The Time Is Ripe for Smart Cities

Carl Weinschenk

It’s interesting that smart home technology gets so much attention while smart cities remain in the background. It’s also strange: If you have enough smart homes, it is easy to somehow link them together into a citywide or regional initiative. The two initiatives should be proceeding hand in hand.

Perhaps they are, but under the radar. No doubt, both of these initiatives are vital. In a report on the Networked Society Forum (NEST) event in Miami, eWeek cited Ericsson’s position that electronic intelligence is a make or break asset of a successful city of the future:

Ericsson, in concert with event here Nov. 19, released a Networked City Index report ranking 31 cities on their information and communications technology (ICT) maturity. There is a strong correlation, says Ericsson, between ICT maturity and societal, economic and environmental development—what it calls the ‘Triple Bottom Line.’

Ericsson is saying that cities that don’t proactively connect are relegating themselves to second-class status. That’s a significant claim even coming from a vendor who will earn a lot of money making it happen and, thus, is bound to be a cheerleader. The percentage of people living in cities is growing, the company notes. It pegs Stockholm, London, Singapore, Paris, Copenhagen, Oslo, Hong Kong, New York, Helsinki and Tokyo as the 10 most mature IT cities.

Too many consortiums and partnerships exist in the smart city sector. ConstrucTech discusses Smart Cities Council, which recently added Bechtel as a member. The council, according to the story, helps municipalities figure out how far along they are in the path to becoming a smart city. It’s a big deal: The council says that 700 of the world’s largest cities will invest $30 trillion to $40 trillion during the next two decades to get up to speed. Bechtel and the council have worked with urban planners to develop best practices and case studies in a number of areas of concern to smart cities.

One of the barriers to smart communities may be on the point of being bridged. Silver Spring Networks, a vendor that has focused on smart grid technology in the past, has launched a “network as a service” product. The company’s pitch is that it will take the pain out of smart city energy initiatives:

Many pilot projects have shown that networking and collecting data across a cityscape can yield big improvements in asset management, operations planning and energy efficiency. But they're still costly and complicated to deploy and keep running, which could make a managed service offering—particularly one that cities can get at low or no cost initially—a wedge to open up further markets.

Eric Dresselhuys, Silver Springs’ co-founder and executive vice president, elaborated on the importance of smart cities at Huffington Post. He echoes Ericsson’s point on how quickly cities will grow. He says that two laws of telecom and IT—Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law—will empower networks to perform at orders of magnitude higher levels than today. Dresselhuys then discusses how the fast growth can help sustain these growing urban centers:

Cities can then utilize the same network canopy installed to modernize public lighting for a vast array of innovative services such as smart parking, traffic control, pollution sensors, electric vehicle charging, citizen Internet access, health and safety applications, and more. Iconic cities such as Copenhagen and Paris are underway on this type of journey today.

Vendors, of course, will structure their vision of a smart city around their products. Which is fine, especially considering that these firms create their technical roadmaps around what they think ultimately will work best. Another corporate view into the great size of the smart city sector was offered in a presentation by Huawei last week at still another conference, the Smart City Expo World Conference in Barcelona:

According to Huawei, the information highway has four key pillars: a citywide public information platform, ubiquitous broadband, smart and agile business, and comprehensive information security.

The bottom line is that smart cities represent a quantum leap in a number of areas, from the high concept of sustaining and creating comfort for people and the health of the environment to important but more mundane subjects such as the fate of vendors. It is a huge—and hugely important— area, even if it gets surprisingly few headlines.

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