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

Comms MEA - - Smart Cities Special Report - by Ben Mack

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

Ian Sykes.

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

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