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5G for smarter cities – terms and conditions apply

Martin Brynskov, Chairman, Open & Agile Smart Cities, says smart cities offer a huge market for telcos but notes that “terms and conditions apply".


Beyond the telecoms world, few people are interested in 5G per se but rather in the benefits and services it can enable. At its Digital Transformation World event last week, telecom trade association TM Forum assembled a panel of representatives from various verticals to give telcos their requirements.


These experts included: Jamie Hindhaugh, COO, BT Sport; Paul Spence, Chief Technologist, McLaren Applied Technologies; Vesa Jutila, Co-founder & CCO, Hatch; and Martin Brynskov, Chairman, Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC).


Research from the GSMA has found that operators identify smart cities as one of their biggest markets for 5G.


However, Brynskov of OASC (an international smart city open standards collaboration group which represents over 140 cities) told approximately 3,000 telecom industry delegates gathered in Nice, France, that: “Smart cities is not a sector,” noting that cities represent “all the sectors in one”, including energy, tourism, entertainment, mobility and more.


This means the market really is huge but the complexity is greater, too.


The biggest challenge


“Forget about selling handsets,” Brynskov said, urging telecom players to instead: “Think about how you will even operate in this space. That’s going to be your biggest challenge.”


This will include negotiating space for the increased cell towers required for 5G, proving citizen benefits rather than selling networks, and solving significant data challenges.


Brynskov highlighted, for example, the growing understanding that citizens, not tech companies or cities, must be the owners of their data. He commented: “If you want to process that [data], terms and conditions apply," noting legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect last year.


“Already very hard principles are being turned into directives,” Brynskov said.


“It isn’t about money”


One of telcos’ biggest concerns around 5G is generating return on investment (ROI) for the significant sums they have shelled out. Juniper Research estimates that by the end of 2018, communications service providers, hardware suppliers and public bodies spent $60 billion on 5G research and development. In 2018 alone, they are estimated to have spent $30 billion on trialling networks ready for commercial roll-out.


The good news, Brynskov said, is that: “Cities really want 5G to work. They want to work with you and they want to buy your services.”


“Cities really want 5G to work. They want to work with you and they want to buy your services.”


However, he told telcos that “money is a sideshow”.


Giving the example of gaming, he noted: “If you deliver something that people need, it’s a booming market immediately. So you have to apply the same logic: how do you serve the community? That’s where there’s going to be money.”


He said: “We have tons of problems in big cities – the growth in Asia, Africa and India really demands technology to help with sustainability goals around everything from poverty and congestion to pollution. You name it, we need technology to do it.”


But, he added: “Again, terms and conditions apply.”


Finding common ground


If telcos want to be players in the smart city market – “probably the biggest market of the moment” – they need to find common ground with cities and accept that “nobody will own [that ground]”.


This is one of the reasons OASC is collaborating with TM Forum on its Open Digital Framework, Brynskov said.


The framework includes TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture, Open APIs, data and artificial intelligence standards, reference implementations and reference materials tied to business processes. The Forum describes the framework as an “interactive, continuously evolving collection of tools, knowledge and standards” for operators.


“[OASC] likes the idea of agreeing something simple that works everywhere, across all sectors. And then we can virtualise and compete on top of that,” Brynskov commented.


“No community will let you suck the economy or the power out of the local level. It will not happen.”


He told telco operators that succeeding in smart cities is: “About your culture and your ability to form partnerships to tackle the global problems and global dynamics” but in a way that works on a local level.


“No community will let you suck the economy or the power out of the local level,” he said. “It will not happen.”


Those who are open to these types of partnership will win, he said.


The rest is “just details”, he argued – and this includes cities and telcos working together to shape future regulation and more.


Brynskov’s takeaway message for operators hoping to tap the smart city opportunity?


"That’s easy," he said. "Be fair."


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  • Smart IoT Connect – September 10, 2019, London: This joint event between SmartCitiesWorld and sister publication Mobile Europe will explore telcos’ role in smarter cities, how to enable better collaboration between cities and the telecoms industry and the challenges that remain. Find out more
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