What are Smart Cities and What Challenges do they Face?

12-10-2020 | By Sam Brown

Technologies such as 5G and IoT will help to drive the cities of the future, making them intelligent, react to real-time events, and improve well being amongst its citizens. What are smart cities, what technologies do they rely on, and what challenges do smart cities face?

What are Smart Cities?

Smart Cities are cities which integrate modern technology solutions to monitor, respond, and improve many aspects of city life including traffic, air pollution, street lights, public networks, safety, and improve city-wide services. While many cities around the world are quickly integrating different technologies, smart cities are still a concept as opposed to reality, but this does not need to be the case as current technology solutions are widely available. 

What technologies will Smart Cities be reliant on?

As smart cities are mostly concerned with data gathering, IoT will be a major player. IoT devices placed around a city allow for the monitoring of many environmental readings, including temperature, humidity, air pressure, air pollution, and the presence of people or cars. Air pollution sensors will allow for smart cities to track which areas are mostly affected by pollution. Thus intelligent traffic control systems can redirect cars along other roads to ease the pollution levels in specific areas. The monitoring of cars and people (i.e. their presence or lack thereof), can allow for major energy savings by turning off street light and services in empty areas. This also helps to reduce the overall levels of light pollution as well as help with reducing overall CO2 emissions.

Future autonomous cars, combined with the vast number of IoT devices, will require a network which can handle large amounts of traffic as well as many thousands of simultaneous connections. While many different network solutions exist, it is most likely that such a system would utilise a single, common network for all devices. Thus, it makes sense for smart cities to utilise 5G networks as these are designed with MIMO antenna with beam-forming, can provide high download speeds, and provide low latency connections which are ideal for applications requiring cloud computational services. The use of such a network may also allow for smart cities to not only deploy a large number of sensors, but it could also be used to monitor and track vehicles and smart devices. This can allow for advanced traffic monitoring as well as allow for intelligent systems to decide where best to direct services. 

IoT devices and a cellular high-speed network allow for large amounts of data to be gathered, but all of that data is useless if it cannot be processed intelligently. Therefore, smart cities will take advantage of AI systems that can intelligently process the data to make decisions on how best to improve city conditions. For example, traffic monitoring systems combined with air pollution sensors can allow an AI system to reroute traffic away from areas that are experiencing heavy pollution. An AI system can also be used to dynamically adjust 5G networking resources to improve download speeds in highly congested areas, thus improving network performance for users.

What challenges will Smart Cities face?

Two major challenges faced by Smart Cities will be security and privacy. Developing a city which can be controlled from a central system raises serious questions on security. With so many thousands of devices scattered across a city, all it would take is for a single sensor to be attacked to provide an entry point for an attacker. From there, the attacker could attempt to gain entry into the central control system, which may be able to change traffic systems, street lights, railway barriers, and even emergency services. 

Privacy will also be a major concern for those living in smart cities. A city which is heavily monitored by IoT sensors will most likely be littered with camera systems. The use of network tracking systems may also allow for individual citizens and vehicles to be tracked by location. Thus, an attacker who gains entry into the central control system may be able to track down an individual with malicious intent. Giving such power to authority may also cause an issue with some citizens, and allowing authority such power may lead to abuse of power. 

Of course, smart cities will also be troubled by infrastructure costs and implementation. A city that is upgraded with hardware may take several years to implement, and this may come at a major cost to the taxpayer. On top of that, once installed, the system may find itself quickly outdated, thus requiring the infrastructure to be upgraded. Smart cities that deploy IoT technologies may need to consider software-defined systems that allow for upgrades without needing to change the fundamental hardware. 

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By Sam Brown