How to Make a City Smart: The Benchmark for Success Featured

How to Make a City Smart: The Benchmark for Success Image Credit: Wireless Broadband Alliance

There is much talk in the industry about 5G and IoT, and the opportunities these technologies will provide. From smart kettles and robotic vacuum cleaners to driverless cars, a world where every device is ‘connected’ is not as far away as it may seem. In fact, connected and smart cities are already beginning to take shape.

Smart cities are an evolutionary step in urban development, enabling economic growth and improving the quality of life for citizens. Connecting networks, sensors and devices, can dramatically transform the way a city operates. A stop light can talk to a car; a car can talk to parking sensors; parking sensors can talk to traffic management systems; traffic management systems can talk to the fire and police departments. A change in traffic light sequences can take place around an accident, which in turn can alert fire and police departments to come to the scene rapidly.

But how do cities go about providing this connectivity and making a city smart? With various stakeholders to consider, as well as being responsible for communicating the benefits of connectivity for everyone to understand, those responsible for the city need to ensure there are resources and business models to support the development of smart cities.

What makes a city smart?

Internet connectivity has, at its core, transformed the way we interact with the world around us, drastically improving our quality of life. From the way we shop to the way we manage the heating and electricity in our homes, and even how we interact with our friends and family - connectivity has been as much of a civilization changer as roads, water systems and electricity grids. 

Connectivity also has the power to transform how the cities around us work. By using technology to connect people, processes and assets, cities can create safer, more sustainable and efficient environments. Cities can create new economic development opportunities, add investment to the region and aid in job creation. The data unlocked by connectivity can also help to make cities safer.

However, cities need to think about more than just connectivity if they want to become smart. “Smart” doesn’t just refer to the technology or sensors that connects everyone and everything. It is a concept that describes how cities and their agencies can work more effectively alongside partner agencies and organizations and of course, citizens. “Smart” requires a shift in culture and mindset – moving away from how things have always been done to considering what should be done based on data and analytics.

The smart city challenge

Up until now, the concept of a smart city has been broad and open to interpretation. If you were to ask city officials what it means to be a smart city, it is likely that many, if not all, would have varying answers. This lack of understanding means cities face several obstacles to becoming smart. Along with cultural resistance, many cities with the desire to become ‘smart’ face insufficient funding, a lack of cooperation between agencies, as well as a fear and inability to analyze data effectively.

Ultimately, cities must use the new wave of technology to become more responsive and data-driven. Citizens need, and are demanding, more services from cities and have ever-increasing expectations of the types of services they want. This means cities must structure connectivity plans, their benefits, and value propositions so that all stakeholders within the smart city ecosystem have a clear understanding of what is needed. Although cities may face constraints, such as land availability, population growth, revenues and resources, they must be able cater to a range of different scenarios. The backup plan for data, for example, requires very different capabilities, and very different levels of connectivity, versus security and high definition video streaming for police and transport.

It is also important to recognize that cities are at the different ends of the development spectrum. Not everyone is on the same stage of the journey, with differences in social, economic and political frameworks.

Smart city in action – New York City

A great example of a city that is embracing the vision to become smart is New York. Bringing affordable broadband services to the public is deeply embedded in the mission of the New York City government, and aims to bring universal broadband services to all citizens by 2025. New York’s goal is to deploy broadband across the city to help the community, schools, libraries, healthcare services, job searches, and even children with doing their homework.

New York is taking several steps to ensure that it reaches this goal and successfully develops its broadband ecosystem. It is doing this firstly by takings its independent telecommunications assets, independent budgets, and independent acquisitions of telecommunications assets, and pooling them into one place so that it can better leverage what it has and figure out where the city wants to go.

The city has also created a broadband task force to see how the city is approaching the proliferation of broadband. The task force directly inputs into the strategy and policy for broadband proliferation, as well as provides advice as to what it thinks will be the best fit for deployments in NYC. The task force is made up of citizens from a variety of different industry sectors, including the financial sector, public safety, as well as waste management, and debates and addresses which parts of the city need more broadband services. Are more services needed in subways and railways? Are more services needed in job centers or in homeless shelters? Or are services needed in other mission critical areas of the city?

New York is also introducing methods that can be used to support incumbents and new entrants to the market, allowing them to provision services from a surplus amount of fiber that the city already has in the ground and extend it beyond their existing franchise agreement. Some companies, for example, have traditionally been restricted in providing services beyond the subway corridors. But now, fiber can be taken out of the subways and go above ground to serve the railway passages, transportation corridors, schools, libraries, and other areas.

Because New York is committed to bringing broadband to every citizen, the local community boards are critical stakeholders in the telecommunications ecosystem. The city consistently talks with the community boards about important localized neighborhood issues that come up around telecommunication services. NYC is also installing Wi- Fi kiosks across the city, and every step of the planning is coordinated with political leaders, the borough presidents, and the community boards, where citizens come out and talk about how they feel that their specific communities can benefit from the kiosks and wider broadband deployment.

Taking a step in the right direction

Becoming ‘smart’ provides plenty of opportunities for cities. Not only does it mean they can be safer and more efficient, it also brings better services and improves the quality of life of citizens. But becoming smart comes with its challenges, and not only do cities need to overcome these, they also need to fairly and coherently communicate with all stakeholders their smart city plans. The road to smart is a journey that will get easier if cities are able to learn from one another and share best practices, research and connectivity plans. Armed with this knowledge, not only will the development of smart cities be more efficient and cost effective, but we will see a world of smarter, safer cities sooner than we might think.

Shrikant Shenwai is the CEO and one of the founders of Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA). Under his leadership, the WBA has transformed into a global industry organization with 100 members, including leading wireless & broadband operators and technology companies who are strategically focusing on delivering the next generation Wi-Fi experience that is seamless, secure and interoperable.


With a global experience of more than 25 years in the ICT industry, Shrikant has held several management and leadership roles in telecoms, internet, IT and multimedia businesses. After starting his carrier with HP, he founded and successfully grew an entrepreneurial venture in India before moving to Singapore where he worked with leading telecom companies (StarHub & SingTel group), before taking over as the CEO of WBA. He has extensive experience in successfully building and managing partnerships/alliances and a proven track record in taking new initiatives and ventures from concept to operations.


Shrikant is an Electronics & Communication engineer by training. Having lived and worked in Asia for many years, he currently lives on the west coast of Canada in British Columbia with his wife and two children.


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