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Total Telecom Congress: The keys to Smart City success

Thought leaders from around the world discuss the cities of tomorrow and how holistic solutions and citizen engagement are key to success 

City overview with IoT icons

The pandemic has undeniably thrown up obstacles to innovation, but it's also created plenty of opportunity. The Total Telecom Congress saw more than 200 global telecom leaders come together virtually to discuss new technologies, the strategies global telecommunications leaders are using to help customers achieve objectives and to reinvent how they run their operations. 

One of the most interesting topics covered was the ongoing evolution of smart cities, which has only accelerated this year as citizens have been forced to stay home and carry out their civic responsibilities remotely.

According to panelists, cities are increasingly looking for digital solutions and platforms that:

  • are easy for citizens to access and use to do everything from reporting infrastructure issues to applying for permits;
  • safely and securely provide city planners important data on citizen needs so that they can make better informed decisions; and
  • provide a clear and valuable return on investment that justifies the spending of tax dollars.

Tess Van Thielen, the Vice President of the Advanced Services Portfolio at Rogers for Business, provided her insights on these topics in a session called Building the Cities of the Future. In her session, she spoke to Rogers projects such as the 5G test bed with the University of British Columbia, where future technologies key to smart cities – such as autonomous cars – are being rigorously researched, tested and improved.

She was joined by Mika Hakosalo, representing the city of Stockholm, and Allan Mayo, a smart city strategist with the borough of Greenwich in London, both of whom elaborated on common challenges faced by cities.

One of these challenges, according to Mayo, is taking care to avoid so-called "vertical stovepipe" technologies that focus one solution in isolation. He argued smart solutions must take the unique makeup of a city and its citizens into account, addressing a broad spectrum of needs.

“Becoming an adaptable… city requires a holistic response to multiple challenges.” 

Allan Mayo, Innovation and Smart City Strategist, Borough of Greenwich, London U.K.

"Cities are Darwinian. The adaptable survive and prosper, while those that lack flexibility tend to decline," he said. "Becoming an adaptable, Darwinian city requires a holistic response to multiple challenges. Design is critical, and so is the quality of infrastructure. And with the digital economy in a digital society, we need leading, competitive digital connectivity, as well."

He thinks this starts with open-minded leadership within city governments. Decision makers need to be able to anticipate how new technologies can meet not only the demands of today, but also needs that will arise tomorrow.

"Do the leaders have the vision to get the commitment?" he asked. "Do they really understand this new digital economy? The key to good governance is engagement and trust."

But a common bottleneck faced by government workers looking to transform their cities is finding funding. "Finance directors – rightly – say, 'show me the business case, show me the rate of return," said Mayo. "We need proofs of concept that come up with real, hard financial data on ROI. We need those business cases."

Van Thielen agrees. As an example of how Rogers is doing just that, she pointed to a partnership with Quebec-based smart city solution provider bciti, which offers a complete and customizable platform of technologies that allow citizens to easily access city services from their devices.

“We've seen some deployments that cost about seven cents per citizen, and are now delivering an ROI of about $11 per citizen."

Tess Van Thielen, Vice President, Advanced Services, Rogers for Business

"If we can't show the return. It's never going to move past being just a great idea that everybody wants to play with. Testing has to be rooted in financial ROI—it has to actually impact citizens and deliver value to cities."

But vision and funding aren't the only challenges being confronted by city administrators. Stockholm's Hakosalo pointed out that in 2014 discussion about smart cities were about how  technology would work behind the scenes to efficiently manage facilities and services.

“[smart city solutions must] gather data, analyze data and visualize data."

Mika Hakosalo, Project Manager, Smart Solutions, Stockholm, Sweden

In 2020, he said, it's much more about how solutions that foster engagement – not just to bolster return on investment, but to provide better information for city officials to act upon. And smart city solutions must be able to present this data in secure,  accessible and comprehensible fashion – and preferably within a unified ecosystem or platform.

Hakosalo believes that smart city solutions must "gather data, analyze data and visualize data," all of which will assist decision makers with prediction modelling so that they can understand what's driving citizen activity and plan accordingly. "You can get a completely new picture about what's causing what, and what is dependent on what. You can get new insights."

Everyone seemed to agree that 5G is the technology that will help smart cities take flight in coming years.

"5G is the future of where we're going," said Van Thielen, noting the benefits of the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, including bandwidth speeds, the number of devices that can be connected, and reduced latency.

"5G drives everything we've been talking about. It enables all of the things that cities are looking to do in terms of engaging with their citizens, solving problems and reducing their costs. 5G is the underpinning of smart city solutions."