“Smart cities” is a buzzword of the moment. There is currently no single accepted definition of a “smart city” and much depends on who is supplying the characteristics: industry, politicians, civil society and citizens/users are four immediately and obviously disparate sets of stakeholders. It is easier perhaps not to define smart cities but to elaborate their key features in orser to better understand this concept. The connecting key infrastructure that is most often mentioned as making cities “smart” includes:
- networks of sensors attached to real-world objects such as roads, cars, fridge, electricity meters, domestic appliances and human medical implants which connect these objects (=IOT) to digital networks. These IoT networks generate data in particularly huge amounts known as “big data”.
- networks of digital communications enabling real-time data streams which can be combined with each other and then be mined and repurposed for useful results;
- high capacity, often cloud-based, infrastructure which can support and provide storage for this interconnection of data, applications, things, and people.
Scanning through numerous smart city projects and initiatives undertook, eight key activities can be identified that often define a smart city, ie: smart governance, smart infrastructure, smart building, smart connectivity, smart healthcare, smart energy, smart mobility and smart citizens.
A European survey shows that the benefits of smart cities are obvious, but IT security and technological challenges are a major barrier to their acceptance. Ruckus, a network connectivity provider, has published the results of its Smart Cities Survey with UK market research firm, Atomik Research. The survey surveyed 380 European IT decision-makers from the public sector.
The aim of the study is to understand the attitudes towards the implementation of smart city concepts and to learn what opportunities they offer to the industry. The majority of respondents (82%) believe that smart city technologies are helping to increase citizens’ security and reduce crime rates, for example via smart lighting or networked surveillance cameras. Although the benefits seem to be well known, fears of cyber attacks are a major barrier to the Smart City. For 58% of the IT decision makers surveyed, the biggest problem is followed by a lack of technology infrastructure and funding.
Benefits of citywide connectivity
The survey results show that the infrastructure and technology platforms created for Smart Cities could be used to add significant value to the public sector and to develop innovative applications that directly address citizens’ needs. Other areas that benefit from the smart city model include local health (81%) and transport (81%), which provide greater access to public services for citizens through extensive networking. According to IT decision-makers, smart city concepts also provide crucial benefits for the security of citizens (72%), public transport (62%) and the health service (60%).
Nick Watson, vice president of EMEA at Ruckus, said: “A basic understanding of the benefits to citizens shows that policymakers are aware of the benefits of this technology. As the return on investment becomes clearer and smart cities become more and more commonplace, targeted advocacy will allow organizations to work together to make the city of the future a reality. Of course, given the amount of sensitive data that could be divulged, it is not surprising that security concerns play a big role. Only a secure, robust and reliable network will allow to address these concerns and create a secure foundation for smart cities. “
Benefits of smart cities
The survey shows that the public sector is well aware of the added value that smart cities has to offer. Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents said smart cities bring benefits. 78% of respondents said that they recognize that there are strong economic reasons for investing in smart city concepts. These reasons include firstly the credibility of a smart city (20%) and future infrastructure (19%). On the other hand, there is the related attractiveness, which leads to the resettlement of companies (18%) and suggests that the true value of smart cities lies in generating revenue and boosting the local economy.
These findings are a positive step towards ideal framework conditions in which smart cities can successfully develop. To make smart cities a reality across Europe, it takes an overarching approach involving all departments of a city. However, the Ruckus survey also found that isolated projects (39%) still pose a major barrier to smart cities.
Although lack of funding is seen as the third most obstacles to rapid implementation, 78% of respondents across countries expect to have the budget for smart city solutions by 2019. This should also be facilitated by promotional announcements such as the Wifi4EU program. It gives cities the security that the infrastructure will be available to support smart technologies.
To provide these services, a stable public WiFi network is crucial. 76% of respondents agree that this is the most important factor in successfully implementing smart city concepts. 34% agree that Wi-Fi is more important than a wired network. Wi-Fi is probably the preferred infrastructure because people are familiar with it and it gives everyone access to information. If you want to be able to connect with your citizens and use the services you offer more effectively, you need a suitable infrastructure to connect with the public in a way that benefits them.
WLAN is the “glue” for intelligent cities’ network. It makes it easier to distribute the load and reduces connection problems. The access point at the edge of the network is the ideal interface that acts as a message broker by delivering traffic, performing and returning simple data processing, and placing the software through controllers.
However, not all WLAN technologies are the same. Power supply (53%), interference (52%) and backhauls (45%) are the biggest obstacles to setting up a public WLAN infrastructure. 51% of IT decision makers called the consolidation of existing networks as another crucial obstacle. This is particularly important because the number of connected devices is increasing at a time when existing networks are not prepared for the exponential growth of data consumption. IT decision makers have the clear task of choosing the right technology partner to meet the technological needs of their city.
For Ruckus, the findings of this study are an opportunity to engage in dialogue with various public-sector organizations on how smart city technologies and a public Wi-Fi network can add value. The survey shows that WLAN is considered necessary for the creation of smart cities because:
- It gives access to everyone information (71%);
- it delivers the necessary infrastructure to offer additional services (70%);
- it overcomes the digital divide between citizens (67 percent);
- it is cheaper for governments (61%);
- it could lead to better service (37%);
The research shows that Wi-Fi is a key contributor to helping smart cities deliver reliably and sustainably, but along the way, European policymakers still have some obstacles to overcome. It is reassuring to see that there is a widespread belief that smart cities add value to society. But if the government and the public sector are not investing in the right technology, then they risk missing the numerous opportunities for cities, citizens and themselves.