectivity requires planning and consideration – and is near impossible for councils to implement without third-party assistance. That’s why government schemes such as RM6095, which help local government to fund gigabit capable connectivity projects for the public sector, are increasingly important to help councils undergo the renovations their regions need.
Reinventing our cities with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) will help to develop smarter, more connected cities that will allow businesses and economies to thrive. And while the appetite for smart applications across the cities is there, and the sense of urgency is palpable, these developments are only possible with the development of full fiber infrastructure to support 5G.
Preparing entire cities for the future doesn’t necessarily have to be a difficult process. When local governments team up with third-party innovators in the telecoms and utilities spaces, there’s very little to stop them from achieving their goals and ensuring fast, reliable connectivity is available to support the transformations of tomorrow.
Peter Asman, Managing Director for Public Sector, SSE Enterprise Telecoms