I may be a technologist by trade, but I’m a dreamer at heart — and these days my dreams are dominated by the vision of a beautiful, connected world in which we can share ideas, thoughts and knowledge instantly and meaningfully. True, those words were once used to describe the internet, but I’m referring to the internet of things and the promise it holds for smart, connected cities.
A truly connected city requires the collection of data from the ever-growing IoT, which includes sensors in cars, stoplights, crosswalks, public transit stops, cell phones and more. The result will be improved traffic, more effective law enforcement, faster emergency medical care, and on and on. But what will local governments and the private sector do with all of that data? How will it be secured? How much personally identifiable information is susceptible to being exposed?
These are big questions that await satisfactory answers.
Ultimately, it will be up to the telecom industry, local government entities and private sector industries (such as automotive and retail) to do most of the heavy lifting. Industry and governments are driving the innovation based on need and demand, while mobile carriers — faced with a saturated smartphone market — are turning their attention to becoming the facilitators of data.
Transforming the dumb pipes into smart ones
Telecoms already have the plumbing (not to mention the data) to become a leader in this effort, and the development of 5G — whose full maturation is still a few years away — will go a long way toward making the IoT-fueled connected city a reality.
For example, energy-saving LTE Cat M1 modems — designed for IoT use and already deployed by such carriers as T-Mobile and AT&T — are already providing reliable and efficient IoT connectivity. But where telecoms’ heavy lifting really comes in is by getting away from being a dumb pipe — where it has no idea what’s going through it — to a smart pipe in which it’s actually responsible for its movement, harnessing its value with actionable insights as well as maintaining its integrity and security.
Already, major carriers are helping build these smart cities by partnering with automobile manufacturers building connected cars, joining local and federal law enforcement initiatives, collaborating with retail home and business security offerings and working with the healthcare industry — among several other innovative projects — to make cities smarter.
The chore of conceiving and creating a connected city is already underway in many municipalities — spurred by a $160-million, 2015 federal initiative that seeds technology and infrastructure investments with the goals of reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fueling economic growth, managing waste, boosting energy efficiency, improving the delivery of city services, encouraging tourism and promoting many other initiatives.
But my dream isn’t just about one connected city. It’s about the connected world, connecting connected cities with other connected cities to create an unprecedented ecosystem in which communities can automatically use stored knowledge and real-time information for the benefit of all its citizens.
Connecting the connected cities with each other
In reality, these connected cities are actually a collection of multiple, disparate parties that share data — and share it in a controlled manner. That’s when the dumb pipe becomes a smart pipe, with the carriers needing to essentially be responsible not just for managing great big pools of information but auditing what’s happening to them and enabling data policies on who can access the information.
When we’re discussing the movement of data across the IoT spectrum, specifically related to connected cities, we have to remember that the business value of the data is the data. And the subject always returns to these questions:
- How do you manage that movement of data?
- How do you manage the trust of the data that’s being shared?
- How do you develop and manage a model in which millions of people are participating in that data-sharing, then define who can see that data and in what kinds of ways?
Carriers such as AT&T, for example, are building systems on their networks so that any device that connects to it also has its own authorization and authentication to know who’s accessing it and what it’s entitled to. The goal, as it has to be, is to promote the sharing of knowledge, data and ideas among those involved in a collective, connected goal — while simultaneously eliminating all of the security risks of unknown entities trying to gain access to the networks.
As technologists, we’re extremely excited to be pioneers of and participants in this brave new world. We’re working extremely hard to get it right by developing industry standards so that connected cities can achieve their true potential and everybody can benefit from their promise.
In that respect (and with apologies to Aldous Huxley), we really are witnessing the realization of our dreams and the dawn of a Brave New World.
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