Is Asia ready for smart cities?

Danial Mausoof
07 Jul 2016

Asia’s cities are facing what could be one of their greatest challenges. Unprecedented urbanization coupled with other pressing issues such as a rising middle class, explosive population growth, shifting demographics and increasing pressure to go green is pushing Asia’s cities to the limit.

More than half of the world’s mega-cities, are today found in the Asia-Pacific, with an expected 62 megacities by 2025, up from the current 32. With Asia urbanizing at such a rate, Asia is turning to smart cities to bolster economic growth, attract new business activities and to deal with the issues that accompany population growth in cities. Singapore aims to be the first Smart Nation; other Asian countries such as China and India are implementing smart cities on a massive scale. Korea has recently built Songdo, touted as the world’s first smart city from scratch.

But the question is, are Asia’s cities ready to be smart?

What exactly constitutes a “smart city” is still up for debate, but it is certain that the overarching goal is to leverage technology to improve public services, optimize the administration of the city and better the lives of its citizens.

Cities are looking to implement impactful new solutions such as intelligent transport systems that can direct traffic flow in real-time to reduce congestion, improve public safety through automated surveillance, and establish e-government services to improve efficiency of government services.

The success of smart cities is based on the effective combination of ubiquitously embedded intelligence in the form of connected sensors and tags, software that power various solutions, and the digital telecommunication networks that serve as the backbone of the city.

However, a cause for concern is the fact that some networks today in Asia may not be entirely equipped to manage the growing bandwidth and latency needs of the thousands of connected devices to various systems that accompany the development of smart cities.

A recent Nokia Bell Labs Consulting report found that surging consumer and business demand for mobile data, either at home or on the go, will outpace the network capabilities of service providers by 2020. In fact, nearly a fifth (19%) of mobile traffic demands will not be satisfied based on current and projected economies.

By 2020, global consumption of demand for data services on mobile and portable devices will see a global average increase of 30 to 45 times from 2014 levels. Developed Asia-Pacific (Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) will see a 32 times jump, while emerging Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam), Middle East and Africa will see a 98-fold jump.

Further complicating matters is the emergence of IoT in the network equation, with the total number of IoT connected devices (excluding wearables) expected to grow from 1.6 billion in 2015 to anywhere between 20 to 46 billion by 2020.

With the anticipated proliferation of IoT devices, network operators will have to handle sporadic transmissions from billions of devices. The typical IoT device may need 2,500 transactions or connections to consume 1MB of data; the daily machine-to-machine initiated network connections as a result of connecting all IoT devices could grow by 16 to 135-fold by 2020. This would represent three times the number of connections initiated by traffic generated by humans such as voice-over IP calls or mobile web searches.

It is clear that smart cities and the new digital era will produce a dramatic shift in demand, challenging mobile operators to achieve the highest performance at the lowest cost per bit while supporting extensive personalization. At the same time there is a need to optimize management of networks and IoT devices.

Designing and architecting networks for smart cities

IoT brings with it a host of network challenges. The sheer ubiquity and volume of IoT devices will impact mission-critical networks. In contrast to human communications, collaboration and content delivery applications, different IoT applications have different traffic profiles that do not necessarily follow human diurnal cycles.

IoT applications also have highly diverse requirements in terms of network connectivity, reliability, security, latency, data rate, mobility and battery life. These requirements must also be met at extremely low cost per bit, as machine-to-machine communications tend to be less valuable than those generated by humans.

Ultimately, to support the growing needs of IoT driven smart cities, future networks will need to fulfil the following criterion:

  • Networks have to be designed to prevent congestion
  • Networks will need to support edge cloud architecture that provisions of ultra-low latency required by mission-critical IoT applications
  • Networks need to be cost effective. This can be achieved through virtualized network functions
  • Networks also need to be highly scalable.

In order to build such a network, governments, network operators and telecom equipment providers need to collaborate to design and architect the essential building block – the network – of a smart city in the following manner:

  • To address the cellular (wide area network) IoT requirements, multiple generations of wireless technologies can be utilized to support the lower cost, extended coverage and improved battery life for end devices. 2G networks are ubiquitous and can economically support lower data rate throughputs of simple devices. However, operators are likely to rapidly migrate to 4G/LTE and the attendant IoT related enhancements such as LTE for Machine Type Communications/Narrow Band IoT.
  • The city will need to provide city-wide broadband access capable of connecting all people, devices machines and sensors, whilst also providing high speed services that administrations, businesses and citizens expect.
  • The transitioning from multiple separate telecommunications services to a unified converged city-shared multiservice network will provide greater public-service operational efficiencies and lower costs overall.
  • Development of a city cloud architecture with a virtualized, software-defined network will allow for more secure and flexible connectivity between sites, workgroups and applications. It will also allow city to respond to growing demand in seamless manner.
  • Implementation of a city wide machine-to-machine service management platform capable of automating IoT device management and easily integrating with third-party solutions.

Smart city projects are complex and will require expertise in numerous fields to succeed. We are just on the cusp of a revolution in changing the way we live, work and play.

The future is coming. Let us make sure our networks are ready for it.

Danial Mausoof is Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs for Asia-Pacific and Japan for Nokia

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