Reality Check: Smart city and IoT technology enabling the future

Source: RCR Wireless News on February 7, 2017 | Erhan Cakmak

With the world’s population set to hit 9.7 billion people by 2050, smart city and IoT technologies will be critical to meet demands.

Editor’s Note: The RCR Wireless News Reality Check section is where C-level executives and advisory firms from across the mobile industry share unique insights and experiences.

If you think cities are crowded now, just wait. Within just 15 years, more than 5 billion people will live in urban environments. Urban growth boundaries are increasingly limiting sprawl, forcing even more growth to go vertical, increasing urban density.

By 2020, the Philippines and Thailand could each have middle classes as large as in the United Kingdom, France or Italy. Today, some 3 billion people comprise the global middle class, accounting for two-thirds of the world’s consumer spending. The middle class demands public services and live lifestyles – urban lifestyle – that consume more water, energy and other resources than those who live in poverty.

To manage this broad population growth, increased population density and growing middle class, we will need to evolve and optimize our cities, becoming more efficient at service delivery and better managing our resources. We need, of course, to make our cities smarter.

We now routinely hear announcements from the next city “going green” through smart city and internet of things technology. The number of municipal chief innovation officers across the United States is growing. Consumer IoT tech enjoys a lot of press and high visibility, but there are industrial IoT smart city plays – think water treatment plants, electrical grid and water supply management – that are just as, if not more so, important, but aren’t as sexy. What makes a smart city? Is it city service applications for consumers, like SeeClickFix? Parking garages that count empty spaces? Automated management of the electrical grid? Integrated operations of city departments? Any or all of the above?

Internet of things technology as a key enabler

One thing is certain: technology is going to be the enabler of this massive transition. Singapore’s electronic road pricing program – the descendent of a traffic congestion management program first introduced in 1975 – has significantly reduced traffic volumes, collisions and automobile-sourced pollution emissions. In California, the state department of transportation launched in 2016 a technology heavy SMART corridor project for the oversubscribed eight-mile stretch of Interstate 80 leading into San Francisco, anticipating a reduction in collisions and commuter travel time.

Tech giants such as Google, IBM, Cisco and Intel have all launched smart city initiatives or platforms designed to aggregate, process and make sense of the data municipal devices and physical plants generate. Grand View Research has predicted a global smart cities market of $1.4 trillion by 2020. McKinsey estimates that just 600 cities account for 60% of global gross domestic product.

Critics have suggested that the proliferation of electronic IoT devices will increase energy demands, further stressing the environment. But the overwhelming evidence is that smart cities will more than pay for themselves environmentally through better management of resources such as energy and water and reduced pollutants emissions.
Singapore has realized significant reductions in carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions through congestion management. (Reduced traffic congestion translates directly to lower emissions.)

Gartner research VP Bettina Tratz-Ryan has gone on record estimating that, particularly for large sites such as airports, seaports and shopping malls, IoT technology can reduce the cost of energy, spatial management and building maintenance by up to 30%. (Lower energy costs the product of lower energy consumption.) Further, Gartner has predicted smart city and IoT technologies will halve urban environmental footprints by 2030.

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