GETTING SMART WITH SMART CITIES STRATEGIES
More than 31 billion Internet of Things devices are expected to be online by 2020, with a market value of about US $8.9 trillion – almost incomprehensibly large numbers. But 2020 is also barely a year away. So how can telcos leverage the opportunities now
That smart cities are moving beyond a buzzword and into a tangible reality around the world isn’t news to anyone. It’s a business opportunity, with the number of Internet of Things devices is expected to grow to about 31 billion devices worldwide by 2020 – and the global market is projected to increase to US$8.9 trillion by 2020, according to Statista.
According to Marwan Bin Dalmook, senior vice president for ICT solutions and smart city operations at du, that’s simply too much money, and too many connected devices, for any technology company to ignore – not just telcos.
“It is expected that in a smart city environment, more and more devices will be connected, turning data collected throughout the city into nuggets of important information – which will, in turn, provide residents with insights,” he says.
An example of an IoT-related project for smart cities is smart metering. In its most common form, smart metering refers to water meters that can be monitored remotely for things such as water use, leakages, and more – which, of course, is of particular importance in parts of the Middle East and Africa where water is scarce, but populations and water use are nonetheless rising.
Telcos are also getting involved with smart metering. Zain has conducted trials in the past few months on smart metering trials in Kuwait. In Saudi Arabia, National Water Company (NWC) and Saudi telecom Company (STC) signed a memorandum of understanding in October to roll out smart meters throughout the kingdom. STC will provide network and ICT services for the project, which will be trialled before an eventual nationwide rollout.
US-based Sensus has also recently inked a deal with STC for smart metering for utilities and other services in Saudi Arabia. The first tests will be conducted in the capital of Riyadh. Eventually, the hope is to roll it out across the entire kingdom, says Sensus GCC strategic sales lead
But he says the project is not without its challenges. “You need [the network] to be robust and reliable to realise the potential.”
The smart metering project is just one of several smart cities projects STC is working on. According to senior accounts vice president Riyadh Muawad, the company is repositioning itself as an ICT company rather than just a telecommunications company to take advantage of the
changes – something he says other telcos should follow suit in.
Data demands and smart cities network challenges
But as exciting as smart cities projects such as Dubai’s RTA’s new US$160 million plan for smart traffic management (with the initial stage of the project, announced in November, to focus on data capturing systems such as cameras, vehicle detection devices as well as Bluetooth devices and weather sensors) or “smart pavement” (which UK firm Pavegen has developed, where every step a person takes on it generates a small amount of electricity) may sound, they also present some serious challenges to telcos.
With so many connected devices and services, an enormous amount of data is being generated – and consequently, there needs to be the bandwidth to handle all the data, and future data demands. Or so says Azz-Eddine Mansouri, senior sales director at Ciena Middle East.
He says: “Such seamless connectivity is not possible without an uninterrupted flow of information and coordination among countless devices. For smart cities to become a reality, there needs to be increased network bandwidth, with security and reliability that will enable the distribution, collection and analysis of data to and from millions to billions of devices and homes, while flagging problems, and taking action in near real time.”
Then there are the security challenges, particularly when it comes to people’s data. Jihad Tayara, vice president of business development and partnerships – new business and innovation at du, highlights a new partnership with French healthcare company Olea Medical to improve healthcare to people in remote areas. The two companies created a service called the Consult Station, a medical connected booth that allows a patient to consult a physician remotely under the same conditions as a traditional face-to-face consultation. Tayara says it will be rolled out in remote areas of the United Arab Emirates, saving patients lengthy and expensive journeys for medical treatment. While the whole idea is to improve people’s well-being, Tayara cites the need to keep private medical data safe a key challenge.
Collaboration and 5G
To overcome the security challenges, Red Hat’s Lee Miles says it’s important for telcos to know