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Future cities: Taking a smart approach to infrastructure

Future cities: Taking a smart approach to infrastructure

Digital TransformationInsightsIntelligent TechnologyMore NewsTech TrendsThought Leadership

Antonio Bocigas, EMEA Telco Director, Lenovo, says cities need an ‘edge’ as they adapt to high bandwidth technologies advancing transformation.

For thousands of years, humankind has strived towards building a ‘Smart City’, the ultimate goal in city infrastructure development.

Looking back to ancient Rome, people were already seeing new technologies applied through a complex interconnected urban system, such as public transport management, energy source distribution systems and water drainage systems. Such innovations transformed the lives of thousands of citizens.

Fast forward to the 21st century, we are now experiencing a high level of technological development and glimpsing new innovations such as driverless cars, intelligent traffic systems and delivery bots.

But as the adage goes: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. All progress does not happen overnight, there are still improvements and efforts needed to transform and advance infrastructures for cities to follow a smart approach.

Antonio Bocigas, EMEA Telco Director, Lenovo

Leveraging Edge Computing

For cities to handle a vast amount of data, a high bandwidth and low-latency network is essential to construct a smart approach in the modern age. Although we are seeing mass rollouts of reliable and affordable 5G around the world, certain cities are still facing low levels of network connectivity.

The answer? Edge Computing: a distributed computing paradigm that brings computer and data storage closer to the sources of data. Edge technology allows faster decisions to be made and data processed in real-time within the device itself, as opposed to needing to send information to a faraway data center for processing. Response times are therefore quicker – a key factor when it comes to managing the high bandwidth technologies that are essential for Smart Cities and ensuring that they are a success.

An Edge Computing network also tends to be more reliable and cost-efficient – a win-win for local governments. This is because, with on-device decision making via Artificial Intelligence, data does not have to be stored on a cloud network as only important data is processed.

What does a Smart City look like?

A Smart City has the ability to implement smart, data-driven technology. Barcelona is a prime example of how such technology underpins new innovation that is benefiting people in the city. With the development of a 5G network, private infrastructure, and self-driving 5G buses which are under development in Barcelona with partners such as Lenovo, Smart Cities are already enhancing the lives of citizens.

Barcelona’s pilot project is supported by the infrastructure for the overall deployment of a private 5G stand-alone network. Beyond transport, it will also be deployed to help law enforcement in the city. By using a video feed that can be analyzed in real-time using AI, police will be able to detect crimes and protect the public. Put simply, technology is ultimately able to provide substantially more resources to the emergency services, meaning they can react faster when the need arises.

Having already built more than 3,000 street cabinets to hold key tech infrastructure, Barcelona has an incredible opportunity to continue its path to Digital Transformation. As such, the city has set out ambitious plans which will set the tone when it comes to efficiency, transparency and social innovation. And while we can look to Barcelona as an example, it is important to remember that one size does not fit all. As a coastal city and popular tourist destination, its challenges are different to those in the rest of the world.

Mexico: Applying a smart approach to distinct challenges

While Barcelona is a popular beach-side holiday city needing network capacity management in a crowded environment, all cities face distinct needs and challenges to become Smart Cities. In Mexico’s case, one of the key challenges is posed by widespread water shortages, which are now escalating due to the extreme temperatures caused by climate change.

Indeed, Mexico is already leading the way when it comes to Smart Cities in LATAM, with four cities – each with unique challenges – considered Intelligent Cities by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Smart City proposals have been raised in multiple cities in Mexico to integrate technology into urban infrastructure, aiming to improve sustainability, maximize efficiency and minimize energy usage.

Among many of its Smart Cities, Tequila, a town in Jalisco, was certified as the first Smart Tourist Destination in Mexico and Latin America.

Solar panel installation has been implemented to embrace green energy, free Wi-Fi is provided across historic centers, and Big Data systems have been put in place to generate traffic information for tourists. In addition, Queretaro is expecting full completion of the Smart City approach by 2035, installing technologies from over 50 companies and enhancing the Digital Transformation process of the city, as well as fostering a knowledge economy.

By taking a smart approach to infrastructure, Mexico will be able to use technology to effectively monitor water levels and consumption. And in the process ensure the infrastructure is in place to overcome water shortages – the modern-day equivalent to what the Romans achieved.

Despite each city having different needs, there is a specific set of characteristics that help to identify and measure its level of ‘smartness’. Smart Cities are based on the idea that people can live and work in the most efficient way while making the most of their resources.

For example, by collecting data on energy usage both from a personal level and within building control systems, consumption can be reduced. Combining that with managing traffic and keeping a close eye on air quality can help cities – and entire countries – hit emissions targets.

In addition, by looking at live data, measures can be taken to reduce harmful levels of air pollution, such as issuing restrictions on traffic in certain areas. Congestion can then be combated by monitoring live video streams and signalling controls to ensure cities keep moving.

Smart Cities are no longer a fantasy

The process of building a Smart City will always face various barriers. More attention needs to be drawn to physical security due to the increasing number of servers placed on highways or streets. To ensure Smart City functions are always running smoothly, city planners need to protect their fundamental functions and set up clear strategies.

For large cities to secure the best possible coverage, infrastructures will need to be placed appropriately and carefully throughout – this is where Edge Computing can help. Each sensor can survive a network outage or inconsistent coverage without needing a central cloud control system. To succeed in building our cities, it’s vital for citizens to understand the ultimate goal of local governments is to save money, maximize productivity and boost efficiency. The key is to understand the long-term vision and each city’s unique infrastructure and community needs. While each city differs, Edge Computing will play a key factor in underpinning Smart Cities to ease the lives of citizens.

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