Do smart cities need 5G?
How to move from limited smart cities pilots to scaled deployments
“Smart cities” is most certainly a nebulous term. At a high-level, it refers to a collection of use cases, things like public Wi-Fi, information kiosks, responsive lighting, traffic management, etc…, that, individually and collectively, can make a city more efficient, sustainable, accessible and all around more attractive to residents.
From a technology standpoint, the use cases have commonalities like wired and wireless connectivity, sensors that take in a variety of data points and the compute infrastructure to analyze the data and initiate an action.
But, to the connectivity point, is the success of smart cities, as singular investments and as an overarching ambition needed in response to mass urbanization, dependent on 5G?
5G is available to a limited extent in the United States, South Korea, Britain, Switzerland and a few other countries as of the fourth quarter of 2018. While operators have made clear the intention to scale out networks and services, it will take time before there’s ubiquitous coverage and consistent experiences available around the world.
And there’s still more standardization and development work needed before 5G can fully support the three primary use cases pinned to it–enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-type communication and ultra reliable low latency communications. So, in short, 5G is here today but it’s not everywhere and won’t be for some time; yet smart city projects have been underway for years.
So, is 5G a requirement for a smart city? No. But will 5G serve as a major enabler for smart cities? Yes, particularly in terms of supporting up to a million connected devices per square kilometer, a major enhancement as compared to LTE.
But this is somewhat paradoxical given the realities of what we’re seeing on the ground in terms of smart city investments. Limited pilot projects have proven very difficult to scale. So if there were hundreds of thousands of sensors blanketing an urban core in service of a smart city project, 5G would be the way to go, but, for the most part, that’s not the case anywhere.
Regardless of what the smart city project is, “It’s all about connectivity,” Morné Erasmus, director of smart cities for CommScope, said. “If you look at it in the simplest form, it’s all about connecting IoT devices, getting some insight into whatever the applications are and then driving efficiencies higher. All of that happens through connectivity. You need to connect edge devices back to the cloud, scrub the data and improve your process. That’s what ‘smart’ is all about. The fundamental layer is connectivity.”