What’s driving smart city trend, and how it will impact local economies?
HOUSTON–Carriers, vendors and municipalities around the world are embracing smart city technology–sensors, cameras, smart meters and other IoT devices–meant to drive urban quality-of-life. As cities gain intelligence and process become automated, there’s the opportunity to gain efficiency while creating new revenue streams. But, before we look at the potential economic implications of the smart city, let’s take a look at what’s driving this important trend.
At the HetNet Expo in Houston, Texas, Jason Nelson of the Smart Cities Council set the stage by enumerating five trends leading to demand for smart city technology:
- Massive urban influx; right now, 54% of the global population lives in a city with that figure expected to grow to 66% by 2050
- Climate change is prompting massive overhauls of existing power grid, transmission and distribution infrastructure
- The need for resiliency to disaster, both natural and man-made.
- The desire for better government, which brings value to citizens while driving efficiency
- Members of the global workforce can live anywhere, so cities are becoming competitive in an attempt to attract workforce and enterprise employers.
Panelist Jake Rasweiler of SWI Innovation Delivered explained the mindset that guides municipal decision-making. The people doing the buying often are not technologists, so the first step is market education. Any decision is based on an economic outcome, which, in turn, equates to a requirement and a business case.
All five panel participants agreed that funding is the No. 1 obstacle to smart city adoption, but Bryan Darr, president and CEO of Mosaik Solutions, said a close second is network availability. “None of this works without network availability,” he told conference attendees. “If the network isn’t there, then you can’t connect to it. The networks tend to get built out, understandably from the operator standpoint, where they can make the most money.” But this model ignores a key, at least conceptual, goal of smart cities, which is bridging the digital divide.
As municipal leaders make technology decisions, another ever-present problem is a lack of inter-departmental sharing of information and budget dollars.
“The traditional procurement process is so siloed,” Todd Christner of Corning explained. “There’s budget dollars in several different buckets.” He gave the example of a recent project with a school district wanting to improve its fiber ring. The requirement was access to all students, but budget limitations restricted investment to two schools out of a total of 11 buildings. Christner said, after getting a better understanding of the district’s budget, that money earmarked for facilities could be used for improvements generally associated with the IT budget.
“We were able to get all 11 buildings done for about $50,000 over their original budget,” he said. “That’s the biggest challenge. It really took somebody…to really kind of break down those walls inside his own organization. The school had the money, it was just in different pockets.”
Another undercurrent of the discussion was the inherent challenges associated with a lack of centralized government planning.
Steve Crout, VP of government affairs at Qualcomm, said: “We all are fortunate to live with the benefits of democracy, but with that democracy we have the challenge that freedom of choice brings us. Every state, every city, every town, every department has choice. This can create inherent difficulties in building out an interoperable system. Without leadership from the top to get the various competing jurisdictions all on the same page, you’re gonna have a system that doesn’t serve the bulk of the citizenship.”
Russell Agle of SpiderCloud added, “Look at Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, the speed of deployment for a new idea for public safety or trash collection or municipal services is stunning. What they’re able to collect and what they’re able to do in a matter of weeks would take years at the rate we’re going right now.”