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Building smart cities will require more than bricks and mortar

The GCC governments’ drive towards smart cities will benefit from an understanding of the real-world scope and challenges of wireless connectivity

Kamal Mokrani is the global vice president of InfiNet Wireless.
Kamal Mokrani is the global vice president of InfiNet Wireless.

We now find ourselves steeped in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an era that could potentially see every one of us humans, and every piece of machinery we use, seamlessly networked together.

Every aspect of our lives, from our classroom experiences to our daily commute, is being digitised as we move inexorably towards the smart city paradigm. But unlike the jetpacks and flying cars we looked forward to in the 1980s, smart cities are not only more viable, but are taking shape around us as you read this. 

Governments within the GCC have shown unparalleled ambition in creating these digital societies, embarking on long-term economic visions that leverage technology to lay the foundations for smart cities. So, what is the blueprint for the smart society? What constitutes best practice? And how can we ensure the foundations are sound enough to support value-adding solutions that revolutionise everyday life?

The first thing to recognise is that legacy cable infrastructures can only take the smart-city pioneer so far. Many of the unique selling points of smart cities involve the necessary feature of mobility. Traffic optimisation, automated public safety, and remote health monitoring are just three examples where key elements of the ecosystem – such as vehicles, CCTV cameras, people, and so on – can be based anywhere, with data made available to and from them on a real-time basis. Hard-wired solutions severely hamper the delivery of such solutions.

In addition, these cabled solutions are extraordinarily disruptive in their deployment, requiring significant undertakings from the perspectives of both civil engineering and the public purse. Both factors also amount to considerable lifespans for cabling projects, thereby dampening the momentum of smart city initiatives.

Wireless presents itself as an obvious candidate for any government intent on crafting its own smart city. But care must be taken when selecting the platform on which all future smart solutions will be built. Choose the wrong one, and visionary advances could quickly grind to a halt.

According to GSMA Intelligence’s 2017 Mobile Economy report, mobile internet subscriber penetration in the Middle East and North Africa reached 36% in 2016 and is projected to top 46% by 2020. Figures like these call for diligence when selecting wireless platforms built for the future, as many smart city solutions involve continuous data feedback to and from citizens, as well as municipal authorities. Certainly, significant capacity is required to serve the rising numbers of connected citizens and their associated mobile devices. 

An effective smart infrastructure also needs to enable split-second decision making, in the order of three milliseconds or lower for most known applications today. 

A suitable mobile-internet solution needs to be based on internet protocol (IP), provide guaranteed delivery of each and every packet, and be capable of connecting seamlessly to any data source and any current or future sensors. 

Consider a CCTV-based public safety system – real-time image processing is computationally expensive. Low latency, reliability of data transfer, and fast processing capabilities come together to deliver features such as instant facial or automatic number-plate recognition, and a host of other crowd-based analytics services that ultimately translate into safer and more secure environments. 

However, smart infrastructure must also mitigate interference and radio noise, especially since the number of wireless networks within the city will increase as more services are rolled out. 

Our journey towards the smart cities of tomorrow must be less of a sprint and more of a methodical march. Healthcare, education, security, and public safety all await the innovators. Their solutions – if built on the back of a robust, flexible, responsive, and reliable wireless platform – will usher in that new smart city age we have all been waiting for.  

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