You can't build smart cities by joining the dots

Unfortunately there is no template to build smart cities, instead each one needs to be treated as a unique entity with projects tailored as required, according to François Duquesnoy, director urban services for Orange Business.

Smart cities are being touted as the way forward for dealing with urban population growth, using technology integrated into the cities’ infrastructure to create a sustainable ecosystem that helps meet the needs of its inhabitants - improving their quality of life whilst reducing environmental impact.

A booming population that shows no signs of slowing down has made the construction of smart cities crucial. By 2050, an addition 2 billion people will live in urban developments, representing an increase of around 50 per cent – and in Africa, urban living will increase a staggering 300 per cent. These concentrations of people will exacerbate the space management, energy control and food resource issues that already exist.

Connected cities

Smart cities are built on digital technology.  From smart grids and smart buildings to smart transport, they all on information and communication technology together with the Internet of Things (IoT) to manage the cities’ diverse assets. From connected buildings and eco-positive energy to eco-responsible neighbourhoods, optimized traffic management and energy-efficient vehicles.  Everyone within these industry sectors – construction, transport operators, energy resource management, local communities, telecoms operators and more – must work to integrate technology successfully if they are to improve the lives of people in cities, be they residents or just passing through.

The three pillars of a smart city

There are three key elements that characterize a smart city - connectivity, agility and innovation.

Connectivity is enabled through a proliferation of sensors, videos-enabled devices and connected objects distributed throughout the smart city, from smart homes and public buildings to transport facilities, parking lots, streets and even the smartphone in peoples’ pockets.

IoT within the smart city infrastructure enhances existing services and develops new ones.  By connecting glass recycling containers, for example, it is possible to develop schedules for emptying them before they are full. This improves resident satisfaction in the recycling service, whilst limiting energy consumption by cutting back on lorry mileage to only necessary collections.

As part of its Urban Environmental Monitoring (UEM) project, the city of Nice France has installed thousands of sensors to measure pollution and traffic noise, designed to improve the quality of life of those in the region, whilst working to provide better performing urban services.

Agility is primarily driven by start-up businesses.  Why?  Because by its very nature, digital technology promotes a profusion of new uses, applications and mobile terminals. Start-ups work to much shorter development times. Citizens expect to see this same agility applied to public urban services provided by transport operators, building operators, and the government.

The city of Nantes, also in France, for example, has created a free downloadable, customizable app which provides residents with information about their city, ranging from local events to municipal news, traffic reports and parking updates.  It also supports electronic payments and enables parents to view their children’s school dinner menus.

Then there is innovation driven by big data. All these billions of connected ‘things’ generate a colossal volume of data that, once collected, analyzed and cross-matched with other information sources, can help to better manage resources and data flows.  This data can also be used to reduce energy consumption and even develop new services for citizens.

Orange has developed Flux Vision, a solution that provides an analysis of traffic flows for applications in such areas as transport, tourism and commerce. Developed jointly with Orange partners, this type of gauge did not exist previously.

To encourage cities to adopt innovative projects and become smarter, it is important that we provide real life examples of how this digital technology can help them in their quest to smart city status, not simply talk about the mechanisms that make it work.

What is holding back the development of smart cities?

The concept of the smart city is disrupting the urban development’s traditional ecosystem and that of the industries that operate within it.

Smart cities require a combination of multiple skills and flexible and collaborative working practices. Our role in smart city projects is to integrate the various components offered by the different partners and make it all work together.

Business models also need to be seen as an area for innovation.  Take data, for example. How do we monetize the data collected from connected ‘things’? As a telecom operator, we have an in depth understanding of data management. We have the ability to process large volumes of data and cross-reference it with external data in order to extract intelligence. Our efforts are focused on new ways we can leverage this intelligence for our customers and partners.

Finally, the interoperability of solutions is also presenting a challenge in the development of smart cities and it is an area we here at Orange Business are working hard on.

City officials do not want to utilize a “proprietary” solution that is effective at the time of purchase, but may prove costly or inoperable in the future.

Smart cities of the future

Smart cities are evolving, but the concept will take time. Although autonomous cars and drones are becoming a reality, with the potential to cut down on congestion and pollution, for example, these technologies are some five years away from going mainstream.

When we are talking about smart cities, it is important to stress that each city, each urban area has its own individual challenges.  Some will develop faster than others, but they all have their own obstacles to overcome in meeting the expectations of their inhabitants.

In smart cities, IoT technology is being utilized by local authorities looking for solutions to better manage resources and improve the well-being of communities.  To find out more about Orange Business and IoT in smart cities click here.

Juliette Fauchet

Journaliste depuis vingt ans, spécialisée high tech BtoB j’ai exercé dans des magazines de référence comme 01 Informatique. Je m’intéresse notamment à la gestion des RH (SIRH, GPEC, outils collaboratifs, MOOC, IoT, gestion des données, management…), à l’innovation (propriété industrielle, open innovation, co innovation, relations startups-entreprises,..) aux startups (capital-risque, incubateurs....), aux dispositifs publics de financement (CIR, CICE, BPI…) aux nouvelles économies  (économie collaborative, netéconomie silver économie, économie collaborative, Fintech ..)   

Je m’intéresse aussi aux nouvelles formes d’urbanisation (smart cities, smart inclusive, smart grid..) au big data, Cloud et IoT. 

Le digital est une véritable source de dynamise, d’innovation et de transformation des entreprises.