The Difference Between a Smart City Winner and a Whiner

The smart city race is on and the U.S. is just starting to compete while cities in the E.U. and Asia are well ahead of the game. As America’s global competitiveness rankings slip, China’s is soaring up the charts. This should be a big wake up call to U.S. cities with respect how they are investing in technology in preparation for the future.

It is no secret that there will be winners and losers in the smart city race. Those American cities that are paying attention and taking steps to encourage investment in their digital infrastructure will pull ahead of the pack.

In a recent Washington Post article, Blair Levin and Larry Downes detail what steps city leaders can take to make sure they are in the top tier of American smart cities. Levin and Downes champion 5G networks, or the mobile broadband infrastructure that will power smart city technology, as the critical foundation in this race. 5G networks will enable the connectivity that will power the billions of connected devices that gather and deliver data to create smarter cities.

5G network technology requires access to infrastructure and physical assets – often called ‘street furniture’ – like building sides and light poles to hang shoe-box sized transmitters called small cells. These antennas provide the instantaneous connections that characterize so much of the revolutionary technology of the future such as autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, virtual reality and augmented reality, and so much more.

However, the key challenges for deploying small cells in cities is actually not so much about the technology, but rather about people and processes. “Winning” in this case requires city leadership to update outdated permitting and zoning policies and embrace new ways of working collaboratively across city and community silos.  This means clarifying regulations, removing the red tape and ensuring that local leaders are ready to move forward fast to maximize industry’s investment. 

Levin and Downes go on to list five steps that city leaders can take to hack this process and you’ll want to read on for more details:

1.     Preempt unnecessary intergovernmental conflict

2.     Dig once, climb once and other process streamlining

3.     Partner with providers eager to test 5G infrastructure

4.     Target applications that can energize local economies

5.     Establish pro-investment pricing policies

5G will be the litmus test for metropolitan areas – large and small – that attract and retain innovative companies and their workforce. I’m happy to see these highly respected subject matter leaders raising the red flag and communicating a sense of urgency.

As the global community readies for the future, it is essential that local U.S. leaders are prepared.  Those cities that streamline the process for private sector companies to deploy these small cells send the signal that they are ready for the digital future.