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Beyond the buzz: the real advantages of smart cities

By: Natalie Duffield, CEO of intechnologyWiFi
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2015 - 12:01 GMT Jump to Comments

We must see beyond the hype to really begin to understand how smart city initiatives can make big differences to local communities.

The smart city is no longer just a technology industry buzzword. Across the UK we’re seeing and hearing of great initiatives to get the UK connected, promising innovative experiences and more efficient services through its subsequent data sets.

But beyond the grand driverless car schemes, of which one is being rolled out in Milton Keynes, many people are unclear about what smart city schemes actually mean for them. A recent polling report revealed that 96% of Brits ‘knew nothing’ about smart cities in operation in the UK.

There has recently been significant investment in the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart city initiatives, such as the £10m Internet of Things (IoT) competition for UK cities launched by the government earlier this summer.

It is clear that better communication of these initiatives is needed. Smart cities offer so many more benefits than just driverless cars, having the power to enrich the city for residents, businesses and visitors alike.

Starting small with big ambitions

Whilst smart schemes in large cities are taking the headlines, much of this sector’s development is being driven by councils and City Mayors. Local governing bodies are increasingly feeling the pinch on funding, so it has become essential for councils to look to the next big innovation to grow their local economy and enable businesses to operate more efficiently in the long term.

Connectivity is perhaps the most overlooked of these big innovations from a public perspective. With so many of us lucky enough to have our homes connected to broadband, or with a strong mobile network connection, we can often overlook the massive difference that area-wide connectivity can make to stimulate a town.

Whilst increasingly important, connectivity can come at a massive cost to councils. The promise of super-fast broadband, for example, offers councils the opportunity to provide their services with the all-important high speeds and standards. It can also serve up large costs due to the significant investment needed in E1 lines.

That’s why many towns are looking to open WiFi networks to connect their services and their citizens. These point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless technologies can interconnect council offices, fire stations, police stations, businesses and communities throughout the area at significantly less expense.

One town investing in just that is Watford Borough Council, which recently announced that it will roll out a new free, public WiFi network. This will provide its citizens with real experience of the advantages that smart cities bring, as they innovate services and harness data to better manage their urban ecosystem (local traffic, public transport, utilities and education).

Connecting the community

Beyond announcing new smart initiatives, appreciating the benefits is crucial to understanding the UK’s smart operations. It’s important that councils and City Mayors, who invest in these initiatives,  communicate their benefits to ensure not only that the community supports them, but also engages with them.

With initiatives such as open WiFi, having such a significant reach within the community just means “sharing the love” a little.

Across the UK, small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) are seeing the benefits of connectivity with open WiFi helping to drive footfall by increasing the number of people who can find the shop.

Customer visibility online is especially important for areas that rely heavily on tourism, allowing visitors to find the services and products they’re looking for by putting information about local shops in the palm of their hands.

The benefits don’t just go to the businesses themselves, but also to their employees. With more people making use of flexible working and mobility initiatives like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), WiFi helps ensure everyone can harness these opportunities to work where is convenient to them.

Open WiFi also allows councils to garner new information and develop further IoT initiatives within their towns. Traffic management, for example, can be significantly improved with IoT data.

Collecting, processing, reporting and analysing data across road networks gives councils essential information to make smart changes to transport systems to increase efficiency and consumer experience.

For example, monitoring entries and exits at car parks to accurately reflect availability facilitates parking. Improving the flow of traffic through signal phasing and control can reduce traffic.

Implementing open WiFi networks allows councils to lay down the foundations for further community engagement and benefits.

Investing in consumer-facing apps puts the power in the hands of the community to report problems, such as broken street lighting, litter, food hygiene issues, flooded drains and planning breaches. This participation increases municipal engagement and informs decision-makers about local issues, helping them to make the best choices to enhance the community.

When we think of smart initiatives, we often think of technologies like driverless cars, which remove the need for human input. Whilst that may work for transport, it’s a different story for councils that continuously seek to provide a better human experience. That’s why initiatives that engage the community are so important.

Buzzword technologies may drive the headlines, but investments in local connectivity - and the information that can be garnered using it - will have immediate benefits felt by the community, and lay the foundations for future innovation. That’s just smart.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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