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Smart City Ecosystems: How Rogers is teaming with partners to build the communities of tomorrow

Rogers Business VP Tess Van Thielen explains how Rogers is working with municipalities and innovative companies to support the technology-powered cities of the future

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Telecommunications companies like Rogers have both an opportunity and a responsibility to contribute to the success of emerging smart cities as they grow and evolve. Collaborations with governments and industry partners is a key part of the process.

That was the message Tess Van Thielen, Rogers Business Vice President of Advanced Services, delivered to a global audience of thought leaders and problem solvers at DCD San Francisco, a series of streamed talks that ran in late September.

"We, as an industry, have the opportunity to improve lives and communities," explained Van Thielen while discussing recent innovations crucial to smart city growth, such as 5G networks, the growth of remote sensor technologies, extensions to device battery life, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.

"The telecommunications industry can be the supporting foundation that helps these exciting solutions proliferate and scale across every country," said Van Thielen.

As an example, she pointed to a Rogers project carried out in collaboration with Peguis First Nation, the largest First Nations community in Manitoba with around 11,000 members. After a snowstorm knocked out power to the community for more than a week in 2019, they reached out to Rogers to improve the band's communications infrastructure. The relationship they forged with Rogers didn't just result in better Wi-Fi throughout the community—which later turned out to be vital for communicating and maintaining relationships during COVID social distancing measures. It also expanded to include additional smart city features, including fleet tracking for community-owned vehicles and the deployment of devices, such as tablets within schools to facilitate enriched learning opportunities.

Van Thielen argued that there is a good business case for telecommunications companies like Rogers to make investments to help grow communities and smart city developments. Pointing to a recent report suggesting that the global smart cities market will reach US$2.5 trillion by 2026, she noted that growth is being driven largely by a desire for automation, with an emphasis on transportation solutions that deal with congestion, pollution and safety for both drivers and pedestrians.

"This includes traffic management and smart parking solutions, license plate recognition to support access to different parts of the city or new access fees, public safety with a focus on smart lighting and advanced Next Generation 911 solutions."

Van Thielen referenced a project to power smart intersections in Kelowna, where technology was deployed to help deal with congestion—especially during the height of the tourist season.  To monitor pedestrian and vehicle movement, the city used LiDAR sensors (Light Detection and Ranging) a technology similar to radar that uses light waves). The data from these sensors helps predict the likelihood of accidents at certain intersections, allowing the city to come up with solutions to prevent such events from happening.

She also pointed to a BAI Communications survey of railway users around the globe that found

the vast majority—more than 90 per cent—want governments to invest in wireless and fibre networks that would allow them to work as they travel. Expanding rail systems and encouraging citizens to use them is crucial—not only in reducing traffic congestion in the cities of tomorrow, but also addressing looming environmental concerns for urban centres.

But smart city evolution doesn't stop with transportation.

Health care providers, for example, are looking at remote monitoring and support for emergency incidents. Van Thielen explained that Rogers is working with medical leaders to investigate ways 5G can help bring quality care to patients being treated remotely, including delivering medical supplies, and provide real-time data to doctors and nurses when patients are in urgent need or are enroute to the hospital. By gathering data from these devices, health care providers can better track trends and learn from information collected from patients in their natural environments.

Van Thielen's talk also  highlighted   additional ways in which Rogers is collaborating with partners to enable smart city solutions, including how environment agencies are innovative in areas like waste management monitoring, soil moisture sensing and natural disaster warnings and response, and how goods and services providers are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to find new efficiencies that can be easily and cost-effectively  incorporated into their operations.

"All of this will drive a huge market for us to take part in, to build and provide the solutions needed to solve these large problems," said Van Thielen.

The role of Rogers is to provide a reliable backbone for these services to flourish. According to Van Thielen, research shows that as 5G high bandwidth and fibre infrastructure continue to expand there will be 423 million networked devices in Canada by 2023. And the variety of devices and ways in which they communicate with each other will be myriad.

"Next-gen infrastructure is about interlinking live local and personal access technologies," she explained. "This includes 5G, cloud and edge computing, software-defined networking and network function virtualization. This will require significant investments, but these technologies will act as the operational enablers for data to move freely and easily, which will unlock new applications, new device ecosystems and exponential data processing and analytics power, enabling new business models to emerge across the economy."

One such emerging business case is delivering supplies and medical equipment  with drones to remote communities. Rogers is currently working with InDro Robotics and officials on Penelakut Island, a remote community in British Columbia, to facilitate over-water drone deliveries. The Rogers wireless network allows drones to reliably and affordably deliver equipment and supplies to the community in just minutes. That means nurses can skip the ferry and stay in the community, providing services and support to patients rather than wasting time on a boat.

These are the sorts of ventures that really excite Van Thielen, and that she believes will pave the road towards smart communities of all sizes and kinds. It's the collaboration between telecommunications providers, governments, and innovative businesses that will push the development of smart cities forward.

"Our goal is to build an ecosystem," she said. "We want to find those small companies doing incredible innovation across Canada and the world and help them to scale. We know the combination of incredible ideas, new technologies and the foundation that 5G and edge computing provides is what's going to drive innovation and help us achieve the smart city goals of being inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable."

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