Building tomorrow’s smart cities in the age of 5G and IoT

14 July 2022

Prianca Ravichander, director, partnership ecosystems, Tecnotree, looks at the rise of smart cities and the role of new technologies like 5G, cloud and IoT in shaping their growth

What makes a city ‘smart’ is its ability to use interconnected information to better understand and run its operations in a more efficient way – from its transport infrastructure and accessibility systems through to the quality of government services and citizen welfare. Using a framework of information and communication technologies, the city creates and deploys practices that are able to meet urban challenges with ease.

Smart cities are places where networks and services for inhabitants and businesses are made more convenient with the help of enhanced telecommunication technologies. Here technologies contribute to an improved quality of life through automation and higher levels of digital development. According to reports from the Coherent Market Insights, the global smart cities market was valued at US$334.2 billion in 2018 and will reach a value of approximately US$1,359.8bn by 2027.

Smart city ecosystems use the Internet of Things (IoT) to better understand the requirements and patterns of a city through real-time data and respond with faster, lower-cost solutions. The usage of a large number of IoT devices and sensors that communicate with each other is best described with the term ‘Massive IoT’. Through ICT (Information and Communications Technology) frameworks, these digital cities connect with several dedicated networks of mobile devices, sensors, home appliances, communication gateways and data centres.

Southern Asia – an emerging market for smart cities

South Asia is a substantial and developing market offering a huge revenue potential and economic value for smart cities, and investors are trying to make the most of this opportunity. South Asian cities are transforming themselves by building sustainable and technologically advanced cities of the future.

As a developing nation, Bangladesh has long suffered from a poorly designed and managed energy and transportation system. Yet, readily available broadband networks put them in a position where there is a great opportunity to implement a smart city approach to their infrastructure projects. Smart city implementation may not be the same here as in some developed countries, but cooperation between ecosystem players like developers, government, and telco players can put them at a significant advantage.

Some use-cases relevant to smart cities in Bangladesh include smart parking features like assisting drivers and monitoring of parking spaces, online payment systems; smart utilities; smart metering for gas, electricity, and water consumption; and smart surveillance (close-circuit cameras in public places helping source behavioural analytics through camera footages for public safety, etc.)

India is another country witnessing continuous development in physical, social, and economic infrastructure, and investments in these areas are creating sustainable growth opportunities. With improvements in the quality of life, there is plenty of scope for implementing smart solutions and using digital technologies to support smart cities in India. Bhopal smart city, for example provides seamless Wi-Fi connectivity that supports its citizens with a round the clock call centre and mobile app called ‘Bhopal Plus App’.

Similarly, ecosystem partners in Colombo, Sri Lanka are getting together to launch a project for smart city lights that will grow in phases in the coming next 4-5 years. Starting with the installation of these lights at colleges and university campuses throughout the city, the project will then progress towards their installation in bus stops, terminals, and train stations all over the country.

How does 5G and IoT empower innovation in smart cities

With increased traffic capacity, high connection density, and ultra-low latency, 5G enables everything from smart sensors to self-driving cars. 5G technology, as well as IoT, play an important role in empowering a fully functioning smart city. Here we discuss how these technologies are vital for the advancement of smart cities.

Improved connectivity

There is now a huge demand for high-performance interactive tools, and 5G enables these technologies for remote capabilities like never before. With the onset of the pandemic, the world has gone through structural changes where organisations have shifted to telework solutions and education systems have moved on from traditional to online classrooms.

5G and Cloud technologies are now making it possible for Indian hospitals to improve their digital healthcare services. High speed connectivity is enabling digital tokens, appointments with doctors, quick access to lab reports, online payments and a lot more.

Smarter urban mobility and traffic management

Travel and commuting can be revolutionised in smart cities. Through integrated cloud-application-terminal networks, 5G leads to excellent supervision and decision-making in the development of innovative applications and new transport architectures. Urban mobility becomes a lot safer with the help of real-time delivery of information on traffic congestion and public transport services.

Advanced 5G connectivity can help with understanding usage patterns for public transport, transit information, or unsafe situations. Responsiveness to traffic situations and the pattern of daily commutes can be made much faster with the help of 5G. A traffic management system connected with 5G technology allows traffic lights to get real-time data about traffic patterns through sensors, cameras, and drones. Other use cases for traffic management include vehicle health monitoring, map sharing, and automated parking.

A smart city project in Gandhinagar, Gujrat (India) has 13 Public Announcement Systems (PAS) installed in major traffic intersections that broadcast important government notifications, weather details, and environmental conditions. Approximately 1000 smart streetlights in Gandhinagar are capable of saving up to 30% of energy costs.

Using the power of IoT and 5G, along with high-resolution cameras and GPS sensors, smart city systems in South Asia have improved civic services by implementing an interconnected network of rubbish trucks that detect road assets in need of maintenance.

Smart Homes

5G fixed-wireless access provides expanded broadband to a large number of homes. Smart homes right now are operating in a fragmented way by incorporating a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With its faster and more reliable network, 5G will be a game-changer for smart home systems. The newest generation network comes with OFDM encoding which is flexible enough to meet the requirements of different bandwidths and applications. 5G will operate with a broad range of connected devices. By allowing any plugged-in device to connect with the network, 5G will enable all devices to start interacting more effectively.

Telecoms companies along with IoT partners create an ecosystem for smart, secured, and connected homes. The platform provides services such as alarms, emergency information, and other information detected by sensors. Other features for partners and direct customers include:

  • System generated faults/failures notifications for vendors/partners
  • Reminders for maintenance schedules for partners
  • Hotlines to mobilise teams/help for critical failures
  • Mass maintenance schedules for customers
  • Challan tickets
  • Home security notifications through videomail/SMS, etc. for theft prevention
  • Emergency alarms and notifications for threshold usage and other emergencies

Some of the other IoT applications in smart cities include:

  • Energy management
  • Air quality management
  • Weather monitoring
  • Connected streetlights
  • Waste management

What is next for smart city ecosystem partners in southern Asia?

The next step for smart city innovators in southern Asia is to understand the urgent need for planning and enable a new wave of smart city development across the region. 5G technology will help build these cities of the future and influence various sectors with new opportunities for partners, solutions, and applications. The development of smart cities in these countries depends on collaboration between ecosystem partners such as service providers, network technology partners, policy makers, connected devices, vertical industries, system integrators, and application developers.

Southern Asia is home to one third of the world’s most vulnerable population and needs to first deal with some of the economic, infrastructural, and environmental challenges before trying to achieve their smart city goals. But the easy availability of mobile connectivity along with the young and technology-savvy population has made telecommunications one of the fastest-growing sectors in this region. It has also led to the boom of private investment for urban development. By leveraging new technologies like 5G, Cloud, and IoT, along with data-driven decisions, south Asian countries can reach new heights and shape a brighter future for their smart cities.