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How can we accelerate the development of smart cities?

In theory, IoT enables the development of smart city applications that allow governments to make city living easier, more comfortable and more affordable. Energy and water waste can be curtailed, crowding on public transportation lessened, pollution reduced, traffic jams minimized, parking made easier to find, delivery of emergency services improved and crime reduced. Yet, many cities are struggling to transform themselves into smart cities and realize these benefits. If the IoT industry wants to see the growth of IoT accelerate further, and help the world realize the economic, environmental and other benefits of smart city applications, it needs to consider what it can do to accelerate smart city development.

Fortunately, accelerating this development does not require a technological breakthrough, but only more intelligent and extensive use of current technologies and standards. Specifically, the IoT industry needs to:

  1. Encourage cities to use existing cloud technologies to create common platforms for all their smart city applications, lowering administration costs, reducing learning curves and creating opportunities for application synergies and insights.
  2. Accelerate cities’ adoption of new low-power wide area (LPWA) wireless networking technologies, which can expand IoT to more places and devices in a city, at a lower cost.
  3. Provide stronger support for common, open IoT standards, fostering a larger, more agile ecosystem of smart city application developers.

By coming together with the smart city community to advocate for greater education on and adoption of these technologies and standards, the IoT industry can move us from a world where smart city applications are few and far between to one where the only question is how smart our cities can be in reducing pollution and other waste, speeding commutes and making city life safer and less expensive.

Reducing expenses and increasing value with the cloud

The first way in which the IoT industry can accelerate the development of smart cities is by encouraging greater use of a well-known existing technology that is already driving digital transformation in other sectors: the cloud. The cloud enables cities to reduce the amount of on-premises IT infrastructure and administration staff they need for smart city applications, helping lower the costs of these applications. The cloud is also extremely scalable, allowing cities to quickly expand a smart city application from a small pilot project to a city-wide deployment.

In addition, the cloud offers cities the opportunity to run all their smart city applications from a single, common platform. Such a comprehensive platform makes it easier for users to learn how to use these applications, and also simplifies the management of these applications. Moreover, by breaking down application siloes, the cloud also supports better data integration. This integration can involve the transfer of data from one application into another, improving the value of that application. It can also involve the integration of data from multiple applications into single data analysis application than can be used to secure insights on how to improve the overall performance of all of a city’s applications. The cloud is one technology, here today, that can speed the deployment of smart city applications.

Using LPWA to lower costs and expand coverage

LPWA wireless networking is another technology the IoT industry should educate cities on if they hope to speed the adoption of smart city applications. Designed specifically for IoT, LPWA provides greater coverage than existing cellular data technologies. This is a particularly important consideration for smart city applications, where these applications often need to connect to devices in basements, under manhole covers, or in other places that are difficult for other cellular data networks to reach.

In addition, integrating LPWA connectivity into devices is less expensive than other cellular data technologies, helping drive down the cost of these devices — a particularly important consideration for cash-strapped municipalities. LPWA also uses less energy than conventional cellular technologies, meaning that it is easier to install in places where there is no access to electricity, and the device must depend on a battery for its energy.

Moreover, LPWA’s low power requirements mean that these devices can run for a decade or more on just one battery. As a result, cities do not have to try to replace devices or device batteries on a frequent basis — further reducing the ongoing maintenance costs of smart city applications. In addition, because LPWA uses established and proven networks, it avoids costly and time-consuming new greenfield infrastructure deployments, a key factor in cities’ project decision-making processes. LPWA enables wider deployment of smart city applications, while at the same time reducing deployment and maintenance costs, helping make smart city applications more valuable, efficient and attractive to cities.

Expanding the smart city ecosystem with open standards

One final way in which IoT can drive more rapid adoption of smart city applications is to work together to encourage cities to use applications based on common, open IoT standards such as OneM2M. Greater adoption of these open standards will foster a larger ecosystem of smart city application developers, increase interoperability and also create a wider set of knowledge and tools, enabling developers to more quickly test and build new applications. Having seen the success of open standards in other markets, the IoT industry would be well-served if it ensures that cities understand how open standards create a fertile ground for a larger, better smart city application ecosystem.

There are also new technologies in early stages of their development that will provide further impetus to the smart city application market. Edge computing technologies can reduce the amount of data that a smart city application needs to transfer data from a device to the cloud and back, reducing cellular data costs. 5G’s mmWave technology will eventually provide the high speed needed for broadband wireless IoT applications where fiber is not viable, such as data-intensive stadium or mall smart city applications.

However, despite these and other new technologies’ promise, there is no reason for cities to sit on their hands right now when it comes to developing and deploying smart city applications. Existing technologies and standards — including the cloud, LPWA and open IoT standards — provide cities with all the IoT tools they need to deploy smart city applications that deliver significant economic, environmental and other quality-of-life benefits to their residents. It is the IoT industry’s job to educate cities on these technologies and standards and advocate for their adoption. By doing so, the industry will not just grow the IoT market, but it will also further demonstrate how IoT enables a cleaner, more efficient and better world.

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