smart city

Jonathan Bridges, chief innovation officer at Exponential-e, on how we can build smart cities and reap the rewards.

Smart cities are inevitably the future, offering endless benefits for businesses, governments, and everyday citizens. These can range from heightened security, thanks to the likes of HD Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled CCTV and parking optimisation, through to smart lighting and a fully WiFi-enabled town centre to aid connectivity. There are also green initiatives, such as electric car charging and monitoring air quality through smartphones, enabling citizens to adjust their route through a city accordingly and promote a low-carbon atmosphere.

All of these benefits improve the quality of life for smart city residents – a key motive for creating any smart city –safeguarding them through harm-reduction in everything from transport to respiration. Naturally, this attracts more people to both live and work in a city. In turn, this can result in swathes of local businesses springing up, spurred on by council investment and creating countless jobs in the process – another crucial factor.

For local councils, it’s in their interests to attract as many businesses and employees as possible to a city, as the result is greater tax revenues. Subsequently, this cash can be injected back into the city for the benefit of businesses and residents within the local community. So, the benefits of smart cities are clear, but this conjures the question: how do they become reality? And what are the obstacles that must be overcome.

The need for competition and how technology can help

With populations on the rise and new industries constantly growing, cities need to future-proof themselves to accelerate businesses in this digital age. Throughout Britain, cities are in competition with each other, with the national powerhouse that is London, and with cities around the world. They compete for investment, business formation, government resources, tourists, and residents. Compared to many other European countries, the UK’s economy is unusually centralised in the London megalopolis.

For the UK to maximise its potential as a world leader in both the private and public sectors, its workforce needs to optimise the excellent technology resources in cities throughout the nation. From connectivity through to physical infrastructure, these resources will increase job prosperity – for example, by driving investment in retail for town centres, so that they can reinvent themselves to compete with online shopping. Ways that this can be achieved include components such as in-store WiFi, click-and-collect services, and mobile checkout experiences. Of course, this is just one example of the technology being applied in a smart city, but already it’s clear the effect that the full utilisation of these resources would have.

This means smart services across the board – so, not just the delivery of technology, but also fully integrated IT systems. When it comes to smart cities, to truly put the visitor in the centre and provide them with a joined-up experience — rather than being siloed – is fundamental. In practice, this means delivering multiple connectivity services over a single infrastructure.

How to turn a UK city into a ‘smart city’

Key to supporting any smart city is the implementation of high-speed and reliable network connectivity that is capable of supporting multiple services and technology types, including a fixed line, WiFi, and emerging 5G mobile. In turn, all of this enables IoT, thereby becoming the ultimate connector for a smart city.

Smart cities are powerless without a robust and reliable network that delivers fast and reliable connectivity. It’s the very foundation of success, because if they can’t support multiple technologies – and those coming over the horizon soon such as 5G – they will fail to engage citizens. As such, it is imperative that more attention is paid to their infrastructure; both in terms of reliability and having a high enough capacity to deal with existing and future strain.

In turn, competition in infrastructure is vital, as it optimises services – if there’s no monopoly, then customer care is integral. The infrastructure itself is tailor-made to a city’s unique requirements; once a city-wide deployment begins, the physical installation of cables and connection of a city’s key sites proceeds rapidly.

Often, the vision might be to first connect the network to public sector and commercial sites with the most urgent and intensive demand – such as council offices, libraries, schools, hospitals and surgeries, emergency services, and large enterprises. Once connected, there follows a wave of businesses, data centres, innovation hubs, business parks, allowing these organisations to compete both domestically and around the globe.

Undoubtedly, technology has the power to help local councils and governments succeed and bolster their home-grown businesses. In terms of a timeline, smart city infrastructure can take as little as six months to a year – just so long as the vision is there, alongside council support. After all, it’s people that take a community-wide project like smart city creation and carry it forward.

To achieve this, the public and private sector must harness the expertise of the technology space and build it into meaningful propositions that solve the challenges facing smart city creation. By underpinning all smart efforts with a robust and reliable network, UK cities can drive down operational costs while boosting council tax revenue with a low-carbon impact. By doing so, UK cities can future-proof themselves and ensure they’re more than equipped to compete not only with London but on the rest of the global stage.