Upgrading infrastructure as a path to become a smart city

Upgrading infrastructure as a path to become a smart city

Connected City

Bringing smart cities to life is a complex task. To accomplish it, leveraging technology and smart thinking is crucial to target the multiple objectives and to guarantee success in a transformation process which faces many obstacles. Within this transformation, projects which are able to provide multiple benefits as well as making the most and improving existing assets and reaching citizens are becoming increasingly important. An example: Smart Bus Shelters.

  

Introduction: A snapshot of the smart city market, its current state and challenges 

A smart city is a composite idea with far reaching goals cutting through technologies, vertical applications, social issues, global and local problems and many other variables and segments. 

At its current stage, the market is fragmented, solutions are tested, and results are evaluated, all while working to develop the full potential of a market which is different from all the others. More than any other industrial segment it combines the needs and wishes of the industry, of the city, of the citizens and communities, and of other stakeholders.

Such a complex universe is bound to have formidable problems, from the need to change long-standing mind structures highlighting the benefits of collaboration above silos and the need for long term targets beyond the seasonality of city councils, to the always persistent question of monetization and sustainability. Nevertheless, opportunities are numerous – from efficiencies through revenues, to placing cities in a leading position to face global problems.

 

The idea at the base of the IoT is to connect an increasing number of devices

 

And the tools to build this future are many, from new available technologies to government funds and strategies and all are needed to make smart cities a reality. Among these tools there is also the idea to valorise already existing resources and assets (i.e. bus shelters), using and evolving them to transform the city.

 

 

 

Why cities need to be smart, the IoT and the new understanding of the city 

Cities need to face multiple problems which present themselves with global and local flavours. From the ever quoted increase in urbanization –according to United Nations’ estimates, by 2050 66% of total population will be living in urban areas– and the subsequent stress on infrastructure and services, to the need to optimize resources. Improving air quality, reducing traffic congestion, optimising energy usage, and guaranteeing citizens’ inclusion and satisfactions are few of the many challenges which cities need to tackle.

 

Fast Wifi

As done in the past, cities are facing these challenges with the help of technology but in a different way than before as new game-changing solutions are appearing on the horizon. The idea of using technology to improve cities and their services is not a new one. What is different nowadays is the conceptual framework of the internet-of-things (IoT) that is bringing an endless number of new un-thought of possibilities and solutions.

The idea at the base of the IoT is to connect an increasing number of devices. Connecting devices which were not connected before creates new intelligence and the possibility of new and innovative interactions with the devices. The new information is the lifeblood to be used to unlock full opportunities as this information –now coming from an infinite number of sources– can be analysed and combined together to reach an understanding and a level of intelligence that was impossible to reach until few years ago. 

 

Re-purposing existing infrastructure thoughts and benefits 

However, the idea of a smart city is not just about using new technologies to unlock new scenarios. With one of the main drivers being resource optimisation, savings, and service improvements, a pivotal aspect of a smart city is how to best use what the city already has in place. This is true for multiple reasons; for instance cities have limited budgets and consequently they need to balance their smart city dreams weighing what they want to do against what they can afford to do. 

As a consequence of this an essential building block of a smart city is smart thinking, or in other words is how to optimise whatever resources and assets are available to the city in order to carry on the city evolution into a smart city. Smart thinking and re-using existing assets will help the city on multiple levels, such as with the problem of limited budget, but also easing citizens’ entrance into the smart city by using the familiar to introduce the new and unfamiliar. Given that citizens, depending on their age, status, etc. may have different views and reactions to technological development and to what is becoming a more and more comprehensive city structure, easing their way into this transformation by leveraging what is known (existing assets) and evolving it into a smart city application becomes essential to guarantee citizens’ on-boarding and support.

Re-using and developing assets should not just be limited to the physical aspect of a city structure. For instance, cities with strong tourism sectors should consider smart city initiatives which enhance their tourism capabilities and provide advantages for the local population – such as better traffic flow– but also for the companies involved in the tourism business and for the tourists themselves.

 

An essential building block of a smart city is smart thinking - Wi-Fi kiosks are an update of the now outdated phone booths

 

Examples of re-using existing infrastructure – Wi-Fi kiosks and smart bus shelters 

There are two use cases that exemplify how re-using and re-purposing an existing asset can provide solid smart city applications and can thus contribute to the growth of a smart city. Namely, Wi-Fi kiosks are an update of the now outdated phone booths, while smart bus shelters are an obvious evolution of the traditional bus shelter. Both types of projects deliver on multiple targets including increasing connectivity, generating revenues and increasing citizens’ interaction.

There are different examples of Wi-Fi kiosks, and besides LinkNYC being the most famous one, other projects are being deployed in Chicago and Newark (United States), and Paris (France). Wi-Fi kiosks are also in the process to being deployed in London (United Kingdom), substituting the traditional red phone booth since October 2016 when the companies BT, Intersection, and Primesight announced the launch of the project.

Wi-Fi kiosks address the existing need of connectivity demand and information, which was previously addressed by phone booths. On top of these core competencies given their direct relationship with the end user – relationship which in the smart city market where monetization is a key challenge is of primary importance – kiosks can build different features from generating data through sensors and cameras to generate revenues through advertisement models.

Besides information and revenues, kiosks generate citizens’ interaction with a smart city application, thus making citizens participant of the development of the city. As kiosks can target different needs and reach diverse goals they also fit very well with the smart city idea of reaching multiple results with one project.

 

Evolving existing infrastructure: the case of smart bus shelters 

Smart bus shelters share similar features with Wi-Fi kiosks, albeit in this case they provide a more obvious connection with the life of the old city. There are multiple projects each with different flavours which are carried on in various locations across the globe such as Manchester (United Kingdom), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Los Angeles (United States), Dubai (United Arab Emirates), and Auckland (New Zealand).

 

A pivotal aspect of a smart city is how to best use what the city already has in place

 

Regarding smart bus shelters the possibilities are numerous as different solutions can be integrated in the bus shelter to make it “smart” and to reach the desired objectives. In a nutshell, a smart bus shelter can generate citizens’ engagement and satisfaction, connectivity, and new revenue streams, for instance supported through advertising. Shelters also need to be modular in their design and structure to allow them to adapt to the different needs around the city. As a basic starting point, connectivity is the key function of a smart bus shelter. Within a smart city framework, connectivity is becoming more and more important as in the midst of technology and service transformation guaranteeing to citizens the ability to connect to the web becomes a necessity.

In the case of Los Angeles (2015), the city deployed smart bus shelters equipped with Wi-Fi, USB charging, iBeacon, and digital signage. Shelters were also equipped with LED lighting to reduce their energy consumption. In Manchester (2016), the shelters were equipped with free Wi-Fi, free charging points for mobile devices, and a digital touch screen showing news, travel, and city information. 

 

smart bus shelter

 

The city of Amsterdam presents an interesting variation as the companies JCDecaux and Vodafone partnered to deploy some 160 small cells within the bus shelters. Deploying small cells within the shelters help the operator to strengthen its network coverage and capacity and most importantly bring a new player in the smart bus shelter equation. For the operator, such a solution allows it to strengthen its core business improving its network and increasing coverage and access in locations which may not be available for network installation. For the city and its partners, this is an opportunity to leverage the operator’s needs creating a new business model.  

This pilot in Amsterdam was later followed by a wider agreement between Vodafone and JCDecaux signed in December 2014 according to which the former will deploy small cells in the latter infrastructure across various markets.

In the case of Dubai the smart bus shelters have been enriched with multiple features targeting different goals. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) started the construction of smart bus shelter in February 2016 and as of November 2016, 100 smart bus shelters were deployed in more than 15 districts across the emirate of Dubai. The construction of the smart bus shelter was a means to increase the population use of public transportation while also increasing citizens’ engagement thanks to the integration of new elements into the bus shelter. The shelters provide a wide variety of services such as free Wi-Fi, selling and charging of NOL cards, payment of government bills, mobile phone top ups, recharging handsets  stations, self-service kiosks, interactive displays, and others.

According to data from the RTA, the new bus shelters have increased the number of travelers using the shelters; travellers’ satisfaction has also improved since the project inauguration from 74% to 91%, and the number of transaction carried on in the bus shelters reached 25,000 up to mid-2016.

 

Smart bus shelters provide a more obvious connection with the life of the old city - As a basic starting point, connectivity is the key function of a smart bus shelter

 

Conclusion: smart thinking as a key pillar of a smart city 

Bringing smart cities to life is a complex task. To accomplish it, leveraging technology and smart thinking is crucial to target the multiple objectives and to guarantee success in a transformation process which faces many obstacles. Within this transformation, projects which are able to provide multiple benefits as well as making the most and improving existing assets and reaching citizens are becoming increasingly important. 

In the case of smart bus shelter, information, connectivity, and revenue models are all essential ingredients to deliver successful projects. The shelter can become a hub for further interaction whether in the form of transactions or information-consumption as well as a source of revenues through advertising, network deployment, and sensor generated data. Besides the financial aspects of the projects, smart thinking and evolving existing infrastructure deliver on the pivotal features for the healthy growth of a smart city of bringing citizens’ engagement with the smart city and easing citizens’ entrance in the smart urban environment. 

 While the road to smart cities is still long, each successful case is pushing the agenda one step forward at a time and highlighting the value of transforming cities and municipalities into smart cities.

 

by Pablo Tomasi, Senior Analyst-Smart Cities and IoT, IHS Markit

Upgrading infrastructure as a path to become a smart city

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