ICT: The Fundamental Enabler for Smart Cities

The world’s cities are relentlessly growing. Since the 19th century, there has been a steady flow of people from rural areas into the urban centers of the world. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the global percentage of urban population was approximately 30% in 1950 and surpassed the 50% mark sometime in 2008. It is predicted that by 2050, 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized.

Smart Cities - Urbanization

Historical and projected global urban and rural population distribution. Source: Wikipedia

This places an enormous strain on the fabric of cities. Urban infrastructure including utilities, transport, environmental services, and housing are often overtaxed and under-maintained. Social services, healthcare, and education become difficult to sustain. These are real concerns that affect every city. These issues can no longer be addressed using the traditional methodology of throwing more money at the problem or opening a new department in the municipality to deal with the challenge. A new, more intelligent method of urban management must be adopted.

Over the past few years, a very important, but often understated concept has emerged to help alleviate these and other related issues: The Smart City.

What is a Smart City?

A smart city encompasses an urban development vision that emphasizes the intelligent management of a city’s resources for the purpose of solving urban challenges. This intelligent management almost always includes the participation of all the stakeholders of the city and not just the municipality itself. A vital prerequisite of this vision is the active participation and engagement of the most important stakeholder of all, the citizen.

 Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region of China

The Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region of China, composed of 9 adjacent metropolises comprising the largest single agglomeration on Earth with a population of over 57 million. Source: Wikipedia

Participation and Data Collection are Key

There are several elements that are vital for the success of the smart city model. Among them is the active and meaningful participation of major stakeholders in the governance of the city, first and foremost, being the individual citizen. As urban areas grow increasingly larger and as the interrelationships between stakeholders become more and more complex, it becomes exponentially more complicated to maintain any kind of meaningful interaction between interested parties for the purpose of the collective management of urban resources and smart city goals. Even so, a culture of participation among stakeholders must be cultivated in order for smart city principles to be successful. Participation anywhere near the level necessary for effectual smart city functionality can only be achieved using online communication tools like web portals, mobile apps and social networking platforms, among others.

Another important element of the smart city is the collection of data about the urban environment and its services. This includes statistics and metrics obtained from various sources like civic services, city stakeholders, as well as electronic sensors conforming to the Internet of Things (IoT) standards. This collected data is essential for intelligent and responsible decision-making by local government and city stakeholder officials.

ICT as a Fundamental Foundation for the Smart City

Both the enabling of participatory governance and the management and interpretation of large amounts of collected data require the existence and development of an extensive, robust, and scalable Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) infrastructure.

ICT in the smart city is used to enhance the quality, performance, and interactivity of urban services, reduce costs and resource consumption, and improve contact between citizens and city stakeholders. Smart city applications run on top of the ICT infrastructure and are developed to manage urban flows and allow for real-time responses that improve the quality of life.

ICT Smart City Infrastructure Characteristics

ICT is the lifeline of a smart city. Without it, the smart city idea cannot exist. Consequently, ICT infrastructure design for smart cities must itself be smart. It is important to add intelligence to this network and to provide scalability, robustness, and flexibility. This can be done with several design network concepts including:

Automated and simplified network management

This is a concept that allows for unified and central network management that helps simplify the often large and sometimes unwieldy networks required to support smart cities. Networks that are based on this concept fulfill one of the most pressing needs for smart city ICT infrastructure by allowing the network to be managed as a single entity, reducing complexity, and increasing efficiency.

Automatic security threat isolation and remediation

A network security management model that blocks threats at their source while avoiding the introduction of latency and network bottlenecks of traditional Intrusion Protection Systems (IPS). This should include a flexible Self-Defending Network solution for both wired and wireless networks providing a more secure and improved end-user experience.

IoT enabled networks

As IoT is an integral part of the smart city, ICT network design enabling IoT applications is essential. This is the case especially for wireless networks that can reduce the costs of wireless installations while providing for ease of deployment for IoT devices.

Robustness and scalability

Redundancy is key to any large-scale network, especially one on which the smooth operation of an entire city depends. Scalability is equally important as urban centers continue to grow and smart city applications continue to increase in number and in traffic volume demand.

The Smart City Future

Traditional solutions are no longer sufficient to meet the urban problems of today. As time goes on, it is becoming clearer that any large urban area that does not embrace at least part of the smart city idea will have a difficult future. The significance of applying smart city principles is the fact that these add value to the services provided by all stakeholders, increase the livability of a city, and ultimately improve the quality of life of its citizens. The results may not be as immediately evident as the resurfacing of a major road, for example, but they will ultimately make a city more attractive for businesses and citizens alike, and more competitive on the world stage.

The smart city idea is here to stay and as a consequence, smart city ICT and IoT infrastructures must rise to the challenge of supporting these vital concepts for the future of our cities.