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The building blocks for successful smart cities

The article, written by James Blackman, Editor of Enterprise IoT Insights and sponsored by IoT connectivity specialist Sigfox, outlines the 10 building blocks essential for the successful creation of smart cities.

With more than half (54 per cent) of the world’s population living in cities in 2014 – a figure expected to rise to 70 per cent by 2050 – unprecedented urban migration will put increasing pressure on civic resources.

Digital technology and the IoT are the solution, and can provide the platform for cities to refine and redesign their operations. But many cities are still at a very early stage in developing high complex infrastructure based on IoT technologies, so where should they start?

A total of 20.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use worldwide by 2020, according to Gartner, up from 8.4 billion in 2017, with global spending on IoT technologies reaching $1.29 trillion in the next three years, according to IDC. But where do we stand right now?

Well, making steady progress from hype to solid executions, as Jonathan Reichental, CIO of Pal Alto in California points out, we are already entering a more practical phase, with the market switching its focus from “plotting the journey to clearing the path”.

“We are going from an aspirational need to an absolute imperative – because we have to do this, or we are screwed. The planet is screwed,” he stresses.

Western Europe leads

According to IDC, Western Europe is leading the way, with a third (33 per cent) of cities in Western Europe already ‘optimised’ (9 per cent), and demonstrating “agility, innovation and continuous improvement” in their technological approaches, or they are at a ‘managed’ phase (24 per cent) in their digital transformation, with “citywide strategy and operations”.

But, even here, there is a smart city divide in Western Europe, notes the report, with some cities very advanced, with others just starting down the path.

Cities in the US are lagging, notes the report, with less than a percentage (0.9 per cent) of them ‘optimised’ in their smart city strategies, and barely 6 per cent ‘managed.’

[BOX OUT??] The Top 10 Building Blocks for smart cities:

  1. Political vision
  2. Private partnership
  3. Essential infrastructure
  4. IoT infrastructure
  5. Technical interoperability
  6. Data governance
  7. Cultural interoperability (cities)
  8. Cultural interoperability (corporations)
  9. Commercial scalability
  10. Collaborative engagement
This is where Building Blocks 1 and 2 come into play, according to the report: Political vision, and private partnership, respectively.

Perhaps of more significance to RMA customers and readers is the requirement for Building Blocks 3 and 4: Essential infrastructure and IoT infrastructure.


“More and more cities are aware they need to look at their cabling. The portion of backhauling upgrades is increasing. They know they have to get the foundation right,” Jane Rygaard, head of marketing for networks solutions at Nokia, is quoted as saying in the report.

Well-established smart cities in Europe – notably, Barcelona, Bristol and Stockholm – have been threaded with state-owned broadband since before the technology industry seized upon ‘smart’ as an epithet.

Civic technology, hooked into the core connectivity layer, is akin to the traditional telecoms stack, with devices and input sensors on one side, applications and data analytics on the other, and sundry device and network platforms in the cloud in between, the report suggests.

“If cities really want to be smart, they need to think in platforms – because otherwise they will have all of their data in silos, and only make the traffic lights smarter, or the waste management smarter. They won’t make the city smarter,” explains Rygaard.

Interestingly, but perhaps understandably, organisations traditionally considered operators have a diverse set of opinions.

Technology choices

“In terms of wireless, infrastructure decisions come down to the importance of the services,” believes Nokia’s Rygaard.

She continues: “Licensed cellular technologies – LTE and 5G in the case of high-bandwidth applications, and LTE-M and narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) as low-power wide-area (LPWA) alternatives – should be deployed for critical public operations, including most transport, security and emergency services. All of the discussions around blue light services at the moment are about LTE spectrum, because cities want to have situational awareness with streaming video.”

Verizon on the other hand urges cities to consider licensed technologies first, at least for da- ta-hungry applications like video and vehicular communications.

“Any high bandwidth, low latency wireless requirements really need to be handled with cellular – with LTE today and 5G in the future,” says Sean Harrington, vice president of city solutions at Verizon.

AT&T, meanwhile is quicker to acknowledge the market’s manifold requirements: “Every solution that is out there will be used by smart cities. Cities will appoint multiple providers, and use multiple types of connectivity for different use cases,” says Michael Zeto, general manager and executive director of AT&T’s smart cities business unit.

Zeto uses Dublin, Ireland, as an example of a city council rolling out a LoRa network alongside spots of LTE-M and NB- IoT.

At the same time, licensed carriers will provide backhaul at least for unlicensed technologies. Sigfox makes the case for these competing LPWA standards, and principally its own.

The report goes on to highlight other requirements around data governance and privacy, as well as the need for cross-industry, multi-vertical collaboration.

More importantly, this valuable report highlights the need for operators, service providers and technology companies to clearly understand the role that will play in this brave new world.

Of course, our industry has a significant role to play in the development of smart cities. However, those organisations that lack a clear understanding of the value they bring, and the business model to back that up, are likely to fall by the wayside.

What role will you play?

To download a free copy of the report, please visit: http://content.rcrwireless.com/smart_city_infrastructure_editorial_report