2017 is characterized by an explosion of urbanization with IoT enabling smart cities to optimize services to their residents. According to the recent World Cities report of the United Nations over 3.7 billion people are now living in urban areas, while this number is expected to double by 2050. Urbanization trends are accompanied by a rise of the aging population and the emergence of entirely new lifestyle work patterns (e.g., telecommuting).
All these changes are putting extreme pressures on modern cities, which have to cope with the depletion of natural resources (e.g., water, energy) and the support of new lifestyles in a way that ensures sustainable development. In this context, the concept that IoT enabling smart cities is a reality, such as vendors such as SIGFOX covers more than 10 million objects registered on its network which currently spans 26 countries. IoT networks are able to leverage both advanced technologies and a city’s human capital in order to optimize urban operations, improve environment performance, create new sustainable business opportunities and improve the citizens’ quality of life.
Technologies and Applications for IoT enabling Smart Cities
Smart cities are based on advanced ICT infrastructures and technologies such as high-speed broadband connectivity, multi-purpose low power sensors and actuators, as well as cloud computing infrastructures that facilitate scalable collection and processing of large volumes of data about the urban context. Most of these technologies are underpinning the Internet-of-Things (IoT) paradigm, which explains the close affiliation between smart cities and IoT.
In fact, IoT enabling smart cities with the integration of data and services from numerous internet connected devices in the urban environment, along with their interaction with other objects and humans, means that a wide range of applications can be utilized.
IoT enabling smart cities suggests these applications create energy efficient buildings, connected cars identifying the best traffic routes, as well as intelligent urban mobility applications that indicating to citizens the fastest or cheapest way to complete their trip in the city.
Overall, as IoT enabling smart cities becomes saturated in terms of sensors and mobile devices (e.g., smartphones used by citizens), they provide umbrella environments for the development of many different smart city applications. The latter can be classified according to two major (yet orthogonal) criteria:
- Their application domain, which leads to a classification in categories such as smart energy, smart transport, smart healthcare, smart industry, smart water management and more. A larger number of different devices and applications are developed and deployed in each one of the above application domains.
- Their geographical scale, which leads to a classification in applications about smart homes, smart neighborhoods, smart cities or even smart regions comprising multiple cities.
Developing a Strategy for IoT Enabling Smart Cities
Given the multitude of IoT technologies and applications in smart cities, policy makers need to prioritize the development of their IoT projects and infrastructures in-line with their urban development strategy. The latter strategy defines the city’s goals and substantiates them based on tangible KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), such as improvements in CO2 emissions and environment performance, reductions in urban traffic and the average time of urban trips in the city, increase in GDP (Goss Domestic Product) of the city, quality of life indexes and more.
With this strategy at hand, technology advisors and city CIOs (Chief Information Officers) can work towards preparing a comprehensive strategy for IoT enabling smart cities, in terms of the infrastructures to be developed and the IoT projects to be implemented. The selection of projects should consider the application domains that need to be targeted in order to meet the specified performance indicators.
The development of a city’s IoT strategy is usually a complex task, as it should consider multiple factors and trade-offs, including financial, business and technology factors at the same time. For instance, as most cities operate on quite constrained budgets it’s always important to define projects with realistic budgets, which could be financed either by the city’s budget or as part of public-private partnerships. The latter is a very popular paradigm for financing the usually costly IoT infrastructure development projects.
As a prominent example, the LinkNYC project, which provides New Yorkers with super-fast WiFi for free, is a result of a public private partnership between the city and the CityBridge consortium where Intersection, Qualcomm, CIVIQ Smartscapes and other companies participate.
In terms of technological factors, IoT enabling smart cities strategy should specify key technological choices, including:
- The networking technologies to be deployed (e.g., WiFi and LTE (Long Term Evolution) connectivity).
- The types of sensors (e.g., smart meters, traffic cameras) needed.
- The software and middleware infrastructures to be used (e.g., databases, cloud and virtualization middleware).
- Open datasets to be exploited, and
- The timeline for the development and deployment of these infrastructures, including relevant procurement issues.
Despite the variety of technology choices, one must consider IoT enabling smart cities options for their financing and gradual deployment. Cities tend to follow a staged approach based on the following four phases:
- An Infrastructure development phase, which aims at establishing the various digital infrastructures that will empower the smart city applications, including broadband networks, sensors, actuators, clouds and open data infrastructures.
- A vertical applications development phase, where applications in vertical areas (such as energy and urban mobility) are developed.
- An applications integration and interoperability phases, where different vertical applications are integrated in order to monitor or achieve city wide KPIs such as sustainability KPIs based on a combination of transport, energy, mobility and water management projects.
- An open innovation and citizens’ engagement phase, where citizens and innovators engage with existing infrastructures and applications in order to provide additional social and innovation capital, as a means of expanding and optimizing the operation of integrated applications.
What lies ahead for IoT enabling Smart Cities?
In this landscape, we are witnessing a proliferation of smart city projects in many cities of the developed world. Nevertheless, there are also on-going efforts to improve existing smart city projects and broaden the scope and capabilities of new projects. These efforts concern both technological and non-technological developments and include:
- Stakeholders’ engagement and the human factor: Smart city projects are increasingly seen as initiatives that have to engage all stakeholders in the city, rather than being projects that are enforced from the administration in a top-down manner. Therefore, new approaches for engaging citizens across all the phases of a service’s lifecycle (such as co-creation approaches) are emerging. We will see increasingly see co-creation based services in the near future.
- IoT Technology evolution: Smart city needs are driving the evolution of IoT technologies in several areas. As a prominent example, the networking community is actively working towards the fifth generation of mobile communications (5G), which is designed in order to accommodate smart city features and needs, such as high speed services in densely populated (i.e. crowded) and sensor saturated environments. 5G is currently piloted by major telcos worldwide and is expected to become commercially available after 2020 in order to empower the next generation of smart city applications.
- Recruiting the Right Executives: Cities need to make sure their CTOs and CIOs are well-versed in not just wireless networks, but the evolving IoT standards as well as mobile and cyber security. One such IoT retained executive search firm you can rely upon is NextGen Global Executive Search, whose expertise in IoT, wireless, and connected devices has successfully placed dozens of “A Players” for internet of Things and smart cities for developing Connected Devices & Data, Industrial IIoT and Ai assisted robotics, plus IoT and Mobile Security Applications.
- Interoperability solutions: Despite the benefits of interoperability across different smart city infrastructures and applications (e.g., in terms of a holistic approach to meet sustainability targets) most smart city applications are still fragmented independent application islands (“silos”). Therefore, technology efforts and standards are recently focused on ensure technical, semantic and organizational interoperability across different smart city applications. This will empower more interoperability in the near future.
- The expanded use of Big Data in the urban environment: Nowadays, only a small fragment of the data that is produced by internet-connected devices is exploited in the scope of IoT applications. McKinsey & Co. estimates this fragment to be around 1%. The advent of Big Data technologies is expected to enable a new wave of data-driven applications in smart cities, including artificial intelligence (AI) applications, which will emphasize predictive functionalities beyond simple reporting and analytics functionalities that are currently available. The self-driving car falls in the scope of such data intensive applications, since it will leverage large amounts of data from other interconnect connected cars and the smart city infrastructure in order to anticipate the driving context.
Overall, the vision for IoT enabling smart cities is gradually realized, but much more is yet to come. In this evolving landscape city authorities, technologies providers and other stakeholders are expected to collaborate to develop and execute effective IoT strategies for urban development.
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