The new year has launched with a burst of energy in the smart cities space from AT&T and Verizon. While this may seem like a subset of the bigger Internet of Things market, I believe it will rapidly become its own significant innovation space. (See AT&T Going Big on Smart Cities and Verizon Eyeing Smart Cities Too.)
I've reached that conclusion after listening to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed twice over the past week -- once on the live streaming of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Developers Summit in Las Vegas and a second time this weekend in a portion of a TED talk he gave which you can watch right here.
I heard Reed's TED Talk as part of a broader National Public Radio presentation, The Ted Hour, which explored the rise of cities globally. You can listen to that program here.
The TED content wasn't at all focused on technology or the rise of Smart Cities. Rather, it was talking about the shift of population to cities and the way that city leaders are becoming more effective in getting things done and fixing problems than national political leaders. This is due in part, as Reed pointed out last week in Vegas and in his TED talk, to the fact that cities are more politically nimble. In Atlanta's case, there are just the mayor and eight city councilmen, not hundreds of legislators in multiple bodies, as there are at both the federal and state levels.
The smaller size doesn't guarantee political success -- even small councils can be consumed by partisan divides and become intractable -- but local politicians also have more of a front row seat on the problems of their citizens. As Reed notes in the NPR piece, he meets his constituents regularly in the grocery store. So there is greater immediacy, which is also a great incentive to get things done.
And that's where the Smart Cities' efforts come in. We have all seen, for years now, the video presentations from major vendors and service providers touting all that can be done to make life better, using technology. The technology itself for automating and making more efficient things -- such as energy management, public transportation, city services, water quality and public safety -- has been around for a while now. Pervasive networks, the cloud, smart phones, connected cars and IoT form a powerful combination of capabilities.
Reed and others are stepping up to bring practicality to the art of the possible, and begin seeing actual deployments and results. The trends he addresses are global, not just US-based. And the service providers who expect to be part of this effort need to pay attention and get moving -- if they already aren't -- in the direction of the municipalities they serve.
Each city will have its own issues, positive and negative, and not all will have the same clear-eyed focus. But it is safe to say this is the level at which the most activity will be taking place this year, and likely in the years to come as well.
Telecom's relationship to muni governments has been a mixed bag in the past, wrapped up in regulations and policies that govern things like access and rights of way, as well as occasional combat over broadband deployments and how quickly services are offered on a ubiquitous basis. This is the time to identify the local officials willing to be leaders in the Smart Cities space and start working with them -- if not on the same page, at least in the same handbook.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading