Smart Cities: Tech Grows to Serve Urban Populations
Data and Technology Unite to Improve Services, Efficiency in Cities
Imagine a city where you could avoid traffic snarls or not be delayed by impassable, snowy roads. Where you could seamlessly and efficiently communicate with government services to report a missed trash pickup or find out about a community meeting. Picture a place where sustainability goals are met through effective water and energy saving measures.
These are just a few of the things possible through smart cities by using data and technology to improve services, increase transparency and become more efficient.
With often lofty goals of making urban areas more livable for people, developing smart cities is also big business.
Needs and background
With more than two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, finding ways to make municipal systems work better is crucial. Population growth, compounded by the effects of climate change, means cities must find ways to reduce resource consumption and mitigate carbon emissions.
Smart cities started in Europe, but elements have now spread globally. In the U.S., 66 percent of cities have invested in some type of smart city technology, supported by heavy hitters in the technology field, including Intel, Cisco Systems and IBM. According to a report by the International Data Corporation (IDC), smart city technology spending reached $80 billion across the globe in 2016, and is expected to grow to $135 billion by 2021.
Smart city development is defined by IDC as the use of smart initiatives combined to leverage technology investments across an entire city, with common platforms increasing efficiency, data being shared across systems, and IT investments tied to smart missions. But what does that really mean?
How smart cities work
There are diverse ways to approach building a smart city, but generally a plan consists of using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, computerized actuators to control mechanical devices, physical sensors such as those that detect an empty parking spot, and a communication network to connect everything together. Every layer of a city is accounted for, from sky to street level to underground. The needs of the entire population can be addressed, from an individual to a business group.
Think about the most common services people in a city need every day. Smart city services could be operating vehicles on an autonomous bus route, or digitally connect public trash receptacles to waste management so the utility knows the exact location of a full bin. Tapping into smart phone technology, a dialogue is enabled between an individual, their environment and the services around that space.
What are some of the challenges?
There are a few big hurdles to overcome in building smart cities. According to Atlanta CIO, Samir Saini, developing a specific smart technology as an individual project, or silo, will keep data from being shared with other smart technologies, perhaps losing big picture opportunities for cities. A related challenge is for cities to develop a robust platform, or hub, where big data can live, be analyzed and where cross communication can happen.
Who is fueling smart cities?
In addition to top tech companies providing smart city solutions, government entities are also supporting the development.
The Obama administration announced a new smart cities initiative in 2015 to invest $160 million in federal grants to create software and IoT applications to help local communities improve city services. The White House expanded the initiative in 2016 with another $80 million investment. The National Science Foundation allocated $60 million in 2016, and continues to provide grant opportunities under its Smart Connected Communities program.
Cities also fund projects through energy cost savings and reduced labor costs.
How 5G plays a role
A smart city requires a strong, reliable platform for cellular connectivity to tie in various devices, transfer large amounts of data and real-time video That’s where the next generation of cellular, 5G, comes in.
5G is capable of connection density, connecting many more people and devices to the network than ever before. Then there is speed and reliability—5G is capable of consistently hitting around 1- or 2-millisecond response times. Your current home wireless connection is likely 10 to 100 times less responsive.
Building out these networks will require partnerships with leading telecoms, municipalities and a range of organizations in both the public and private sectors.
How can my city become a smart city?
Many cities start with a small project, such as changing out streetlights to smart LED bulbs—a project that can offer a quick revenue return. As cities incorporate more renewable energy options, smart planning can be incorporated, including establishing an infrastructure hub for data sharing and communications.