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Smart City For A Smarter Way Of Life

By Christoph Fitih
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Smart city conjures up images of a connected car; a refrigerator ordering milk from the nearest grocery store; a microwave automatically heating our dinner just as we like it and the television putting on our favorite program as per our instructions.

It is understandably tough to align these images with the realities of a developing nation. It is then hardly surprising that the smart cities are generally perceived to be for the developed countries.

But, going beyond the much-publicized smart city applications such as a driverless vehicle, there are powerful use cases in public safety, waste management, healthcare, education or transport. Smart cities innovatively use information and communication technologies to enhance the quality of urban life.They promote sustainable development conducive to inclusive growth and development. Smart Cities can be key tools to achieving global goals of creating livable and sustainable urban spaces, which can meet the present and future economic and social needs of the developing nations.

The African countries are in the early stages of the urbanization and are thus best placed to take advantage of the smart cities concept. It is the second fastest urbanizing region in the world, after Asia. Experts believe that by 2020, Africa will overtake Asia. Africa is projected to become 56% urban by 2050 .

This rapid growth means that this is the perfect time for policymakers to take advantage of the smart city concepts and develop cities, which will be able to meet the demands of the future generations. Including smart cities in the overall strategies will allow Africa to develop new cities and to enhance the livability of the existing city infrastructure as more and more people start living in the urban spaces.

The administrations of many African countries realize this and have already started to take steps for smart city deployment. Nigeria came up with Smart City policy last year and Rwanda unveiled Smart Cities Blueprint, a framework to help the country to hasten the adoption of ICT-driven initiatives in cities across Africa.

Robust, reliable, agile and scalable communications network are the foundation of smart cities. Ubiquitous coverage that can provide real-time intelligence and insights to the administration is a prerequisite for a successful smart city deployment. The service providers will need to upgrade their networks to meet the demand of the future smart cities.

It is a huge opportunity for the telecom service providers. To begin with, the data consumption will increase significantly as the citizens start to use the network to conduct many day-to-day tasks and transactions. Smart city essentially allows the people to use a vast network of devices and sensors with many smaller networks integrated into a cohesive communications ICT infrastructure.

The existing networks needs cannot meet a smart city infrastructure. Overhaul of the networks will be required to meet the unique requirements of a network for the Internet of Things and a smart city network. A Gartner report says that 8.4 billion things will be connected by 2020, which will result in significant signaling challenge for the service providers. A crucial advantage of a smart city is collection and analysis of data generated by the sensors. It provides valuable usage information to the firms who can then use it to come up with targeted products leading to additional revenue generation.

How can telcos prepare the networks for Smart City?

Globally, the service providers have started to leverage the advantages offered by latest technology concepts such as Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). These technology concepts enable telcos to add agility and flexibility to the networks. Automation and programmable aspect further makes it easier to connect millions of sensors and devices. It also allows the managers to control the network from a single control panel making it easier to manage a vast network.

Virtualization brings down dependence on hardware making it easier for the telcos to expand and launch new services. It also helps them to bring down the cost by focusing on the software aspect and reducing the space requirements. Virtualization enables service providers to scale in real time in keeping with the market demand.

A key feature that supports smart city is Network Slicing. Basically, network slicing divides the network into different parts to support many services. This feature allows prioritization of services, which is crucial to the deployment of a successful smart city project. For instance, it ensures that the calls to hospitals are prioritized in case of a natural disaster.

Service providers across the globe are taking advantage of these technological concepts to upgrade their networks for the requirements of Internet of Things and smart cities. African cities might be behind big global metros like New York or London, but successful adoption of new technology approaches can help it to leapfrog and turn their cities more sustainable and future ready. The sooner the African telcos leverage SDN and NFV technologies, better are their chances to be in a leadership position once the smart city market takes off.

Christoph Fitih is Sales Director – Africa, Parallel Wireless


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