Science fiction turns science fact in 21st century

The world's biggest cities have never been more connected '“ and 'smart cities' are at the heart of the revolution, providing a vision for the intelligent management of assets while enhancing quality of life for residents.
The fintech revolution may disrupt jobs but opportunities lie ahead.The fintech revolution may disrupt jobs but opportunities lie ahead.
The fintech revolution may disrupt jobs but opportunities lie ahead.

Once considered the realms of science fiction, smart cities are rapidly becoming a global reality thanks to faster, better, more efficient digital connectivity that’s revolutionising the way we live through the 
integration of information and communication technology and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Efficiency is the key word – building effective digital worlds around our cities unlocks huge possibilities, from the entire eradication of the need to carry cash in your pocket, to drones delivering goods that have been ordered online, and daily admin tasks becoming completely automated.

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However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg – the possibilities of what can truly be achieved by smart cities are effectively endless. Big data, for instance, is being leveraged for major insights that can help to improve business efficiency, productivity and growth.

There is also a considerable opportunity for those providers leading the way – the global smart city market is expected to grow to some $1.6 trillion by 2020. It’s also interesting to note that Scotland is firmly in the driving seat, with Edinburgh and Glasgow thought to be just behind London when it comes to the UK’s smartest cities.

Unlocking it all is the IoT – in other words, all devices, other than the likes of computers and smartphones, that are capable of connecting to the Internet and of communicating with each other. Experts predict that there will be more than 24 billion IoT devices in use by 2020. That’s approximately four devices for every human being on the planet – and as we approach that point, it’s thought that some $6 billion will flow into IoT solutions, including application development, device hardware and connectivity. Smart cities use IoT devices such as connected sensors, lights, and meters to collect and analyse data. The cities can then use this data to improve infrastructure, public utilities and services, and more.

The Internet of Everything (IoE) meanwhile extends the Internet of Things to describe a more complex system that also encompasses people, processes, and higher level information that’s relayed back to machines, computers, and people for further evaluation and decision making. This is key because it will allow us to make faster, more intelligent decisions, as well as control our environment more effectively. Examples of “things” in IoE include smart sensors built into structures like bridges, and disposable sensors that will be placed on everyday items such as milk cartons.

As the internet evolves toward IoE, we will be connected in more valuable, streamlined ways. For example, in the future, people will be able to swallow a pill that senses and reports the health of their digestive tract to a doctor over a secure Internet connection. In addition – and this is where things get really sci-fi – sensors placed on the skin or sewn into clothing could one day provide information about a person’s vital signs.

Underpinning it all will be the next telecommunications standard with 5G networks expected to provide data rates of 100 megabits per second for metropolitan areas. Then there’s the dizzying possibilities of LiFi, a new wireless technology that is up to 100 times faster than the average WiFi available today. LiFi uses a technology called Visible Light Communication to transmit massive amounts of data, meaning that you are connected to the internet via LED bulbs around the office. In simple terms, whenever the lights are on, you are connected. LiFi has significant potential to supersede WiFi, and with its impressive upload and download speeds, and its shorter range, it is more secure too.

Where to begin then? Well, smart cities start with smart buildings – which help businesses achieve their goals by optimising the capability of all equipment and systems – and they need a converged network to underpin their performance. Smart buildings are very much happening in the present day, not some distant sci-fi future, and the benefits are immediately tangible. By overlaying an IT network, connecting all traditionally unconnected equipment, and applying automated analytics and controls, building owners and managers can significantly reduce energy waste and cut costs.

With that goal in mind, it’s important to firstly consult a smart city application provider that has already built similar solutions to those that will be at the centre of your own initiatives. They should then be able to design and provide solutions that are bespoke to your needs. Providers are effectively offering access to the gateway that will empower organisations to innovate in the connected world. Will your smart city be next?

Tom Sime, is MD of Kirkintilloch-based Exchange Communications

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