Getting Past Smart City Growing Pains


The CIA Factbook reveals that more than 1 million people move into cities across the world every week. At the end of 2015, more than half (54%) of the world’s population lived in cities. And, that number is growing at a rate of 2% each year. Our recent research also indicates that more than half of world’s urban population has no broadband access.

One thing is clear. This high rate of urbanization is taking a toll on the infrastructure of cities. Fortunately, the information and communications technology (ICT) industry is betting that creating smart cities is one of the best ways to address the growing challenges faced by crowded cities.

According to the special report, Smartening Up the City, urban ICT revenues will reach $977 billion by 2022. This explosive growth in revenue is expected to be fueled by smart health, smart infrastructure, and smart government.

In reality, the idea of the smart city has been around for decades even though few cities have actually managed to become smart. There have been trials and pilots. However, only a small number of programs have been deployed on a large scale.

Smartening Up the City presents several important issues that cities must deal with if they are going to be truly smart.

1. Fast Fiber Links Are Essential

One of the essential foundations of any smart city is fast and responsive connectivity throughout the urban area. This means having and extensive fiber network in the ground that can be used to connect wireless hotspots and cellular base stations. It is this fiber network that provides backhaul for the wireless connectivity used to link the individual pieces of the smart infrastructure.

2. Carrier Grade Wi-Fi is a Must

Smart cities will work at optimum efficiency only with carrier-grade Wi-Fi in place. The ability of each individual piece of the smart infrastructure to connect with each other depends on a robust and reliable Wi-Fi network. Without such a network, investment in other areas will have a limited impact on transforming a city into a smart city.

3. Technology Standards Must Be Agreed Upon

The lack of technology standards is a fundamental barrier to the efficient development of smart cities. Standards improve interoperability between components of the smart infrastructure. Standards provide confidence that the network will work as intended. And, standards fuel economies of scale.

Recently, Machina Research has warned that using non-standardized technology to support the IoT will increase the cost of deployment, hinder mass scale adoption, and stifle technology innovation for smart city initiatives worldwide. They also projected that city authorities and their technology partners could squander $341 billion by 2025 if they adopt a fragmented, rather than a standardized approach, to IoT solution deployment.

4. Security Can’t Be Overlooked

Many discussions concerning smart cities tend to overlook security. In perhaps the worst case scenario, if a city deploys connectivity in public places, there is a danger that criminals or terrorists will try to hack into the one or more of the smart city solutions and wreak havoc. This is a huge risk that can’t be ignored because smart city technology opens up interfaces that wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed.

5. Privacy Concerns Can’t Be Ignored

Installing smart sensors and cameras in public spaces always raise serious concerns over privacy. While it can be argued that many public spaces already have cameras, smart cities take monitoring technology to a higher level. Cities can expect pushback from citizens who feel their privacy is being violated. For this reason, it is important for cities to consider input from all stakeholders, including citizens.

6. Economics Matters

Assuming that all of the issues discussed above are handled effectively, the speed at which smart city solutions are deployed is likely to boil down to pure economics. Each city has a budget they must stick to. Cash-strapped cities will judge each solution on the net overall benefit and sustainability compared with other infrastructure investments.

Cities Must Work Smart to Be Smart

In order to deal with these important issues, cities that want to become smart cities must work smarter. City politics and gridlock continue to hold back progress. That’s why some cities have set up a dedicated smart city department. Atlanta, Georgia is an excellent example. Having a team with a dedicated director is turning out to be one of the best ways to get buy-in from stakeholders as well as government units that have competing priorities. While the idea of a truly smart city is compelling. In practice, making existing cities smart is a difficult challenge to overcome.

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