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What are smart cities 2.0?

The smart cities market proclaims it has reached a new phase in its evolution, at last, which is showing tangible results in terms of operational efficiencies and sustainability. With familiar terminology, borrowed from the world of software, it has dubbed this new phase ‘Smart Cities 2.0’. But what does that actually mean, and what comes after it in the development of smart cities?

Austin Ashe, general manager for intelligent cities at ‎Current, GE’s energy management unit, explains: “There has been a significant shift in the way smart cities are perceived and developed. The idea of smart cities has been around for 10-15 years, and it used to be about helping City Hall be more efficient through the deployment of certain very dedicated and intentional solutions, which optimise one or two things.

“That was Smart Cities 1.0, and those kinds of solutions have been very helpful for cities. But the rise of IoT has propagated a shift away from City Hall and into the wider community. Now, every entity within the city is involved – from entrepreneurs, investors and integrators, through to the city services, the education system, and the residents themselves.”

GE has been involved in a smart-city street-lighting project in San Diego, in the U.S., which will see the city install a sensor network across 3,200 lampposts in its downtown area in the period to Christmas. It is part of a wider $30 million upgrade of 14,000 of the city’s 60,000 street poles with LED lighting, a move that will save $2.4 million per year in energy costs.

The city’s new sensor network is designed to be accessible, upgradeable and open. Ashe describes the set-up as a “smartphone on a pole”. Each node in the network features acoustical, optical and environmental sensors running off an Intel chip. These capture data from the surrounding area. Dell’s Pivotal software extrapolates and extracts anonymized metadata at the edge of the network.

AT&T supplies Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for short-range connectivity, including for future vehicle communications, and fiber and LTE for backhaul to the cloud. GE’s Predix, its operating system for the industrial internet, provides the management platform, which establishes privacy settings and security, and gives the city authority control over the data.

“It is a platform that will address a multitude of use cases that people haven’t even thought of yet,” says Ashe. Anonymized data collected by its sensors will be made available to application developers and enterprises. Ashe compares its potential impact on city operations to the consumer app revolution, forged by a developer ecosystem with open access to data and sensors, and free license to innovate.

San Diego represents an early example of a new Smart Cities 2.0 philosophy, and is explored in depth in the Enterprise IoT Insights editorial report, ‘The building blocks of a smart city’, along with reviews of 2.0 programmes in Guadalajara in Mexico, Barcelona in Spain, and Manchester in the U.K.

“San Diego unlocks this potential. It solves everything in the 1.0 realm – it makes parking better, traffic better, public safety better,” says Ashe. “But it also enables cities to be more workable and liveable by creating jobs and deepening their engagement model. It invites citizens to customise their own [smart city] app store. It’s a whole new mind-set.”

Mike Zeto, executive director of AT&T’s smart cities business unit, says the broader availability of city data has facilitated the market’s shift up a gear. “The value is getting the data from an endpoint device via a secure communications network to the cloud, and an application that allows people to make sense of it, and become proactive rather than reactive, and a Smart City 2.0, rather than 1.0,” he says.

The development of LTE technologies, through to 5G, will see even more advanced applications emerge and this new breed of smart cities established across developed markets, notes Zeto. “It is an evolution, not a revolution. Over the next five to 10 years, as 5G is deployed, and policies are developed around autonomous vehicles and drones, and such futuristic stuff is deployed, we will really see what a version 2.0 smart city can be.”

Eric Woods, research director at Navigant Research, observes the step-change in planning and deployment, but suggests the market is stull struggling to define smart city business models that stack up.

“There is a phase change in terms of what the market is trying to achieve, and the technical solutions and strategies needed for it. These cities now, and those coming along in the second wave, are not interested in technological plans for the sake of it. They understand many of these technologies are available to be used; it’s the business case that is more complex and crucial for cities to become smart,” he says.

“There is a change, definitely – the technologies have matured, and the understanding of cities’ needs have developed as well. But the market hasn’t yet established a set of well-understood, replicable business models that make it possible for cities to easily procure and justify these technological solutions, apart from a few well-established use cases.”

For an in-depth look at the evolution of smart cities, check out this report and accompanying webinar.


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