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Quest for Smart Cities

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The idea of smart cities is slowly beginning to take shape in India with the realization of the need to utilize technology for tackling governance challenges, Japanese technology major, NEC is planning to cater to this market, offering a variety of solutions including the use for ICT for security, transportation, electricity and other utilities. Andrew Chi, Head of Public Safety Solutions, NEC India briefs on the concept, services and systems that are driving changes in the way major cities are being designed and shaped.

Smart means intelligence and with the evolution of communication technology, the dissemination of information has become an extremely common task. When substantial investments are made in human and social capital, technology (communication infrastructure), and so on, that fuel sustainable economic development and increased quality of life, along with active participatory governance, the city can be defined as ‘Smart’.

India is expected to be an attractive market for smart city solutions. The initiative will integrate new technologies with the existing apparatus. The ultimate goal of new technologies and solution is to improve the response time and support a flexible and coherent work between different city operators. In order for smart city project to be successful, it is essential to have the basic infrastructure in place. It is in this respect that the development of seven mega cities (Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai) is taking place. As part of the development, numerous satellite towns are being developed around each city respectively which will eventually decongest the mega cities. These satellite towns will attract future IT companies, manufacturing centres, business centres etc thereby creating the need for better infrastructure.

The concept of ‘Smart’ is expected to drive the further evolution of connectivity and communication to enhance safety. The smart technologies like smart buildings, smart transport, smart energy, smart grid, smart cars and smart devices are the main drivers for city connectivity. The information flow from smart buildings will provide an overview of the status of current utility usage and any variation in the flow of information can trigger an alarm for first responders. Smart transport delivers information from the field and will inform traffic officials that an issue occurred; this may trigger an immediate surveillance response and possible unit deployment. Smart energy and smart grids are a crucial element in the surveillance of critical infrastructure and may reduce the risk of power failures. Smart cars give perfect information feed for graphical information systems (GIS) which could be used for the identification of potentially hazardous (traffic jams, accidents, etc.) areas in the city. Smart devices (Smart Phones, Tablets, etc.) allow the mapping of people through GPS and Wi-Fi internet. This also is a crucial aspect to having graphical information about the movement of people.

The Market Drivers

Strong City Economies: Growth in each city influences the level of technological adoption in that city. The stronger the economy is, the higher the probability will be to procure technology that would integrate existing security devices such as Closed-circuit television (CCTV), sensors and detectors. Newer city economy and expected higher growth in the long run denote the city is more probable to procure new solutions and integrate all security measures.

Smart City initiatives aim to deploy technology solutions across different infrastructures in a city with very specific goals. For example, smart transportation solutions are deployed to optimise traffic flow, increase transport connectivity, reduce time spent on mobility, etc. Smart energy technologies are used to increase efficiency, reduce pollution across urban areas and make use of renewable sources, amongst others.

Security and Safety Threat: A part of the security factor is the internal/external terrorism threat a city faces. Other elements that are included in the security and safety threat factor are natural disasters, crime and so on. The main purpose of smart cities is to decrease the crime rate and increase the feeling of safety amongst the citizens.

Natural Disasters: With cities being susceptible to natural disasters, advanced information and communication systems must be deployed in order to minimize casualties and economic loss. In cities with high natural disaster threat levels, there is an increased possibility of smart city programs which would reduce the amount of economic and civil loss.

Internet Protocol: Internet Protocol (IP) is a major driver when talking about convergence. The technology of the future will be through high speed internet and that is why IP infrastructure will be a necessity for all systems to comply with each other. Smart city projects will definitely be driven by the development of systems infrastructure whether it’s through fixed cable or wireless.

Urbanization Rate: As cities expand, new infrastructure is developed to support the growing population. Cities that are able to build solutions based on IP infrastructure rather than overhauling large legacy systems are more likely to adopt new and integrated systems. This is a key difference between established Western cities that are prevented from growing outwards and have a focus on regeneration rather than building new communities on greenfield land. There is a correlation between city size and crime and the need for integrated security solutions become more important as the rate of urbanization within a country increases.

The Restraints

Slowdown in Economy and Budget Cuts: Austerity measures and spending cuts at a local government level make it increasingly difficult to raise investment for smart infrastructure. This leads to the possibility, where the CCTV command centres maybe privatized and the municipalities would have to outsource this service.

Continued Presence of Legacy Systems: Legacy Systems are old technologies, computer systems or applications that are still being used even though a new sophisticated technology, system or application exists. This is a major restraint for the integration of all the technologies and may hinder the implementation of new systems. The replacement of legacy systems would be extremely expensive and certain integration issues may arise when designing an integrated solution.

Change of Government: Government instability is seen as a restraint to smart city projects. The long term development of integrated infrastructure means that programs will stretch across election periods and the priority of governments can change significantly on the issue

Civil Rights: Political challenges, policy implementation problems, civil society and the general public are a major issue to the implementation of surveillance programs. Increasing concerns of privacy issues among general public is expected to remain one of the restraints for deployment of advance security systems.

The Technology Trends

Move towards wireless transmission: Wireless transmission is already present and fairly saturated today through mobile phone, tablet PCs, two way radios etc. The trend will allow for large amounts of data to be transmitted wirelessly and real time at greater speeds. This includes development in Long Term Evolution Solutions (LTE), City Clouds, Machine to Machine communication (M2M), internet protocol (IP) technology etc. The development of the above technologies will allow for government agencies and departments to share information with one another seamlessly, thereby reducing the processing time for any activity. We are already seeing law enforcement agencies in India, China and Singapore using hand held smart devices to retrieve information from numerous vast databases. Mobile devices would also allow law officials to view city footage of key areas in a city remotely without having to be at a stationary location. Today, IP technology in video surveillance has allowed for cameras to be installed at locations where previously, because of the lack of infrastructure, wiring was not available for the cameras.

Growth of cloud computing, data mining and analytics: The growth of cloud computing will allow companies and government agencies to have their data stored in a virtual cloud thereby, allowing for access from numerous locations and more importantly, save on cost and space, which would otherwise be used by physical servers. The implementation of cloud technology will allow for faster data retrieval as well as an increase in the size of data that can be retrieved. Cloud computing also allows for data to be retrieved instantly across a large number of devices. Data mining and analytics will allow for government officials to have key data to help them to interpret situations that are taking place currently and accordingly allow them to take preventive steps.

Integration of smart technology: Smart technology is already present through the aid of smart phones, contactless payments, near field communication (NFC), integration of smart cards with biometrics etc. The next stage for smart cities will involve the integration of smart technologies with video surveillance, biometrics, access cards etc. We are already witnessing the benefits of smart technology in the form of smart national ID cards in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia wherein the users details are present on the card itself thereby proving to be a key identification card for the user.


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