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The Challenges Of Building A Smart City

The biggest challenge cities face today also happens to be their biggest asset: people. A recent United Nations report on sustainable urban planning predicts that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. With more people comes more traffic, more waste and more crime—to name a few—prompting city officials to invest in new infrastructure and technology to support the growing population, and setting off a smart city revolution.

A smart city is an urban area that uses IoT (Internet of Things) sensors to collect data about the city, and uses the data to manage assets and resources more efficiently. Not only can this help optimize city operations, such as traffic, waste management and security, but it can also enhance the lives of citizens by improving urban mobility and public safety.

While cities around the world are already implementing IoT systems, the smart city revolution is still only in its infancy.  Currently, IoT operates using a variety of network connectivity infrastructures, such as, fiber, copper, cellular (4G/LTE) and broadband wireless systems. The deployment of 5G will be a catalyst that will drive mass IoT adoption in the smart city. Combined with edge computing and the Cloud, 5G will help eliminate latency, bandwidth and compute issues, which is key to connecting systems that cannot fail or be delayed, such as autonomous vehicles. The big question is, when will 5G be available for broad adoption?

Another factor driving the smart city revolution is the increased availability of IoT sensors, which have gotten smaller, cheaper and more powerful, leading to a plethora of new technologies entering the market. Advancements in software and applications that leverage big data are also a contributing factor. Using data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning from city intelligent assets, sensors and systems, this software can provide cities with actionable insights that have previously been unobtainable. This brings up the challenge of interoperability, where technologies from different manufacturers don’t communicate with each other. To address this, it’s important for cities to be familiar with the different technology standards and ensure they invest in technology with a true open architecture. Adopting flexible technologies also helps future-proof your investment.

One of the biggest challenges smart cities face is security. All connected devices are susceptible to cyberattack, and when you begin connecting essential systems, such as a city’s entire power grid, an attack could have serious consequences. Furthermore, there’s the issue of an ever-expanding attack surface. With so many systems within a smart city connected, the security breach of one system could have detrimental effects on another. When you’re talking about connecting things like traffic lights and autonomous vehicles, a hack or malfunction could put people’s lives at risk. Safety must be the number one concern.

As with most public projects, funding can be a huge issue for smart cities. Not only must the city invest in new technology and the infrastructure to support that technology, but they must also invest in an integrated solution, which allows different government entities (first responders, law enforcement, federal, state and municipal leaders, etc.) to access the data in real time to make better, more informed decisions. To add even more to the bill, smart cities are a continuous exercise; the systems must be scalable and continuously monitored, maintained and updated.

The smart city revolution has only just begun. As cities continue to invest more in network infrastructure and IoT manufacturers work toward true open architectures, our cities will become smart, living organisms that are constantly learning and improving themselves to provide a better quality of life to their citizens.