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Smart Cities: What do they mean for you and me?

Matt Denby, Client Director to Transport for London for O2, discusses the benefits that smart cities will bring to their citizens, and when we can expect to see them.

People have been talking about the impact and potential of smart cities around the world for nearly a decade now, so it’s a little surprising that there is no official definition for the term. From the many conferences I attend, I have concluded that a smart city means something slightly different to each person I meet.

So what exactly is a Smart City?

A smart city is one that incorporates connectivity and ICT to improve the quality and efficiency of its transport systems, energy, planning and utilities and reduce both wastage and costs. The aim is to improve the quality of living for the city’s citizens, and save them money, through the use of smart technology.

What will a smart city mean for you and me?

I have read plenty of forecasts about what the smart city of the future will be able to deliver, some of which belong to the realms of science fiction. But with the initial 5G rollout now less than two years away, we can expect to see our cities delivering wireless, connected and joined up services right from the planning stage.

Here are eight examples of what smart cities of the future could be like:

  1. Connectivity

In the smart city, wireless connectivity will go from something we experience through our personal phones and devices, to a fully integrated infrastructure of buildings, transport and utilities. It will demand the high speed and low latency of 5G to take full advantage of what this network offers, but as a smart city citizen you can expect connectivity anywhere, on any device and at any time.

  1. Transport infrastructure

Smart sensors on railway lines will drive improvements in predictive maintenance and help reduce rail delays. Smart use of data will improve bus routes by tracking the changing way people move around the city, and with real time monitoring services could be added or reduced according to demand. Commuters will also be connected to street-level data via mobile journey planning apps linked to connected street furniture such as lamp posts and bus stops, helping them plan journeys and avoid congested routes. As a smart city resident, you can expect to spend fewer hours commuting each week, leaving you more time to spend on the things you love.

  1. Congestion and parking

Incredible as it may sound, research by the British Parking Association suggests that the average motorist in the UK spends nearly four days every year looking for parking spaces. But in a smart city, sensors inside your car will locate a vacant parking space and direct you straight to it. With much city centre congestion caused by drivers looking for parking spaces, your city’s streets should also be less congested as a result.

  1. Autonomous vehicles

In the smart city you can expect to share the roads with driverless vehicles. For the last three years, O2 has been part of a consortium researching how to implement connected and automated vehicles effectively into a smart city environment. You can read more about the GATEway project here.

  1. Healthcare monitoring

The connected smart city enables GP consultations to be conducted via video conferencing. In fact, delivering just 5% of GP appointments in this way would free up more than a million GP hours, leaving face to face appointments readily available for you and your family when you really need them.

  1. Waste management

With sensors incorporated into refuse and recycling containers, household waste and recycling could be collected when bins are full, rather than on a particular day. According to O2’s own research your annual household council tax would be £66 lower as a smart city resident, if councils passed on the saving created through smart refuse collection alone.

  1. Energy savings

Introducing 5G-enabled smart grids to your city will drive dynamic pricing, enable better distribution, and allow you to choose where you buy your energy from. O2’s research indicates that dynamic energy pricing will save you another £145 each year.

  1. Pollution

City air quality initiatives will see IoT connected sensors monitoring real-time air quality, enabling city planners to divert people and traffic through less polluted streets. As a smart city resident, you will have access to air quality data yourself, empowering you to make more informed choices about how and where you spend your time outdoors.

When will it happen?

We are already seeing cities throughout the world employing smart technology to improve services, with New York, Tokyo, Singapore, London, Paris and Amsterdam often quoted as examples. But it will take the high speeds and low latency of 5G to accelerate the process, and to ensure that new towns are built smart right from the planning stage.

It will take unprecedented collaboration between industry, Government, local councils, landlords and developers to ensure that 5G is embedded into the fabric of our cities. But with this co-operation our cities will be very different for their citizens in just a few years time.

Last month O2 offered a 5G Testbed opportunity to encourage every company in the FTSE 100 to implement early 5G technology in pursuit of productivity and efficiency savings. You can read more about it here.

If you are interested in the potential benefits of the smart city, you should read our research report The value of 5G for cities and communities. There’s also our video What will a 5G-enabled smart city look like?

What do you think are the most significant developments that the smart city will bring? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me via LinkedIn.

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