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What is limiting smart city deployment in Europe?

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Aaron Partouche, marketing and business development director at network, voice and data centre service provider Colt, explores what’s slowing down the emergence of smart cities.

Technology research company Gartner predicts that 6.4bn connected ‘things’ will be in use worldwide by the end of 2016, a 30% increase from 2015. Smart cities promote numerous advantages for the public and organisations alike, improving communication response, remote control potential and innovative interactive experiences for public and private services.

We have seen the emergence of smart city innovations beginning to take shape throughout central Europe, with a leading example stemming from Amsterdam. The city deployed 40 projects ranging from smart parking to the development of home energy storage for integration with a smart grid.

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The process has been widely successful and challenges businesses, residents and educational institutions to suggest and apply future thinking ideas and solutions to their cities. The open approach to innovative concept development and market collaboration has been the core to its success so far, with a multitude of projects and concepts continuing to be brought to market.

The race to connect

The race to connect large metropolitan cities throughout Europe is fuelling innovation, improving business districts and increasing growth potential. This is demonstrated in the UK by the Smart London Plan that was originally created before the 2012 Olympics, with the objective of utilising the creative power of new technologies to improve the lives of Londoners.

Successful smart city initiatives are also starting to be rolled out globally, having been inspired by the “LinkNYC” project launched by the mayor of New York City. This offers free, encrypted, gigabit wireless internet coverage to the five core boroughs within the city by converting old payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots.

However, the question remains, if the benefits from smart city adoption are so apparent, being aided with the constant emergence of connected solutions (IoT, 5G, Cloud), what is limiting smart city deployment across leading nations in Europe?

Limitations

Some nations attribute the restriction to a lack of connected infrastructure. The development of 5G and the increasing integration of internet-enabled solutions across all city infrastructure demands the creation of more antenna sites and the availability of fibre connectivity at a competitive standard.

Mobile operators owning the licensed spectrum that can improve and support wireless broadband signal maximisation, and therefore incentivise investment and opportunities in these selected regions, should be able to deploy antenna sites to improve and enable connectivity in a selected area. However a mobile operator’s business case is changing, and they are frequently reliant on a guaranteed user base, to ensure return on investment, before improving their services or offering collaboration to market incumbents.

This is continuing to restrict the speed of progression in relation to smart city initiatives and plays a key part in the future of these solutions.

What enables a smart city to thrive?

To enable a smart city to thrive and host successful capabilities, the supporting technological infrastructure and availability must be capable of managing the increased demand on network usage. Therefore, it is critical that European cities can ensure an effective roll out of fibre connectivity is achieved in desired locations, integrated with the roll out of antenna sites and full market collaboration.

Regulators play a crucial role in the progression of connectivity standards and availability within countries, for example Ofcom distinctly impacting the market availability of dark fibre ducts to wider competition in the UK. These regulators must begin applying further pressure to mobile operators to support smart city deployment, emphasising the vitality of increased collaboration between mobile operators and network fibre based providers, to enable smart cities to thrive.

Aside from applying pressure, it is also paramount that regulators and governing bodies educate the wider market on how to best utilise network availability and smart city project involvement. Within the UK, The City of London has created a digital infrastructure toolkit, Wayleaves. The Toolkit gives broadband providers, SMEs, landlords and developers the documentation they need to deliver digital infrastructure in a fast and effective way. This incentivises the development of improved connection standards and can act as a useful resource for smart city project conceptualisation.

Collaboration is key for the future smart city

It is crucial for market incumbents to begin communicating effectively and developing relationships for the future. A desirable matrix relationship would combine 3G and 4G mobile providers, with Dark Fibre enablers and non-profit organisations such as The LoRa Alliance, an open, non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the interoperability and standardisation of low-power wide area network. When amalgamated, a powerful, viable and efficient connectivity standard can be offered to public sector organisations accelerating smart city project roll outs across Europe.

It is suggested that to enable this collaboration, a neutral host model should be a desirable standard for organisations looking to maximise their involvement in smart city initiatives. A successful neutral host model, whether this be antenna sites or fibre connectivity, will allow network providers of all calibres to offer and receive coverage and capacity benefits to and from other providers via a single distribution backbone. This boasts huge advantages for the wider development of smart cities and can reduce mobile operator costs, speed up time to market for multi-operator service and offload the responsibility for maintaining a distributed antenna system from a carrier to a third party.

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