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Five key enablers for smart cities

Technological advances are paving the way for mass deployment of ICT by municipalities around the world

Experts increasingly agree that the technological pieces required to build smart cities are now becoming available and at reasonable cost, paving the way for the broader adoption of ICT by municipalities to address key challenges, such as congestion, pollution and energy efficiency. “There will be technologies that will come along later that will turn out to be useful, but there isn’t some yawning gap or some roadblock preventing city-type applications from being deployed,” says Jeremy Green, principal analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Through our research for an in-depth report into the evolution of smart cities, and an associated webinar, we have identified the following five key technological enablers:

Low power, wide area (LPWA) networks are making it increasingly viable to connect large numbers of devices, machines, vehicles and appliances.

As the name suggests, these networks are frugal with power, enabling a connected device to have a battery life measured in years, rather than weeks. This capability could dramatically reduce maintenance costs, making it more feasible to deploy connected sensors in inaccessible locations. As these LPWA networks allow a device to “sleep” in between communications, proponents of LPWA technologies forecast battery lives of 10 years. They also generate far less signaling traffic than conventional cellular networks.

Low cost connected sensors, actuators and switches: Moore’s Law, together with the use of LPWA modules, is bringing down the cost of deploying and maintaining connected sensors, cameras, actuators and switches. Although such devices can be connected to a gateway using short-range wireless technologies, the falling cost of equipment means that many will have their own IP address enabling them to communicate directly with a smart city platform.

Edge computing: Moore’s Law has also made it increasingly viable to deploy smart devices at the edge of networks. There have, for example, been dramatic improvements in image processing capabilities, which can enable a video camera to analyze images and then transmit the salient information back to the city administration. “You can now increasingly do processing at the edge of the network,” says Green. Being able to process data at the edge of the network could, for example, help a city use one set of connected cameras to fulfil a number or roles, such as security, congestion monitoring and road charging.

Standardized interfaces and greater interoperability. To create compelling smart city solutions, the data captured by different kinds of sensors needs to be easy to access, aggregate and analyze.  There are a number of initiatives under way to encourage smart city services and solutions to adopt standardized application programming interfaces (APIs), which will make it easier for developers to harness data from multiple sources and provide consumers and businesses with valuable apps and services for smart cities.

Low cost data analytics platforms. It is becoming easier and more cost-effective to access the computing power and software required to aggregate data from multiple sources and analyze that data. Cloud services from Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and others have made these kinds of capabilities more accessible to both companies and public sector organizations. However, there is an ongoing shortage of the data scientists required to run this analytics: municipalities face a lot of competition for this talent.


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