Every urban city aims to be the next New York or London. The success of powerhouse cities, from Sydney to Shanghai, are why most people often view urbanization and potential of urban centers as engines of economic growth. Think of all the job opportunities, modern infrastructure and lifestyle that cities offer. But what most people don’t realize is that rapid urbanization could potentially be a double-edged sword. How so? Well, there are profound implications of global changes resulting from such rapid urbanization, especially as nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban centers by 2050.
Fortunately, digitalization is empowering cities to respond quickly to these demographic and economic shifts by making cities ‘smarter’. This is also the theme of this year’s ITU World, which I attended recently – “Better Sooner: Accelerating innovation to improve lives faster”. A smart city is more than just being highly connected. By leverage responsive and scalable technology, smart cities can improve public services, optimize city administration and better the lives of its citizens. This could mean intelligent transport systems, automated surveillance for public safety, or efficient government services.
We are seeing smart cities starting to take form in Asia. Singapore, for instance, is already home to intelligent city applications, and is well positioned to take its Smart Nation vision into reality. It comes as no surprise that Nokia’s Smart City Playbook found the city-state as one of the most ‘sustainable’ and ‘smartest’ cities in the world.
The success of any smart city will depend on the effective combination of ubiquitously embedded intelligence and the digital telecommunication networks that serve as the backbone of the city. However, some networks in Asia may not be entirely equipped to manage the growing bandwidth and latency needs of the millions of connected devices that will power smart cities. In fact, nearly 20% of mobile traffic demand will not be satisfied, based on current and projected economies. In the next decade or so, city connectivity will depend largely on next generation networks.
The pressure is now on local governments to manage these large volumes of data, as the power of data plays a key role in the development of smart cities. Banks, for example, are already utilizing the predictive power of analytics to improve customer relationships. With regulators already reacting to disruptive services such as peer-to-peer lending or blockchain technology, our collective agility in effecting change will be fundamental to making daily lives for citizens more convenient, efficient, sustainable and most importantly, safe.
Another fundamental pillar of smart city is cybersecurity. The number of connected devices will soon outnumber the world’s population, and this means we will continue to face higher security risks and vulnerabilities – both to malicious attacks and unintentional incidents. In fact, the Nokia Threat Intelligence Report revealed a sharp increase in major IoT device security vulnerabilities, while smartphones accounted for 85% of mobile infections.
Smart cities need smarter data privacy regulations
But the real threat comes from the lack of regulation for data privacy. Today, data is captured at every instance through machine learning and artificial intelligence, whether by listening to music, watching TV or through our financial and health records. This explosive risk factor underscores an urgent need for the public and private sectors to collaborate even more and build regulation for smart cities to thrive and prosper.
Ultimately, future networks need to be safe, support edge cloud architecture for ultra-low latency in mission-critical IoT applications, be cost effective, and be highly scalable. To build such a network, governments, network operators and telecom equipment providers need to collaboratively design and architect the essential building blocks of the smart city.
The process of making a city smart is extremely complex. The possibilities are endless…but they are not a foregone conclusion. We are on the cusp of a revolution that is changing the way we live, work and play, so we must strive for innovation and invest towards infrastructure. The question is, are our networks resilient enough today to accelerate this digital future?
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