Over the last ten years, we have witnessed a lot of hype building around the concept of smart cities, and finally the sensors, ubiquitous connectivity, cloud and data analytics capabilities and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms exist to make this pipedream a reality.
Countries around the world have been racing to get there first, testing smart city systems in areas such as building management, transport and energy to be able to call their city one of the first truly smart cities. Their approaches have differed considerably too. In emerging markets such as India, a smart city can be built practically out of nothing in greenfield sites, whereas in developed economies such as in Europe, a smart city has to be built around existing infrastructure in brownfield sites and adapted to legacy systems, which can be more challenging.
Indian smart cities – and villages
One emerging market that has recently taken the lead in smart cities development is India, where Kochi (Kerala), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) and Bhubaneswar (Odisha) recently unveiled their ambitions for a smarter future for the benefit of city dwellers, businesses and society as a whole. A smart city project that is already underway is in the western state of Gujarat, near Ahmedabad, called Gujarat International Finance Tec City (GIFT). It is looking to attract trillions of dollars of investment with the aim of becoming not only the country’s first fully-fledged smart city, but also a rival for Hong Kong, London, New York City and Singapore as a major global financial services centre. The Bombay Stock Exchange has already set up an international exchange in GIFT, and the data centre and connectivity infrastructure to underpin the smart systems of the city is being deployed as we speak.
An area where smart cities could make a huge difference in a country like India is urbanisation, which manifests itself on a daily basis as electricity shortages and traffic jams, for example. Indian smart city projects aim to tackle the challenges associated with explosive urbanisation by harnessing the power of networked IT and IoT systems spanning traffic control, parking, communication, energy management and much more.
What’s particularly fascinating is that India’s smart ambitions aren’t confined to cities only: the state of Rajasthan has plans to develop more than 3,000 smart villages, with connected utility systems, including access to clean drinking water, more wide-spread Wi-Fi connectivity, e-libraries, smart street lights and e-health facilities.
The smart city race is on in Europe
In Germany, the focus for smart cities is on enhanced urban transport networks, water supply and waste disposal facilities, and more efficient lighting and heating systems for buildings. Additionally, city planners are exploring the potential of smart systems to enable more interactive and responsive city administration, the development of safer public spaces, and meeting the needs of an ageing population. And, the country is ahead of many others, having launched in 2011 the well-known Morgenstadt initiative to support upcoming smart city projects in Cologne, Hamburg and Munich. Of these, Cologne’s smart city stands out for me – because it started in a public housing area built in the 1950s. Dewog-Siedlung and Stegerwald-Siedlung areas are now becoming equipped with interconnected e-bikes, an electric car sharing system, energy supply via the Internet, state-of-the-art photovoltaic power systems and cutting-edge communication technologies.
In the UK too, Bristol, Glasgow, Milton Keynes and Cambridge are building their own smart cities. Bristol, for example, plans to solve problems such as air pollution and assisted living for the elderly as part of the smart city agenda. Testing with machine-to-machine interaction is taking place too, with companies developing wireless links that enable driverless cars to communicate with smart city infrastructure and to even bring people new entertainment experiences with sensing and video processing capabilities.
Finally, my home town of Singapore is adopting perhaps the most ambitious data gathering and analysis effort ever seen in a smart city, using sensors and cameras spread across the city-state to monitor everything such as crowd density and traffic flows. The ultimate goal is to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases and prepare emergency services in the event of natural disasters.
As more countries continue to adopt a smart city infrastructure, the hype will become a more significant reality. However, the extent of these possibilities will rely on some critical foundations.
In part two of this blog post, I will look at the dependencies underpinning smart cities.
Read one of my previous blogs where I looked at 5 hot trends from Mobile World Congress 2017.