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Making Cities Smarter

It makes sense that as our lives become hyper-connected, so will the cities we live in.

If you believe the hype, mobile technology could well be the tool that facilitates many of the smart, urban connections aimed at improving general city services, transportation, energy use, environmental/green activities, and even something as simple as signage.

There's no shortage of examples of how this is evolving in cities around the world, and executives at the recent Mobile World Congress were quick to share their theories of where all this could be heading.

To put the smart city concept in some context, let's look at some high-level trends offered up by Michael Halbherr, executive vice president of location and commerce at Nokia:

  1. The future lies in the city. By 2050, three quarters of the planet's population will be living in cities. “The rush to live in cities is unprecedented,” Halbherr said.
  2. The future lies in the mobile Internet. Pointing to the recent crossover phenomenon where smartphone shipments have outpaced PC shipments — a trend likely to keep growing, the next-generation Web platform will have mobile DNA. Everything will be designed with a “mobile first” mindset, he said.
  3. Watch how the role of intelligent sensors grows. Now with NFC, GPS, sophisticated mapping and imagining technology, the number of sensors being used and applied to existing devices and emerging platforms will keep growing, and will help capture data needed to improve city services, transportation, healthcare and many other areas.
  4. There will be even more devices tracking our lives. The explosion of devices and apps tracking fitness, action-sports, day-to-day lifestyle activities — to name a few — will continue to explode he said. Expect to see many different form factors come to market in the coming years, and many different ways to create mobile interactions with things happening in our everyday lives.
  5. Social and local will converge on mobile. Halbherr predicts that all services as we know them know as you know them will converge on location services. It's no longer just about when we're meeting someone or when we're doing something. The “where” we do things will become a more important facet of the mobile experience and will influence how cities respond to their citizens' needs. Yelp, Foursquare and similar apps and services already do this kind of individual tracking, and executives expect to see these kinds of consumer apps be carried over to city planning, building construction, tourism/local leisure activities, and energy and transportation management.

As these trends unfold, cross-sector collaboration around mapping will becoming more critical, as will the complex cognitive process needed in provided more universal descriptions, something (not coincidentally) Nokia is working on with the integration of NAVTEQ navigation tools and maps.

Shifting sands: Sensors, people and wireless technologies  are going to make cities very interesting places in the coming decades.

Shifting sands: Sensors, people and wireless technologies
are going to make cities very interesting places in the coming decades.

For cities ready to embrace more of this thinking and apply more technology common issues, a range of opportunities exists, several others noted.

As an example, cities — or new urban developments — can monitor routine activities like garbage collection and optimize scheduling so that pick-ups are timed when bins are full or near-full instead of relying on traditional pick-up times, said Erik Brenneis, director of Vodafone's machine to machine business.

Similar technology strategies are being applied to city security, street lightning, public transportation routes and car-sharing programs, he added.

Of course, many also voiced obvious concerns and questions that soon need to be answered if these activities become more mainstream:

Who owns the data generated in the cross-over between mobile technology and smart cities, and how will it be efficiently and effectively shared?

Will mobile operators monetize the collection and access to key location and identify information, or will there be a willingness to share data to serve the common good (in this case planning smarter cities that better serve citizens)?

And, let's not even get started on the layers of local and international security issues involved with sharing individuals' personal data… we could go on all day with that.

The main point is if we're really on the verge of seeing many, many smarter and better connected cities the world over, to one degree or another, how is the electronics supply chain moving its traditional computing know-how, consumer device expertise and innovative design and supply chain thinking towards something that scales to thousands of mobile interactions benefiting millions of people within the same city limits?

Let's share some ideas in the comments section.

8 comments on “Making Cities Smarter

  1. Brian Fuller
    March 7, 2013

    I received a mailer (analog tech) about a hearing in my San Francisco neighborhood. They're building smart lighting into the street lamps a block over, stretching probably a half mile. It's a test bed. The city of the future will be an amazing, much more energy-efficient place.

    Of course it will be hackable, but that's another story.

     

  2. FLYINGSCOT
    March 7, 2013

    This means there is huge opportinity for suppliers of long haul and metro based comms systems so companies that lead in MUX/DEMUX/SERIALIZERS/CDR/TZA ect should continue to do very well.  I am glad that this is happening as I remember in 2000 when the comms market crashed and stayed in the doldrums for years.

  3. _hm
    March 7, 2013

    These are all dream objects of desire. However, how much of family budget is required to achieve all these? In current situation, it may be very daunting to have many of these desires. These are good only if government provides wi-fi hot spot/ 4G connectivity just like street light, water and road – as basic infrastructure.

     

     

  4. Brian Fuller
    March 9, 2013

    @_hm, that's a very important point, however what's to say we won't evolve investment models so that less of that onus falls on government/taxpayers for the buildout? Maybe it's in Phillips' interest to subsidize the build-out of smart-LED lighting on freeways because of marketing reasons and because it's struck a business partnership with automotive-insurance companies… 

    I'm not sure that's a good example, but you can see where I'm headed. 

  5. Wale Bakare
    March 9, 2013

    Which aspect do you think would make huge impact in this? Telecommunications with wireless sensor connections, data storage centers and/or cloud service provisioning?

  6. Wale Bakare
    March 9, 2013

    >>Will mobile operators monetize the collection and access to key location and identify information, or will there be a willingness to share data to serve the common good (in this case planning smarter cities that better serve citizens)?<<

    Addressing this question a critical look at vast amount of investment going in making infrastructure in place an important pointer. At same time, explosiveness of data shunning out from the physical devices be it vehicle, power stations, electricity/gas meters, and etc. Where would they be stored? Evaluating all these we would know that monetization by the service providers may not necessarily the contemplating question. But how do we expect this to happen?

     

     

  7. SunitaT
    March 13, 2013

    These are good only if government provides wi-fi hot spot/ 4G connectivity just like street light, water and road – as basic infrastructure.

    @_hm, I wont be surprised if governments provide wi-fi hot-spot/4G connectivty as basic infrastructure just like street light, water and road considering the fact that
    several countries have adopted laws that make Internet access a right by requiring the state to work to ensure that Internet access is broadly available.

  8. _hm
    March 13, 2013

    @tirlapur: I consider this to be very crucial for government. Government can take lead and give kick start to country econmy with knowledge and information essential for this.

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