Connectivity technologies will play a strategic role in elevating experience in inclusive and secure smart cities of the future.

According to the UN’s estimates, nearly 7 in 10 people are expected to live in cities by 2050. Of this, close to 90% of the increase will take place in Asia and Africa.

As the population gears up for a massive city-centric shift, what this means is that liveability, lovability, and sustainability will become increasingly paramount considerations when it comes to building smart cities of the future.

Elevating citizen engagement and creating a human-centric experience will, therefore, be an essential aspect of every government’s smart city strategy moving forward. This includes providing for a connected, inclusive, and secure city experience where every citizen’s needs can be catered to quickly and effectively.

While this may seem like an overly ambitious vision to some, the reality is that connectivity technologies will play a strategic role in realizing and elevating the ‘smart city’ dream. But what exactly does this entail, and how will it look like?

DigiconAsia checks out some answers from Ilya Gutlin, Senior Vice President, APAC, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.

With the UN estimating that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 (of which 90% will be in Asia and Africa), how are ‘smart city’ priorities changing?

Ilya Gutlin (IG): Initially, at a high level, the focus of digitalization was two-fold — increased efficiency and better management of resources, as well as personalization of services to the consumer. Whereas the first initiative was focused on business, Big Tech led the latter initiative, zooming in on personalization to commercialise their products to the final consumer.

Ilya Gutlin, Senior Vice President, APAC, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

Now, as smart cities begin to evolve, governments have also gotten into the act by digitalizing their portfolio of services for the population, improving efficiency, access and transparency with added emphasis on enhancing citizens’ quality of life and public safety.

Take healthcare for example. Telemedicine services, the digital transmission of medical imaging, remote medical diagnosis and evaluations and video consultations with specialists, have helped to improve the quality of patient care and well-being of clinical staff at hospitals.

Research shows that nurses experience daily stressors such as alarm fatigue and lack of physical security. Alarm fatigue is when nurses experience high exposure to medical device alarms, causing alarm desensitization and leading to missed alarms or delayed response as well as increased anxiety. Around 75% of the alarms that nurses get can be irrelevant or false. Through digitalized healthcare, these stressors can be reduced significantly. In turn, they allow the nurses to better focus on their work and provide improved quality patient care.

Smart city priorities now also focus on sustainability, with governments harnessing technology to help reduce wastage and energy consumption. One example of this is Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative in collaboration with PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, to create a smart water meter to monitor water usage and extract data that is readily accessible for households. Households that implemented the smart meter averaged water savings of around 5% during the trial.

What are the implications for governments, especially in Asia Pacific?

IG: Consumers, who are used to digitalization at work and personalised solutions implemented by technology companies, are now demanding that the services provided by governments be equally efficient and transparent. Therefore, governments across Asia-Pacific need to invest in bringing their services to the population. Accelerated by the pandemic and lockdowns, the average consumer of government services demands that they have access everywhere, anytime. 

Newer technologies such as Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) allow for the development and distribution of communications software, simplifying the integration of communications capabilities – such as voice, messaging and video – into applications, services or business processes.

CPaaS will allow government e-services to be accessed 24/7 from a consumer’s own connected devices. Public services can thus continue to run in any situation, enhancing city efficiency and raising the quality of life.

Livability, lovability, and sustainability are becoming increasingly important considerations when it comes to building future smart cities. How would you see connectivity technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 7 – and their future incarnations – enable or complement smart city lovability and inclusivity efforts?

IG: The approach to developing smart cities has so far been fragmented because the focus has been on connecting devices and automating certain processes. As a result, smart service delivery may exist in one area where connected smart devices have been deployed, but not necessarily everywhere. This has improved the delivery of services only to some people, resulting in the fragmented consumption of services.

The City 5.0 vision promotes a holistic, connected, smart city environment that enables consumption without restrictions. Capabilities such as secure, responsive public services, improved emergency response systems and wireless connectivity play a huge role in improving that experience.

From air quality alerts sent to the public via mobile devices to real-time wayfinding signages for indicating emergency evacuation routes, the public is used to connecting from anywhere.

Technology solutions should be selected, purchased and deployed as part of a single technology foundation that will enable services focused on quality of life and sustainability. This can only be achieved with an integrated, network framework that enables frictionless consumption of services by providing connectivity everywhere, for everything and everyone.

Connectivity technologies can provide secure and automated IoT onboarding for a variety of connected city use cases. For workflow and process automation solutions that use IoT devices, these can proactively detect and address issues before they manifest into problems, thereby increasing operational efficiency and reducing costs. Such use cases will all contribute to making future cities more livable, lovable, and sustainable.

Additionally, Wi-Fi 7 will deliver increased speed, throughput, and efficiency, with lower latency. This means that real-time applications, such as CCTV footage and video, will be the main beneficiaries of new connectivity technologies like Wi-Fi 7. 

What other digital solutions can governments leverage to better engage citizens and improve their quality of life?

IG: Other digital solutions that governments can tap into include cloud computing, which can ensure resiliency, security, and rapid deployment of applications and services.

For example, having a cloud-based network can result in easier and more simplified management of network systems, while also offering the flexibility to scale and adapt to different unique requirements. Furthermore, governments can also benefit from advanced network visibility and control, which in turn enables them to make smart and faster decisions.

In the Hokkaido Municipality, the Information and Communication Infrastructure Utilisation Promotion Council was also able to leverage a cloud communications platform to deliver high-quality audio and video communications between the town administration and its citizens.

With a cloud-based environment that removes risks and costs of down-time and maintenance, elderly residents who lived in rural and remote areas could now connect promptly and securely with authorities and their families.

The technology was also addressing disaster prevention and the delivery of important services such as education, medical care, and transportation, thus contributing to an improved standard of living and higher engagement.