Spreading the word about Smart Cities

Investment is ramping up, new technologies are emerging and improvements are being delivered: the positive impact of Smart City systems on businesses and residents around the world is undeniable.

But it seems that, in the UK at least, many simply don’t understand the concept, never mind the benefits. A Smart City is an urban area where information collected through the Internet of Things (IoT) is used to manage assets and resources.  Internet-enabled objects communicate with each other so that systems including transport, lighting, waste disposal and energy can be managed in a more efficient and joined-up way.

A recent survey by physical security firm ATG Access found that 68 per cent of people in the UK did not know what a Smart City is, and that 26 per cent were even concerned at the idea. Yet the same survey also showed that those who are aware of Smart Cities were generally positive about the potential, with 74 per cent saying that it would improve day-to-day issues.

The lessons are clear: the more people know, the more positively inclined they are to Smart City solutions. The industry needs to get better at explaining what a Smart City is and – crucially – how it can make life better for residents and businesses.

The company I run, IntechnologyWiFi (Smart Cities), started in 2013 to provide wireless networks in towns and cities across the UK including Edinburgh, where we deployed the nation’s biggest free public WiFi network. We’ve branched out and also now develop Smart City and IoT services for local authorities to improve life for businesses and residents.

Coventry is probably best-known for its cathedral and as the next City of Culture. In England’s ninth largest city, we have developed one of the UK’s largest city-wide IoT networks and are working in partnership with the city council in piloting Smart City programmes including applications designed to improve air quality, waste management and vermin control.

In Wetherby, a small but thriving historic West Yorkshire market town, we have worked with the local council to install one of the fastest wireless networks in the UK. As a result, market traders can use cashless payment systems when selling goods in the historic town square at speeds equivalent to what you would experience on a 5G network.

The pace of change is accelerating. Technology consultancy IDC predicts that global spending on Smart City technology will reach $98.5bn in 2019, an increase of close to 18 per cent year-on-year. According to IDC, Smart City investment is greatest in Asia, followed by the Americas, and then Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Smart City technology also comes up against a barrier that all new ideas and innovations face: differences in adoption rates. Everett Rogers, the renowned American academic, proposed that when new ideas or technologies are introduced, people can be grouped according to how quickly they adopt them: there are innovators, followed by the early adopters, early majority, late majority and lastly, the laggards. In the UK, I put Coventry and Wetherby firmly in the innovators camp.

As well as working in partnership with local authorities in big cities like Edinburgh and Coventry, I’m proud that IntechnologyWiFi is working with smaller local councils, including Southend-on-Sea, Watford, Windsor and Maidenhead, to support important services to people who sometimes feel left behind. We work in partnership, listen carefully to a council’s objectives and concerns, and deliver what we promise.

We have developed unparalleled expertise in providing Smart City and IoT services. One thing is clear: you need to put down the correct building blocks in the right order if it’s to last. The first level is building a public WiFi network which is safe and secure, yet open and accessible. The second level of building blocks is having the data, where users store, control and share information. The third level is ensuring service interoperability, with open APIs to facilitate collaborative working.

When these building blocks are in place, services can be improved and people can really understand what these cutting-edge technologies offer. The impact is undeniable.

Natalie Duffield is CEO of IntechnologyWiFi (Smart Cities)

Get In Touch

Whether you’re a local authority looking to provide public WiFi or seeking a connectivity solution for Smart Cities, the IoT or 5G / Small Cells in your town or city, or if you are interested in partnering with us around the Connected City Platform in any of our forthcoming town and city roll-outs, we’d love to explain more about who we are and what we do.

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