A Call For A Shared Connectivity Blueprint For Cities

Emily Porro

With 3.5 billion people currently living in cities and anticipated growth that will bring 70% of the world’s population to urban areas by 2055, making cities smarter isn’t just “cool,” it is necessary to ensuring employment, quality of life, safety, and resilience in the future. According to experts on the “Smart Cities Sustainability” panel held during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, four points will be critical to ensuring a smart city is not only successful in the short term, but also sustainable for the future:

  • Share knowledge, don’t reinvent the wheel. Cities like San Jose, New York, and others are creating models and identifying best practices that can be used as a foundation for other cities. Cities need to “work together on a global basis to develop a connectivity blueprint framework for developing smart cities,” said panelist Shrikant Shenwai, CEO Wireless Broadband Alliance.
  • Public/Private partnerships are paramount. According to Selina Lo, CEO of Ruckus Wireless, which has been working to help build the San Jose Smart City Network, private-public partnerships are the best way to approach a smart city network. “The private side can gain rights to city assets – such as right-of-way, power, and utility locations – from the public entity, trading for advertising and sharing costs.”

Ms. Lo illustrated this with an example: LinkNYC, the free public Wi-Fi network in New York City, which is replacing phone booths with advertising kiosks that provide community services to visitors and citizens.

  • Security is important, but it shouldn’t inhibit the consumer. According to Vijay Sammeta, CIO for the City of San Jose, CA, cities need to be good stewards of a consumer’s data without making the security so complex that it is prohibitive. “The industry has done a great job with next-generation hotspots and wifi, and implementation of standards at public access points.”

“Security is important,” Ms. Lo agreed. “But if you make it too painful and you secure it too much, citizens won’t use it.” She went on to emphasize the importance of mechanisms for single sign-on.

  • Start with sustainability in mind. Smart city infastructure should capture additional revenue and taxes for the city. “I know your demographics if you come to my conference, and I will be able to show you socially where like-minded people are hanging out, and incentivize you to do something you wouldn’t have otherwise done. In trade, I’m going to give you HD-quality Netflix streaming,” said Mr. Sammeta. “Google has made lots of money doing this – why can’t cities? It’s the premise behind a sustainable network.”

Montreal’s subway system (STM), the fourth-largest transit system in North America with 1.2 million riders per day, is an excellent example of using mobile connections to monetize public works. The system’s “Merci” precision marketing platform application has increased usage of the public transit system, helped riders discover new destinations, drove traffic to local businesses, and encouraged use of transit beyond commuting.

In a conversation after the event, Sean O’Brien, who leads the SAP Future Cities team, added, “Digital transformation is key to building more prosperous cities. It is how cities are transforming services, engaging with its citizens, and creating digital experiences for natives and tourists alike.”


Emily Porro

About Emily Porro

Emily Porro is a writer and blogger focusing on the people, products, services and technology driving global innovation across industries.