There is a lot of anticipation around what the future of the smart city will look like, and rightfully so — advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics are poised to have a dramatic impact on society. While the term smart city gets thrown around quite a bit, in many cases today, these new initiatives show mixed results in solving citizen problems. The good news is that as an industry we are working closely with citizens and taking a more strategic and comprehensive approach, which in turn means investments are being made where they will have the biggest impact.
This begs the question … if the smart cities that are up and running are not living up to the hype just yet, why would other cities follow suit? Like many new, highly advanced concepts, widespread adoption can move at snail’s pace. Remember when email was a passing fad? The key to getting buy-in for these projects is proving ROI first. How can it be done? From looking at what has worked for other cities to creating partnerships, there are ways to show the benefits for both citizens and the community to accelerate smart city development.
Seeing is believing
We are in the beginning phase of the next iteration of smart cities, or what is being called “Smart City 3.0.” But there are some great examples of cities from the previous two generations making real progress. A recent study by Juniper Research outlines global leaders in multiple categories, including mobility, public safety, healthcare and productivity. Singapore swept the board when it scored the top spot in every category, with San Francisco, Seoul, New York and London each grabbing silver in one of the four categories.
So, what is possible with a true smart city? The aforementioned report found that “smart cities have the potential to ‘give back’ city dwellers three working weeks’ worth of time every year.” That means more efficient public transportation or traffic patterns that can make it possible to get home in time to have dinner with your family or give you the extra time to make it to that workout class you always seem to just miss. There are many ways smart city living can enhance the everyday lives of citizens and in order to drive more adoption around the world, we have to consistently show the proof.
Incubators and alliances foster smart city innovation
To prove usefulness and validate ROI, smart cities are creating formal incubators and establishing technology alliances. The Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA), whose “mission is to develop and test a scalable smart cities model,” is a prime example of a public-private partnership taking a multi-phased approach. According to its Q3 results, “the DIA is working with over 20 city departments, 30 partner organizations and has built relationships with more than 50 cities around the world” and has experienced impressive results from the various partnerships. The “strongest example of operational savings and return on investment from the pilot has been the Intelligent Streetlight Project, which saved 755.41 kW hours in Q3 based upon installation of 23 lights in the Living Lab representing a 30% decrease from the existing lighting.”
While most cities don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch, Union Point — a futuristic smart community — is being created from the ground up by LStar Venture and General Electric, and is an example of why incubator projects are so important. As part of the initiative, the developers are planning an innovation center, which will include an interesting private-public partnership. David Rose, a researcher and lecturer at MIT’s Media Lab, told The New York Times that “the Center has expressed an interest in featuring an interactive planning tool developed by the Group called CityScope, which would allow users to visualize and explore tradeoffs around factors like density, transportation and walkability.” While Union Point is an incredible undertaking and requires resources that most cities don’t possess, other cities can learn from what these planned communities are doing — particularly the partnerships that are bringing together educational and industry groups.
Getting up to speed with 5G
The next example — ENCQOR — is a combination of what can be accomplished with public-private partnerships, and the importance of not forgetting about the backbone (the network) that will support smart city development. ENCQOR, which was announced in March to accelerate the transition to 5G technology in Quebec and Ontario, is a $400 million partnership bringing together five global digital technology leaders (Ciena included) and government agencies. ENCQOR is “establishing the first Canadian pre-commercial corridor of 5G wireless communication technologies — the next generation of digital communication and the key to unlocking the massive potential of smart cities, smart grid, e-health, e-education, connected and autonomous vehicles, on-demand entertainment and media, and the internet of things, among others.”
When thinking about smart cities, the transition to 5G must be front and center. With all the new technologies that smart cities will require, it will bring latency, bandwidth and reliability demands that 4G simply won’t be able to handle. One of the most important capabilities that 5G will bring is network slicing, which makes sure that the various requirements for different services can be met, and all on the same physical network. The process will allow networks to be broken up into numerous portions that can be managed independently, customized and, most importantly, not affect one another if one portion is overloaded or down. It also creates flexibility that will allow network operators to meet the needs of services in the future, including those not even invented yet.
From one-off conversations to industry events such as the Smart Cities Connect Spring Conference, it is exciting to see how much interest there is in developing highly connected communities. What is even more exciting is that cities are taking action. According to an October 2017 report from the National League of Cities, “66% of cities have invested in some type of smart city technology.” While we still have a long way to go until the majority of cities have moved away from ad-hoc implementations, with the right programs and partnerships in place, as well as focusing on the backbone of the network, true smart cities will become the norm, rather than the exception. Imagine living in an environment where you can easily avoid traffic, find open street parking spaces in seconds and save more money on your monthly electric bill. Smart city technology can make all of this happen and more. Transitioning to a smart city can transform the lives of citizens, communities and the environment.
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