Examining the 3 Driving Forces Behind Smart Cities (Industry Perspective)

Rapid urban growth is placing greater stress on infrastructure, increasing the public sector’s need for efficiency.

In 1950, just 29 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. In 2014, that figure rose to 54 percent, and by 2050, it’s expected to grow to 66 percent. Though a majority of that growth is taking place outside of the developed world, a significant portion of it is happening in the U.S.
 
This rapid urban growth is placing greater stress on our already-crumbling infrastructure, increasing the public sector’s need for efficiency across the board. 
 
To meet these pressures, more and more municipalities are embracing the Internet of Things to create “smart cities.”

The Dawn of the Smart City

As wireless technology has hit its stride over the past few decades, government leaders began dreaming about cities where everyone and everything would be wirelessly connected. In the interim, while waiting for that lofty dream to become a reality, the earliest smart applications created for municipal use were focused on monitoring with few interfacing directly with consumers.

Fast-forward to today, and now we see an increasing amount of cities using IoT technology to enhance the delivery and quality of city services, reduce costs and improve interaction between constituents and local governments. In fact, Gartner predicts that the number of connected devices being used by municipalities will surpass 2 billion in 2017 and almost reach 10 billion by 2020.

Today’s Smart City

IoT technology is currently being utilized to improve cities’ transportation systems, parking, environmental monitoring, waste management, planning, street lighting and utility services.
 
For example, Albuquerque, N.M. — a place where water is a scarce resource — recently embraced IoT-enabled water meters to improve its leak detection capabilities and data integrity, as well as halt the lost revenue that resulted from its shortcomings. Since then, the city has drastically cut down on the amount of time it spends entering and assessing data, boosting the productivity of its technicians and saving a significant amount of money in the process.
 
Wichita Falls, Texas, has also adopted smart meters that not only make data collection much easier, but that also aggregate the information into a customer-facing portal that provides citizens with real-time access to their usage information and historical habits. 
 
Overseas, Barcelona was crowned the world’s smartest city in 2015 because of the many inventive ways it has embraced IoT technology. Among them: The city’s garbage cans alert the sanitation department when they’re full, and its streetlights and fountains are constantly collecting and sending data to a centralized control hub. 
 
These are just three of the many municipalities across the globe that are embracing IoT technology and reaping the benefits of becoming smart cities.

Driving the Future of Smart Cities

There are three main factors driving the growth of the smart city:
 
1. Network longevity: Cities were once hesitant to implement municipal networks. Decision-makers were cautious of the consequences of technological obsolescence and network sunsetting. However, many of today’s low-power, wide-area networks (and the devices that operate on them) are designed exclusively for machine connectivity. They can operate for years without being serviced. 
 
The dawn of this technology has made it easier for cities to future-proof their technology, making smart city investments more desirable.
 
2. Mobility: Much of the rapid growth and evolution we’re seeing is being driven by constituents themselves. Modern citizens have grown accustomed to having services such as banking and navigation at their fingertips at all times. This demand has led smart cities to deliver much more than just wireless connectivity; they will use the data collected to provide citizens with intelligent applications that can enhance their quality of life. 
 
Apps are already available to help citizens pay for parking and report municipal issues, and we should expect to see plenty more emerge in the coming years.
 
3. Improved analytics: In the past, simple sensor devices were placed on networks to gather important data such as temperature, operation or motion. Today’s devices are smarter and more capable, and they are powering more comprehensive collection of data. 
 
Where early devices might have only measured humidity, today's devices can measure atmospheric components and predict more complex air quality patterns. With more coherent data comes better analytics, and city leaders are taking note of this trend.
 
In September 2015, the White House announced $160 million of funding for smart city initiatives, and the global market is expected to grow to more than $1.2 billion by 2019. To date, most programs have been implemented to solve a specific problem, but looking forward, municipalities will begin to create overall connected city plans. 
 
In the future, smart city initiatives will become much more strategic in nature, and our cities will only continue to get smarter as a result.
 
John Horn joined Ingenu after serving as president of RacoWireless, a provider of machine-to-machine connectivity solutions.