Across the world, rapid urbanisation is becoming a serious issue, and living standards can diminish if city facilities and infrastructure cannot keep pace with the speed of the development. Smart cities, delivering better use of data, improved urban planning, as well as digital connectivity and services to its citizens, are now seen as a key initiative that can help to ensure that cities remain ‘liveable’ even as they expand exponentially, says Pete Asman, managing director at Neos Networks.
The problem may be becoming urgent for some cities, but of course, the integration of city-wide smart technology requiring a combination of countless sensors, devices and services working together is not going to happen overnight. These smart cities will take time to commission. And as well as the deployment timeline, these cities will produce vast amounts of data with those responsible needing to acquire the skills, tools and knowhow to analyse the output.
But in the beginning, and to have any chance of happening at all, city wide connectivity is key. While 5G technology will no doubt support much of the device and sensor deployment, a full smart city infrastructure will require much more than just good wireless connectivity. In fact, wherever you are in the world, the primary infrastructure requirement of a smart city is a solid base of high quality, high speed, and high-capacity fibre connectivity.
Paul Wilson, the chair of Smart Cities World, described a core fibre infrastructure as the key enabler of a smart city.
“It’s foundational,” he said, “and it’s hard to see how you are going to do well without it. On top of that, you also need the ability to slice the fibre because you need a software defined network that you can partition for different purposes.”
However, getting the technology in place is just the start of a smart city project, because smart cities, and smart city networks, will also need smart people to run and administer them and the services they support. And although we can expect tools such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to play a major role in day-to-day operations with automated decision making, there will still be a requirement for human analysis, foresight, service planning, and of course hardware and software engineering maintenance. And this of course is a long-term requirement, not a short-term issue around deployment choices and infrastructure.
Perhaps even more importantly, that support has to come from the local workforce. If a smart city network develops a fault in Hannover, you wouldn’t want to wait for the engineer from Hamburg to arrive.
In the UK, Aberdeen City Council is ploughing ahead with the digitisation of its network as part of a wider scheme involving the Greater Aberdeen area and the regional health authority. Supported by both UK and Scottish Governments, the scheme aims to improve the delivery of, and access to, public services, as well as boost economic activity locally and improve the overall quality of life for its citizens.
Announced less than two years ago the project is already delivering fibre connectivity and digital services to more than 100 public sector sites across the region, including hospitals, schools, libraries and leisure complexes. Close to 200km of fibre have been laid to create the groundwork for a smart city infrastructure in one of the UK’s most remote cities.
Welcoming the arrival of gigabit connectivity across so much of the city, Councillor Jenny Laing, the Leader of Aberdeen City Council says, “Improving connectivity across our city is essential to making the region more attractive and driving regional economic growth.”
But alongside the fibre investment to get the project off the ground, there’s also been an investment in future requirements. This has included careers presentations in local schools, work placement opportunities for local college students, and the creation of apprentice positions within the project taskforce. All of these measures are aimed at upskilling the local workforce and giving Aberdeen the best possible chance of being able to ‘look after itself’ as the project matures and develops.
Because while smart city projects have a vital role to play in boosting the ability of cities to cope with population expansion and rapid urbanisation, the role they play in economic regeneration should not be restricted to simply attracting businesses to the city from elsewhere. Any smart city project should have a vision to create new ICT job opportunities and career paths for the next generation already living and studying in the city.
Vendors and City authorities should work together to highlight these new career paths and commit to educating and building local ICT workforces. That way the smart cities of the future will have the smart people available locally to help them grow and develop.
The author is Pete Asman, managing director at Neos Networks.
About the author
Pete Asman is managing director for Public Sector and Enterprise at Neos Networks, responsible for turning the company’s strategic vision into results, delivering high-capacity UK-wide networks to the public sector to create opportunities for growth. Before joining Neos, Pete managed large ICT teams at companies such as Telefonica and Trilliant.