The promise of smart cities needs a strong network to back it up, writes Jamie Hayes, Mobile Network Operators Director, BT Wholesale.
Smart cities are gaining traction, with worldwide spending on connected city initiatives predicted to reach $124 billion this year; an 18.9 per cent increase from 2019. The smart city vision involves driverless cars, artificial intelligence (AI), smart street lighting and smart parking. It promises to solve a fundamental challenge for towns and cities – how to reduce costs and generate economic growth and resilience, while increasing sustainability and improving public services and quality of life.
However, when it comes to smart cities, you’re only as good as your connectivity. As such, the community will depend on high speed reactions. To have delays or crashes would be detrimental to the functioning of the entire environment, leading to more than grumbles but a decline in productivity, economy, and quality of life.
Technology has developed leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Where residents once relied on dial-up internet and the quandary of a decision between making a phone call or surfing the web, now everything in our homes and on the street can be consistently connected; that’s what a smart city means, a fully, always-on, connected urban area. By using technology to optimise the city or town, authorities will see benefits across a range of different aspects – from better transport and eased congestion to smart refuse and recycling points and saving electricity. Therefore consistent connectivity is absolutely vital to the functioning of smart cities.
5G technologies will also help make smart cities a reality, with them providing the greater coverage, speed and bandwidth needed to support a vast ecosystem of connected devices. Looking more closely within the network infrastructure, small cells – which play a key part in amplifying and supplying high bandwidth and low latency connectivity to areas of poorer network coverage and capacity – will be critical to smart city deployments too.
Consistent connectivity is absolutely vital to the functioning of smart cities
To provide seamless coverage and installation of small cells, operators and telecom equipment providers need to cooperate with each other in an efficient way, with harmonised management and governance, to make sure of smooth rollouts and ongoing network operations.
There are numerous benefits to the data collection and analysis that smart cities allow, but an increasingly important one is the way it is helping to fight climate change.
Air quality sensors, smart buildings and renewable energy sources all help reduce negative effects on the environment. Examples of this include driverless cars based on battery technology and shared usage, as well as street lighting that is activated only when it gets dark. This will not only start to remove unsustainable and low-end wage bills in our society, but remove pollution sources. As the burden of fossil fuel technology chokes our cities, it is liberating to see that increased connectivity enables society to have to depend less and less on outdated and polluting technology.
As mentioned, smart cities collect and analyse data constantly. This gives you a constant stream of information, meaning councils and local authorities can make more effective, data-driven decisions. By helping to monitor resources it saves time and money. Given the UK government’s plans to achieve net-carbon emissions by 2050, cities in this country will be focusing on sustainability. However, each city’s needs are different. The benefit of a smart city is that you can address the needs of each individual place efficiently whether it be forecasting and planning for population expansion or identifying traffic control issues that need to be addressed.
For instance, in San Antonio, Texas, rapid growth of its population required the city to seek smart, efficient expansion of its infrastructure and services. By connecting the city’s traffic management centre, it meant that it was better prepared to handle greatly heightened roadway usage. Utilising connectivity, San Antonio was able to boost its rate of communication with junctions from about 60 per cent to nearly 100 per cent, allowing for remote troubleshooting and real-time management.
Another part of smart cities is smart streets, meaning insights from environmental monitoring and traffic optimisation sensors can be easily integrated into street furniture. This could soon lead to smart buildings, where, for example, social housing and other public sector buildings rely on Internet of Things solutions to enhance energy and water management. We’re seeing some of this in action already, for example with Yorkshire Water in the UK, who is piloting a smart water network which could revolutionise the way leaks and interruptions to supply are managed in the future.
Telecoms providers need an ’open access’ model to install infrastructure
With smart cities providing so many benefits, it’s so important to hold councils and local authorities accountable to provide equal opportunity to all telecoms providers to install equipment on infrastructure, such as lamp posts or buildings – an ‘open access’ model as promoted by BT and other industry leaders. By working closely alongside many councils, providers can help ensure that access to the street furniture that hosts the cells and antennae is available to everyone at reasonable charge.
Seamless connectivity will make the benefits of smart cities, such as increased operational efficiency for authorities, improved services, and quality of life for citizens, be felt throughout communities.
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