Smart Cities Need Long-Term Goals to Thrive

Short-term political and investment considerations may be stifling the development of smart cities.

Iain Morris, International Editor

June 10, 2015

3 Min Read
Smart Cities Need Long-Term Goals to Thrive

CHICAGO -- Big Telecom Event -- Many cities are hindering the rollout of smart-city technologies by putting short-term considerations ahead of long-term sustainability objectives.

Speaking on a panel about partnerships and the role of telecom in smart cities, Nick Maynard, assistant director of telecom innovation at the US Office of Science and Technology Policy, said local authorities were likely to pull funding for smart cities unless developers could prove the value of projects in a matter of months, rather than several years.

The problem is acute because growing urbanization is putting huge pressure on city resources, according to Heavy Reading analyst Steve Bell, who noted that 30% of all traffic congestion in cities is now caused by drivers searching for available parking -- something the rollout of smart-parking technologies could help to alleviate.

Meanwhile, private sector players face concern about the investment case for new connectivity services, said Maynard, expressing doubt that operators will be able to charge several dollars per month for each new connected device beyond the smartphone.

Maynard is involved with a government initiative called US Ignite, which attempts to bring private sector companies together with federal agencies on smart city projects, but admits progress has been halting.

A challenge here is the diversity of technologies and approaches, making it hard to come up with a template that can be applied nationwide.

"Cities have certain assets already in place but typically limited to only one set of expertise and resources to draw on," said Maynard. "How do you create a new set of apps and then share those with other cities across the country so they don't have to start from scratch?"

Even so, Maynard is encouraged by the example of Chattanooga, a gigabit city in Tennessee that has taken advantage of its high-speed broadband network to develop a smart grid and other smart city services. (See 6 Steps Towards a Gigabit City and Chattanooga Rocks 1-Gig FTTH Service.)

"The smart grid has reduced outages and those cost savings for the utility have helped defray the cost of deploying fiber across the city," he said.

Check out all the news and views from the 2015 Big Telecom Event at Light Reading's dedicated BTE show news channel.

Changes in political leadership can also disrupt smart city projects as stakeholders pursue different objectives, according to Matthew Apps, manager of Internet product management and development at TDS Telecom , a Chicago-based operator.

"Our goal is to make money and cities want to please their constituents but administrative changes can become problematic," he told attendees. "By the time plans get halfway through, the person who was in charge at the beginning is no longer there."

Maynard reckons projects can outlive administrations provided stakeholders draw up long-term sustainability goals at the outset.

But projects that have flown thus far are typically those where the cost savings are immediately apparent to local authorities, said Mel Gehrs, a data scientist at Silver Spring Networks .

Silver Spring develops network cards for devices that were not originally designed to use network cards -- as Gehrs puts it -- and claims that about 20 million of those cards are in operation today.

"The biggest initiatives are about street lights because that's a no-brainer from a business case standpoint," says Gehr, noting the cost savings that cities can realize by introducing smart-lighting systems that power down when neighborhoods are quiet.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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