By Thierry Van Landegem, VP Global Operations, Bell Labs
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to give the keynote speech at the Future Internet Assembly in Aalborg, Denmark. Smart cities was the subject – and smart was the conference: a couple of mayors from so called smart cities participated, and a lot of smart researchers working on challenging projects many of which funded by the European Commission’s Framework Programme.
Urbanization is a known phenomenon and continues. Some forecast that roughly 70% of the population will live in cities by 2050. Another trend is the aging of the population with a clear need for health care and wellness. Businesses will move where people are. Hence an enormous drive towards building a city infrastructure that provides a capability to support its citizens, corporations and government.
An infrastructure however, is an understatement. What is really required is what I call a smart and sustainable platform. It is more than connectivity that networks typically provide. Our internal research conducted in three cities in North America, Asia and the Middle East showed that citizens are not so much interested in connectivity but rather in ways that increase their quality of life and that bring people together.
Our biggest learning was that building a smart city should be driven not only by purely financial factors but also, and equally by social aspects: providing experience rich applications and services.
In order to provide this, we need to build a smart platform: a connectivity layer which is supplemented by capabilities that 1. control and manage the connectivity layer based on the traffic it supports to make optimal usage of its resources, 2. analyze and learn from the massive amounts of traffic it supports to offer better applications that provides a richer experience to its citizens and businesses. In other words, whereas current networks merely transport traffic, this smart platform knows and understands what traffic it transports and hence can offer much richer applications and services.
All this being said, such a smart platform will be huge especially given the continuous urbanization. Energy requirements for such a network will be equally huge given its size. Research has shown that cities consume 75% of the world’s energy and produce 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore this smart platform should be equally sustainable: using energy efficient equipment that will reduce energy needs and will also allow more usage of renewable energy sources. Therefore, research that is done in the frame of the GreenTouch
consortium where its challenging ambition is to improve the energy efficiency of telecom networks by a factor of one thousand, will help build out smart platforms that are sustainable.
As some of the mayors pointed out, some early trials of smart cities are in the works, but there still remains a lot to be done to get to a smart and sustainable platform.
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