Jun 05 2018

Smart City Technology: 5G, Edge Computing and Citizen Engagement

With advanced technology and careful planning, city governments can alleviate growing problems seen in many of today’s urban communities and become more sustainable for future generations.

When it comes to smart cities, many envision a futuristic city similar to what you might see in the latest Avengers movie, with flying cars and high-speed trains that will only be a reality in the future. As many city and state IT leaders know, this is far from the case. In fact, the smart city isn’t a stable state at all, but one that is constantly evolving. We already find ourselves in the third iteration of our approach to constructing a hyperconnected city: smart city 3.0.

When smart cities took off, a top-down approach was common. Governments would decide internally how to become a smart city and initiate new policies or working groups to help embed the latest technologies into the city’s infrastructure without input from citizens.

The 2.0 approach to smart cities was more inclusive. As governments realized citizens may not have appreciated these initiatives at the predicted rate, they decided the process must become more citizen-centric.

For example, in 2016, the city of Dallas joined the White House’s Smart City Initiative, which was launched with the aim to help cities invest in emerging technologies that could improve operations or citizen services. At the beginning of the initiative, the idea was for local civic leaders, technology experts and data scientists to take control of the city’s evolution. However, Dallas’s official city website now reflects a more inclusive approach, with details about each initiative and contact information for citizens who have additional questions or concerns.

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Edge Computing, 5G Pave the Way to a Smart Community

In the 3.0 approach to creating a smart city, legislators have realized it is more appropriate to think of these initiatives as a way to build not just a smart city, but a smart community. Citizens with smartphones, cameras and wearables now play a role in providing real-time feedback to city development teams via the data collected by these devices.

This dynamic process gives city legislators the ability to see precisely how citizens are interacting with the sensors throughout a smart city and how those sensors can be improved, allowing for real-time decision-making and visibility into city operations.

Government IT leaders wishing to make their cities or regions smarter must ensure they understand the demographics of their communities. To do that they may need to form partnerships with their area service providers for everything from internet connectivity to utilities.

As for service providers, every citizen will need to have equal access to a broadband network. Because so many apps will incorporate latency-heavy technology, such as video, artificial intelligence and machine learning, 3G and 4G networks will not be able to support the bandwidth and latency requirements of this mixed-media traffic — making 5G availability key to truly smart communities.

5G networks are expected to be live and working in cities by 2022, opening up greater networking potential with upload and download speeds that are hundreds of times faster than any currently available networks. Local government leaders must determine if they will be able to bring 5G capabilities and fiber assets to every part of their cities. The best way to do so is to make it financially and otherwise attractive for service providers to make 5G available citywide.

One possible way to ease this transition is to combine government-owned fiber assets with networks of multiple service providers into a converged metrowide infrastructure. This approach would require multidomain, multivendor service; programmable physical and virtual network elements; analytics and intelligence. These components would create a more adaptive network, which automates many manual processes while still allowing control through intent-based policies. When combined with analytics and intelligence, the network will be better able to predict when and where bandwidth capacity will be needed in order to support “smart” applications.

Edge computing will also have a large impact on the next phase of smart city development. Smart cities are increasingly deploying high-bandwidth and latency-sensitive apps that draw information from multiple sources. This information cannot be used the way it needs to be if it is stored in a remote, centralized data center. It must be closer to the point of interaction, something edge computing can enable.

As more devices are added to a smart city, it will become increasingly important for data to be collected at the point of interaction with citizens. This approach opens up the ability to share data with similar, nearby regions and eventually become a more connected, community-based platform supporting multiple agencies.

A Movie-Perfect Ending for Smart Cities

If local governments manage to employ more inclusive citizen engagement, 5G technology and edge computing, we may soon see a movie-worthy smart city become reality. It will be one that allows for better citizen engagement and participation while tackling many frustrations that accompany city living.

We could see less traffic congestion and air pollution, streamlined processes at city hall and the local department of motor vehicles, efficient systems for utility billing and improved public services like water, electricity, garbage collection and more.

The benefits are endless.

Wenjie Dong/Getty Images

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