Gartner predicts 6.4 billion connected 'things' will be in use worldwide by the end of 2016, which is a 30 per cent increase from 2015. The concept of connected "things" encompasses far more than just devices and involves connected cities and infrastructure. Smart cities promote numerous advantages for the public and organisations alike, improving communication response capability, remote control potential for public services and interactive experiences for the public.
A leading example of this is Kansas City's smart city initiative - a collaborative $15 million partnership between Cisco, Sprint and Think Big Partners. The initiative focuses on the City's two-mile-long street car route, and is one of the first economic development projects credited to the City's modern car user. Residents on this stretch of road have free access to cutting-edge technologies, such as free public Wi-Fi, smart streetlights, smart traffic signals and interactive kiosks.
Smart cities are also moving from concept to reality throughout central Europe, with metropolitan cities such as Amsterdam leading the way. The city deployed 40 projects ranging from smart parking, to the development of home energy storage for integration with a smart grid. Businesses, residents and educational institutions are strongly encouraged to suggest and apply future thinking ideas and solutions for their cities. This open approach to developing concepts such as these and whole market collaboration has been the core to the city's success so far.
Who's connecting first?
The race to connect metropolitan cities throughout Europe is fuelling innovation, improving business districts and driving growth. This is demonstrated in the UK by the Smart London Plan that was originally created before the 2012 Olympics, with the objective of utilising the creative power of new technologies to improve the lives of Londoners.
However, if the benefits from smart city adoption are so apparent, being aided with the constant emergence of connected solutions (IoT, 5G, Cloud), what is hindering smart city deployment?
So what is the hold up?
Some attribute the hesitation to deploy to a lack of connected infrastructure requiring more antenna sites to be made available throughout cities. Antenna sites are a much needed asset in smart city development as they enable radio frequencies to boost wireless connectivity potential and availability in selected sites. The increasing development of 5G and the integration of internet-enabled solutions across all city infrastructure will continue to demand more antenna sites and readily available fiber connectivity at a competitive standard.
Mobile operators, who own the license that can enable improvements to be made to wireless broadband signals and therefore incentivise investment, are able to dictate the rate at which antenna sites are developed. However, the business case is continuing to change and decisions are frequently reliant on a guaranteed user case, to ensure return on investment, before further investment or collaboration to market incumbents is offered.
This, in part, is continuing to restrict the speed of progression in relation to smart city initiatives, as interaction and communication between a combination of wireless technologies is needed for its success.
How can we ensure the smart city will flourish?
Supporting technological infrastructure within a city and its availability must be capable of managing the increased demand on network usage. Therefore, governing bodies must ensure that an effective roll out of fibre connectivity is achieved and managed, combined with the roll out of more antenna sites and full market collaboration.
Regulators and governing bodies will continue to play a crucial role in the progression of connectivity standards and availability within countries. In the UK for example, Ofcom is driving the increased market availability of dark fibre ducts to wider competition in the UK. These regulators can apply further pressure to mobile operators and other incumbents in the space to support and invest in smart city initiatives, emphasising the need for increased collaboration between mobile operators and network fibre based providers, to enable smart cities to thrive.
Education is fundamental, as many organisations are demanding and driving for their own involvement in smart city projects across the globe. However, without the ability to best utilise what is on offer and understand where organisations can provide value, potential investment opportunities may continue to be squandered due to simply a lack knowledge. Within the UK, the City of London created a digital infrastructure toolkit, named Wayleaves, which gives broadband providers, SMEs, landlords and developers the information and support they need to deliver digital infrastructure in an efficient way. This incentivises the development of average connection standards and can act as a useful resource for smart city project conceptualisation.
Partner for the future
It is crucial for market incumbents to begin communicating effectively and developing relationships for the future. A desirable matrix relationship would combine 3G and 4G mobile providers, with Dark Fibre enablers and non-profit organisations. When amalgamated, a powerful, viable and efficient connectivity standard can be offered to public sector organisations accelerating smart city project roll outs across Europe.
To enable this collaboration to occur, a neutral host model is recommended, that will allow network providers of all calibres to offer and receive coverage and capacity benefits to and from other providers in the market, via a single distribution backbone.
This boasts huge advantages for the wider development of smart cities and can reduce mobile operator costs, speed up time to market for multi-operator service and offload the responsibility for maintaining a distributed antenna system from a carrier to a third party.