The new reality created by the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, software-defined networks (SDNs) and other advances has many ramifications. One of those riding slightly under the radar is that municipalities, even big cities, can essentially be programmed. Smart cities can just as easily be called programmed cities.
This, obviously, raises a great number of issues. One of the most important is a common one in regard to new technology: How is it implemented on a wide scale basis? It clearly isn’t enough to know that this technology is available or that it works under controlled conditions. It also must be widely implemented.
The major players are the telecommunications providers. The telcos, it seems, at a very high level are working to create the infrastructure to make these exciting tools generally available. Last week, for instance, AT&T said that it will bring fiber services under the AT&T Fiber branding to 11 more metropolitan areas.
The carrier said that the new markets are Gainesville and Panama City, Florida; Columbus, Georgia; central Kentucky; Lafayette, Louisiana; Biloxi/Gulfport, Mississippi; northeast Mississippi; Wilmington, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; southwestern Tennessee and Corpus Christi, Texas.
This is only the latest example of telecommunications companies expanding their offerings. More subtle improvements, such as innovations in digital subscriber line (DSL), cable industry technology and work on 5G, mean that cities will have even more capabilities to offer smart cities services.
The third leg of the stool – after massive technical advances in the ability to process data and the capacity to move it – is government involvement. That piece of the puzzle is falling into place as well. Late last month, the Obama administration expanded the year-old Smart Cities initiative with an $80 million investment. The expansion, made in conjunction with Smart Cities Week, focuses on climate, transportation, public safety, and the transformation of city services.
So the future of smart cities seems bright. There is a potential fly in the ointment, however. The question is how willing the telephone industry really is to push the smart city when their bottom line isn’t directly and positively affected. The clue that all may not be as optimistic as press releases and marketing collateral announcing expansions is the way in which the carriers are fighting against the expansion of municipal services.
The short version of the story is that the telcos are battling against city-based services in places such as Pinetops, North Carolina and bigger municipalities such as Chattanooga. The pushback comes in cases in which profits are endangered or even when it seems that they could be at some indefinite point in the future. The road to smart cities is increasingly open.
The things that stand in the concept’s way are the bottom lines of the companies that own most of the infrastructure that makes it possible. That resistance could fade, or it could grow more formidable.
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 [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.