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Intelligent Spaces: Using Smart Cities

The demands from everyone that lives in a city has radically changed over the last decade. The smart city has had to develop its infrastructures to cope with these changes. Silicon UK considers how the near-future city will operate and how technology will deliver seamless connectivity in an environment that will see robotics, AI’s, IoT, and more autonomous transport, becoming the norm.

According to the United Nations, by 2050, 68% of the world’s population will be living in cities. As our cities continue to expand, how these smart cities are used will have technology at their heart.

Speaking to Silicon UK, Jamie Hayes, Mobile Network Operations Director at BT Wholesale said: “For smart cities to become a reality, strong, reliable connectivity needs to underpin technological change. Without it, IoT devices won’t be able to gather the data and insights needed to improve transport and other facilities. Many cities rely on legacy systems and outdated infrastructure which can’t support the connectivity and bandwidth needed for smart solutions. The main challenge for cities is modifying existing networking capabilities and introducing cellular technologies to support new devices and applications for smart cities.”

Jamie Hayes, Mobile Network Operations Director at BT Wholesale.

Hayes concluded: “Aside from connectivity, negative public perception of smart cities presents a significant challenge. Anxiety surrounding data collection and processing prevents the public from embracing the smart city vision. However, data used for smart cities is data that has already been collected. What’s more, a number of experts believe that following the pandemic, people have become more accepting of data acquisition, providing an even greater opportunity for smart city adoption.”

Smart cities are not just one entity but also a collection of services that deliver improvements in people’s lives. McKinsey calls this ‘layers of smartness.’

“After a decade of trial and error, municipal leaders are realizing that smart city strategies start with people, not technology. ‘Smartness’ is not just installing digital interfaces in traditional infrastructure or streamlining city operations. It is about using technology and data purposefully to make better decisions and deliver a better quality of life.”

Smart cities add digital intelligence to the urban world and use them to solve public problems and achieve a higher quality of life.

As a smart city operator, Connexin knows first-hand what is needed to make sustainable, intelligent, programmable communities of the future a reality. It has already achieved many ground-breaking achievements in a short time frame. In 2019, Connexin delivered the UK’s first purpose-built Smart City Operating System for Hull and this year helped Amey implement Connexin’s CityOS platform to improve highway maintenance services across Sheffield.

It paved the way for smarter communities, even specific streets, take Newcastle, for example, now after an £80m injection from a global fund has set it’s set its sights on a major expansion to address future challenges posed by the pandemic (i.e., better connectivity of infrastructure), to promote a better quality of life (i.e., air quality sensors for cleaner air) and to create environmental improvements (i.e., smart metering to prevent water leakage, three billion liters a day is lost currently!).

Says Rob Bullock, CSO, Connexin, “Now more than ever, we have been taught by the pandemic the true value of technology and the societal benefits that it has for citizens.”

Rob Bullock, CSO, Connexin.

Looking at smart cities’ development as if there were digital services – giving them an operating system that each digital channel can connect to is a model that all cities will follow. As the burgeoning IoT, 5G and, autonomous vehicles come into focus, integrating them into a complete system that shares standards will become the norm.

Smart city spaces

The focus of a discussion on smart city development will often talk about how the technologies smart cities rely upon will be developed and then implemented. In the OECD’s report into smart cities and inclusive growth, the organization made the salient point that smart cities must be for their people and that all urban residents may not have full inclusive access.

“While the digital revolution is offering an unprecedented window of opportunity to improve the lives of millions of urban residents, there is no guarantee that the rapid diffusion of new technologies will automatically benefit citizens across the board. Smart city policies need to be designed, implemented, and monitored as a tool to improve wellbeing for all people.

“Smart cities need smart governance. Business and contractual models need to adapt to rapidly changing urban environments and encompass a more holistic approach, sometimes re-regulate rather than simply de-regulate, and leverage public procurement, including at the pre-procurement stage.”

Also, in their report, Accenture makes the critical point that we must not focus totally on the digital technologies that can often define what a smart or intelligent city is: “The intelligent infrastructure is both analog and digital. That is, in addition to the physical infrastructure—roads, buildings, rail, power, and utility grids—information and communications technology infrastructure serves as the basis for most of the monitoring and optimization capabilities of an Intelligent City, and for the interaction between citizens and service providers.”

The burgeoning 5G network has been cited by many as a core foundation for smart cities. Speaking to Silicon UK, Vijay Raja, Head of Industry and Solutions Marketing, Cloudera commented:

“5G technology is needed as it’s designed to offer higher data transmission rates. Theoretically, 5G can top anywhere between 1 and 10Gbps in download speeds and one-millisecond latency. We can still realistically expect average download speeds of 50 Mbps and latency of 10ms, compared to the current average 4G speeds of around 15Mbps and 50ms. Besides speed, 5G’s lower latency also offers more reliability to enable mission-critical applications. Elements of the smart city such as enabling autonomous driving, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) can only be deployed once this connectivity can be done with a reliable network.

Vijay Raja, Head of Industry and Solutions Marketing, Cloudera.

“Ultimately, creating a truly smart city will also depend on making sure that the huge amounts of data can be processed and analyzed in an integrated fashion, securely with governance and lineage, so that true insights and actions can be driven out of it. Leading organizations across Europe and APAC are leveraging the power of an enterprise data cloud platform to power smart cities and enable innovative use cases.”

Also, Mike Hallam, MD, Wholesale, Virgin Media Business, said: “Covid-19 has thrust smart cities to the top the agenda. 5G will be essential in making these a reality. But there are challenges to overcome to ensure the technology fulfills its potential. 5G has created new backhaul needs that need to be met to offer reliable coverage in a world of autonomous and connected vehicles and dramatically increased consumer data usage. As 5G uses a higher band spectrum with a shorter range, mobile operators need to build more small cells to provide consumers with a reliable 5G signal on the go. Connecting these require fiber to be built deeper into networks.”

With Kevin Hasley, Chief Commercial Officer, RootMetrics concluding: “In short, we don’t have the network capability yet. 4G LTE has made significant progress in connectivity, and standards like NB-IoT and LORA have helped. Still, without 5G, there simply isn’t the necessary infrastructure and capacity to meet the demands we require for smart cities. For example, 4G LTE and NB-IoT/LORA will struggle with the density of devices and new use cases (from intelligent traffic lights to increased video monitoring and more) that a smart city brings. To start, 5G will enable enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA). This will help manage capacity for peak data uses across urban areas.

“Moving forward, 5G will power ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC) where even the slightest delay could have catastrophic results. Take driverless cars for an example. Testing has shown that the infrastructure is not there yet. But once 5G is fully rolled out and the teething issues are ironed out, then the network will be able to manage how driverless cars communicate with the surrounding environment they’re in.

“Keep in mind, though, that 4G LTE will need to continue to act as a critical backbone to 5G. For smart cities to truly take off, we need extensive 5G coverage, plus wide-ranging 4G LTE to provide additional reliability as needed. 5G is the future, but 4G LTE will not disappear.”

Post-COVID smart cities

How cities and the businesses within them will operate after the pandemic could see profound changes to the fabric of urban environments and how their citizens use them. Digital venture builder and investment specialists UP Ventures Group, in partnership with MediaCityUK and The Connected Places Catapult, have announced a Smart City Accelerator Programme.

UP Ventures Managing Partner, Steven Thomas, said: “Our mission with this programme is to find and enable the technologies that can have a profoundly positive impact on citizens and the places that they live and work. Our team and partners are hugely passionate about technology and how it can help people and businesses thrive again in such difficult times.”

Stephen Wild, Managing Director of MediaCityUK, said: “Our world is rapidly evolving and by supporting an important accelerator programme such as this means we’re able to invest in the talent who, going forward, can make a positive difference to the way we lead our lives in a post COVID world. MediaCityUK is very much a living ‘Smart City’ laboratory where we will be the springboard for some of the greatest innovations of our time and we very much want these talented technologists to succeed and grow within the MediaCityUK community.”

PwC also made an important point about the challenges that still remain in their report ‘Creating the Smart Cities of the Future:’ “While challenges can be seen to some degree in all markets globally, their nature and relative importance vary in different territories, reflecting a vast range of factors – technological, infrastructural, political, social, economical and more. As smart cities progress and develop, our three-tier model provides an ideal framework for addressing these challenges while simultaneously opening up new commercial and service opportunities.

Challenges in smart city implementation. [Source: PwC]

According to new research commissioned by E.ON, this impact has been particularly felt by the business community, with 92% of leaders saying they have made sweeping changes in response to Covid-19. That involves planning for long-term, flexible remote working (44%), downsizing office space (37%), and becoming more digital (44%) in the next 12 months – all of which have the potential to radically alter the make-up of cities across the UK.

These changes must be balanced with ongoing sustainability efforts to help meet the UK’s net-zero emissions target by 2050. Four-fifths (80%) of business leaders say they are actively seeking ways to make their companies more environmentally friendly. Such changes mean the role of cities has been called into sharp focus: while the majority of businesses (90%) feel rooted in their locale – saying it is essential to their business – nearly half (44%) say the cities in which they operate are no longer suitable for their needs.

And no discussion of smart cities can ignore privacy and security. Cloudera’s Vijay Raja was stark in his view: “No data, no smart city. People will only share the data needed for smart cities to become a reality if they trust it is being handled with extreme care and responsibility. Therefore, security and privacy must be front and center for any IoT related projects, including the ones around smart cities. Transparency is critical to trust and we should expect that citizens will want to understand how their data is being used by different entities within the smart city infrastructure. Toolsets and strategies will need to evolve to enable controlled access to large volumes of data.”

Claudio Scola, Director, Head of Product Management, EMEA at Lumen also explained in detail: “We have learned in recent years how easy it can be to gather enough data to segment individuals geographically, demographically, psychographically and sociographically and use this to influence decision making. A smart city could also potentially track individuals. If you combine all of this data, you can build very accurate predictive models. This intelligence can have enormous benefits for citizens, but to counter fears of a potential Orwellian society, it will be essential to drive the benefits of smart cities with individual anonymity.

“Cybersecurity also needs to be a top priority before allowing the smart city to be digitally controlled. Several issues need to be addressed. There has been a rapid explosion of IoT devices where many are not hardened enough for security. There are many examples of devices that have been easily infected with malware such as Mirai that turn the device into a bot as part of a potentially large botnet that can take down services. In recent times we’ve also seen an increase in ransom DDoS threats.

“An intelligent and automated threat response ecosystem to prevent cyber-attacks is critical. As a Global Tier 1 ISP, Lumen has an expansive view of the global Internet traffic and threat landscape. We use this threat intelligence to protect our network and those of our customers. We are constantly investing in DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack mitigation solutions that minimize downtime and bolster application performance with multiple layers of defense across multi-vector and mixed application-layer attacks.”

The smart city is rapidly developing. The pandemic may have dampened the speed at which these intelligent spaces are being created, but the momentum isn’t diminished. The smart city of the near future will be bristling with technology. It’s vital, though, to remember the analog infrastructure and, of course, the people that will be using these spaces.

Silicon in Focus

Dr Jacqui Taylor, CEO, and Co-Founder of FlyingBinary and the world’s first Smart City Tsar.

What are the remaining challenges to make a smart city a reality?

The Smart City agenda has had a reboot from the technology-led agenda since 2014 to an outcome-based schedule for 2020. I delivered the global plan in February 2020 for the Future Digital Economies of the G20 nations. The technology focus has predominantly been delivered in the megacities, classified as those with a population of over 10 million; it has not made them smart.

Is 5G essential to deliver the core components of a smart city? Or do we have network capability now?

In most of the world, network connectivity is poor and certainly not the foundation for delivering services that use connected devices using the Internet of Things technologies. While 5G can provide city services in dese areas of population in the current pandemic climate, the opportunities to realize 5G are severely limited, with over 1 billion people now working from home. Additionally, the use cases for 5G have not yet been demonstrated. In short, 5G is not essential for smart cities, nor likely to be focused in cities that are currently not experiencing the footfall needed to demand this technology.

How important are standards to ensure interoperability between systems in the city environment?

Standards can play a crucial role but do not currently because cities carry a technical debt, which has an enormous ownership cost. This is a chicken and egg situation as technical debt forms a barrier to investment. A new approach that I’m currently working on with several G20 countries is a sustainable funding approach. Sustainable funding approaches are the key to unlocking smart cities’ value and creating a vibrant ecosystem for change, which standards can underpin.

Additionally, based on my work both in a national, European, and international setting, there are a bewildering array of standards available that are difficult to adopt and implement. A refreshed standards agenda is required to support all smart city stakeholders, particularly to assist with adopting those standards.

How are the issues of privacy and security being addressed as the smart city becomes a reality?

This is a tough one as the 2014 agenda using Open Data is inadequate for the current regulatory and legislative environment. I have written new data standards that shift this to a new shared data agenda at the international level. I’ve been recognized as one of the six Data Protection Practitioners of Excellence by the UK ICO for this global work. The move to a shared data agenda has been specifically created to address the complex issues of privacy and security. This is an immature agenda in smart cities, and there are particular concerns around the possibility that citizens’ pattern of life data would create additional privacy and security risks.

Can you point to any cities that are illustrating how smart cities can work for their citizens?

I have just completed an essential report for the European Commission, which explicitly addresses citizen requirements for Smart Cities. This has mainly not been addressed anywhere in the world. There are several key recommendations in the report which address this major gap. Europe is preparing to include the citizen requirements as part of the new EU work program, including changes to the standardization program. Additionally, how smart cities deliver change is recommended to be from a perspective of changing outcomes for citizens’ health and wellbeing.

As a result of the Smart Cities agenda’s lack of success, which has been largely technology-led rather than technology-enabled, a shift in approach is now happening; this new approach has moved from smart to sustainable cities and communities. The importance of an inclusive agenda that is not just focused on the megacities is very much focused on the broader population to change outcomes for citizens positively.

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