Nothing Small or Easy About Smart Cities

    Smart cities are the ultimate emerging platform in ways both good and bad. Positives include healthier and happier citizens, more efficient and environmentally responsible communities, and better services to attract and support businesses.

    On the flip side, however, smart cities are poorly defined and based on complex technologies,  such as the Internet of Things (IoT), that are just emerging. They demand significant investment and, if projects fail, the host community can be worse off than if the project had not been undertaken in the first place.

    Prognostications about the potential of smart cities were released by Cisco. The vendor’s “Digital Cities: Building the New Public Infrastructure” extrapolates a study of Houston, Stockholm, Barcelona and Oslo to predict how much money can be generated by 2024 by the additional services and greater efficiencies engendered by smart cities.

    The answer is plenty. More specifically, the vendor found that such cities have the potential to generate $2.3 trillion in that time frame. The breakdown: $1.1 trillion in enhanced worker productivity; $401 billion in city utilities and smart meters; $240 billion in safety and security; $188 billion in transportation and urban mobility; $147 billion in improving “the citizen experience,” $66 billion in city infrastructure management, $59 billion in public Wi-Fi and broadband; $51 billion in open data and $29 billion in cyber security.

    That, clearly, is a bit of a best case scenario. Hatem Zeine, founder and CTO of Ossia, a wireless firm, agreed that the potential of smart cities is great. However, he pointed to two significant smart city challenges; one is rooted deeply in the physical world and the other is a bit more esoteric. The former is that a smart city will require millions of sensors. How, he asks, will they all be powered? It is important to note that his company is working on a solution to this challenge, so he has a significant investment in there being a problem to be solved. That said, driving the almost unimaginable number of sensors necessary is a very big task for which success is by no means guaranteed.

    The second issue: Incredible amounts of data will be collected by those sensors (assuming the power issue is met). What, precisely, will be done with it? Do the tools exist to get the results that Cisco and others promise? It is a vital question. “We could create a dystopia just as easily as we could create a utopia,” writes Zeine. “The dividing line is deceivingly thin.”

    There have been incredible changes in technology during the past decade. Whether the advances, collectively, are destined to be an overall success or failure will be determined by the fate of smart cities. The reason is simple: Smart cities are the umbrella platforms upon which virtually all of these technologies must prove themselves. The promise is great and the signs are good. But the jury is still out.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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