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Early examples show the way to future smart cities

Nick Sacke, Comms365, looks at smart city examples from around the world which signpost the way ahead.


Global populations are continually on a sharp rise, and cities must be prepared operationally for the estimated 65 per cent of the world’s population that is projected to be living in urban areas by 2040.

Based on this prediction, many cities are deploying various smart city technologies which when deployed at scale can deliver actionable data to help cities cope with the growing demands from citizens and visitors.

Across the globe, a range of smart city projects have already been deployed, although frequently the implementation has been slow and ROI unclear.

Today’s cities

Multiple cities across the globe have now rolled out smart projects and are already leveraging measurable benefits. For instance, in Singapore, a 3D virtual twin of the city has been created that can be accessed by multiple different government agencies and can provide real-time visibility over a variety of important aspects.


The model connects to sensors in the real-world that can be actioned from the 3D virtual model – for example, if there is a flood or vehicle congestion, government authorities can make better, faster decisions about what remedial actions to take.

India’s 100 Smart Cities’ goals-based approach is another great example, with cities like Chennai successfully using smart, integrated IoT solutions to tackle issues such as traffic congestion.

A notable aspect of these projects is that the cities are fitted with pervasive wireless connectivity, sensors, data storage and analytics infrastructure at scale from the beginning.

This ensures that the platform to support smart projects is immediately available, providing a fertile ground for businesses of all sizes and the academic community to innovate, research, develop applications and (most importantly) commercialise services for actual use cases that deliver tangible operational benefits.

Combining academia and innovation

Smart city projects are often incubated in academia, with many innovative programmes then developed via a consortium-style approach, with operators, and public and private sector bodies in partnership with universities or other academic bodies.

This link with academia ensures that projects take a structured approach and are well planned and credible, focusing on adding value to the city and also providing ROI for the first phase of the project. Academia provides the research design that enables the innovation to be aligned to tackle key issues, such as congestion, waste management and water or energy consumption.

However, often this stage is powered by grants and funding and so a further step is needed to make these solutions commercially self-sufficient.

Scaling it


To drive smart city projects forward and beyond the pilot stage, commercialisation is key.

Solutions need to offer valuable and actionable insights, and a ‘packaged approach’ to enabling IoT infrastructure and applications quickly. To be a commercially viable IoT innovation that adds value and a positive impact to the bottom line, organisations will also need expert input and support during the IoT deployment cycle – for example, interpreting variances in harvested data from the different city locations that may add complexity to the results.


This ‘commercial’ approach will encourage both public and private companies to ‘buy-in’ to IoT more meaningfully.

Sustainability issues are an obvious starting point as they offer the opportunity not only to benefit the environment but also to save costs – lighting alone makes up 19% of the world’s total electricity consumption for example.

Japan is a prime example of success within this field, as in Yokohama there was a stark rise in population that rapidly increased the energy consumption by citizens. To counteract this effect, a pilot project to use technology to reduce power consumption was rolled out in just 4,000 homes. This resulted in an incredible 20% decrease.

This smart project started with innovation born from necessity, but also took on board government and citizen interests and provided a valuable, measurable, commercial outcome.


Growth of the smart city market in Asia is expected to rise from $50 billion to $220 billion by 2020 as the industry shifts. By 2050, the UN is projecting that an extra 2.5 billion people will be living in cities, with 90% of that growth coming from Asia and Africa.


For smart cities to deliver on the promise of digital transformation, which includes more efficient living and better health as well as greater prosperity, the city authorities, and their attitude to strategy and planning, are critical.

In order to achieve this wider vision, funding is a necessity, and to generate adequate investment cities should work to secure the buy-in of not just city employees, but also citizens, technology companies, foundations, universities or other academic bodies, not-for-profit organisations and other government agencies.


Without joined-up thinking and a collaborative approach to initiatives, progress will remain limited, and the predicted growth will stagnate.

Cities should look to Columbus, Ohio as an example, after the city won $50 million in grants and then $500 million in funding from the private sector. With this approach to public/private partnership, the city has been able to flourish and unlock technological advancements that add value.


Similarly, Las Vegas has secured its seat towards becoming a smart city following its plans for an IoT solution to control foot traffic and also monitor air quality to improve life for residents and the mass of visitors.

By combining the three elements of academia, innovation and commercialisation, smart city programmes can be streamlined for the greater good; and through collaboration and coordination there is even potential for many more locations to benefit.


The commercial aspect results in a value-driven and scalable model, which has has the potential to roll out across whole regions – even countries, allowing towns and villages to reap the same benefits as their city neighbours.

With solutions focused towards better health and well-being for citizens, paired with global market competitiveness, the IoT community can be ever more hopeful that smart cities of the future will continue to deliver on their promises.

With joined-up thinking, the correct resources, a centralised government funding structure, and the support of carriers and stakeholders, it’s a no-brainer.

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