Fulfilling the potential of smart cities

Blog published by CW (Cambridge Wireless)

This autumn the CW Smart & Intelligent Cities and Small Cell SIGs combined to deliver insight into the challenges currently standing in the way of smart cities fulfilling their potential. Among the speakers were West Midlands 5G, Telensa and New Street Research.

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Allied Market Research has estimated the size of the global smart cities market to be $517.62 billion in 2018 with the expectation that it will reach $2.402 Trillion by 2025. Growth is coming from industry’s demonstration of a renewed interest in investment, new technology advancements and the latest business growth approach focused on partnership.  Smart and intelligent cities offer a huge number of use cases, ranging from increasing engagement with tourists to becoming more sustainable. However, unlocking this value is a challenge for many cities due to unsystematic approaches between national and local government and companies, and concerns from private individuals on the use of personal data.

So how are companies involved in the UK’s smart city rollout addressing these challenges, and what is the optimal future deployment of wireless infrastructure in a city environment, especially for small cells and sensors? Here’s what our speakers had to say at the recent “Contracting barriers for connected cities” event.


CW puts on almost 50 events a year like this one. To get access for you and all staff to any of these events, why not consider CW membership? Prices start at £165 per company for the year.


Look east for leaders in connected cities

Connectivity underpins any smart city, and there is a huge variation in network density around the world, pointed out Andrew from New Street Research. Japan, the leader, has more than twice the network density of China, its rival in second place, with seventeen sectors per 1,000 people and well over 5,000 small cell sites.

The investment in connectivity in China and Japan is driven by inherited assets (such as the PHS networks in Japan), technology problems (such as China Mobile had with its TD-SDCMA 3G system which is being switched off as early as 2020) and simple fear of being left behind.

Meanwhile, unlike in the European Union or United States, expansion is enabled by minimal bureaucracy, cheap backhaul and low attachment fees. European operators have lacked both the drivers and the enablers for widespread small cell deployment. The focus in these territories appears to be more on spectral efficiency and propagation.

Without effective connectivity solutions, smart cities will not be able to share data generated by their sensor hubs efficiently which will hamper their rollout.

Nevertheless, the UK is investing to address this

The UK Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, published in June 2018, highlighted the importance of several factors that feed into the creation of a successful smart city, including the need for infrastructure models that support investment in the network densification that the UK currently lacks, and the need to make it easier and cheaper to deploy mobile infrastructure.

In September 2018, the West Midlands 5G (WM5G) project was formed as the UK’s first multi-city 5G testbed with up to £50M in funding, half of which coming from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  The team are testing, proving and scaling new 5G services and accelerating the roll-out of 5G networks both within their geography and elsewhere in the UK.

Rhys from WM5G outlined three core areas for improvement in the infrastructure roll-out. Firstly, shared infrastructure such as neutral host and passive sharing solutions; their plan is to collect and map public assets in order to provide a simple process to access them all. Secondly, they are investigating the extent of full fibre across the region and, if viable, the team will facilitate the delivery of more full fibre. Thirdly, and most importantly, the team is addressing issues arising from the UK’s Electronic Communications Code; they recognise the vital importance of minimising town and country planning challenges to getting 5G up and running.

But there is a long way to go before smart cities reach their full potential

Once the connectivity challenges are solved, smart cities are going to generate a vast volume of data on traffic, assets, people, events and the general environment. All this data can offer value to the city or a third party, whether in congestion reduction, or for a retailer to understand shoppers’ walking patterns before entering their premises.

The market for smart city data is expected to grow sharply over the next ten years, overtaking the size of the market for smart city devices by about 2025.  However, at present, Telensa, the smart streetlight infrastructure specialists, believe that most urban data is not collected because it is too costly and because cities don’t have the tools to ensure data privacy and transparency. Without these, citizens can too easily call a halt to activities.

Technology already exist for each of these purposes. Telensa offers an open sensor hub that can connect any combination of sensors to a lamppost and visualize the resulting data. It is also developing a new generation of AI-enabled multi-sensor pods for lampposts in order to understand in detail how streets really work. Because no video is stored and no personal data is collected, they foresee no privacy issues emerging for cities looking to deploy this tech.

Trust needs to be earned

But just because a system has been designed from the ground-up with privacy in mind, that doesn’t mean that citizens are going to trust it. Citizen action has stopped a number of major urban data projects, the most notable recent case being Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs Toronto scheme.

Telensa believe that amongst other protocols that will need to be put in place, the city must be in charge of how their data is used, the city must operate strong governance processes, and any system should be able to easily generate understandable trust reports describing the data collected and how it is used.

This will be a start, but both cities and technology developers must place citizen trust at the front and centre of data driven operations and future data monetization, and invest in earning the trust of citizens involved.


CW puts on almost 50 events a year like this one. To get access for you and all staff to any of these events, why not consider CW membership? Prices start at £165 per company for the year.


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