Many cities – an increasing number of major metros among them – are beginning to outgrow themselves. Ageing populations, increasing urban density, resource issues and mobility constraints – these are among the primary issues faced by urban areas. Upgrading or adding to physical infrastructure is possible, but urban adjustment is notoriously slow, and cities’ budgets are increasingly tight. To cope with the demands they’ll face tomorrow, cities need to find ways of making the most of what they’ve got today.
By optimising the flow of everything from traffic to electricity and information around a city, urban life can become far easier, with the potential for cost savings through reduced waste.
The rise of the smart city
The challenges faced by today’s metros are multifaceted. On one hand, metros are faced with increasing demands for accountability and transparency by citizens and activist groups. On the other, cities face the task of better serving citizens against a backdrop of sub-optimal and fragmented legacy systems, siloed datastores and budgetary, resource and skills constraints.
It’s a confluence that has given rise to the ‘smart city’ concept. In a smart city, digital-physical interfaces, sensors, smart software and internet of things-centred technologies work together to enhance and streamline how the city runs. By tapping into and analysing multiple networks of real-time information – covering everything from traffic flow to parking and electricity usage – smart city technologies are focused on one thing: optimising available resources.
IoT, 5G and a new network paradigm
Unlike current mobile networks which employ ‘large-cell’ technology – with macro cell towers, each of which services a large area – smart city networks require an inverse type of architecture: a dense lattice of small cells (data processing devices and sensors) spread throughout the city, fitted anywhere from utility poles to buildings’ basements, and which run 5G technology.
Within 5G networks, the emphasis shifts from media consumption to mobility, and from increased bandwidth to reduced latency. Further changes come in the form of the integration of network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined network (SDN) capabilities within the network itself, allowing for the move from always-on coverage to instant service instantiation as and when needed.
Smart services and applications
Future 5G networks will host a variety of service types. Those falling under massive machine-type communication (mMTC), for example, include applications such as telemetry, meters, public lighting systems and security devices.