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How Connectivity is Key to a Smart City

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Feb. 1, 2021—The vision of a smart city is all about reducing friction, one speaker said during a January presentation.

The speaker was Derek Peterson, chief technology officer at Boingo Wireless, and he was part of a panel all about connectivity in smart cities that took place during CES digital trade show.

Urban centers are growing at a faster rate than the infrastructure is improving. Employing so-called “smart” solutions in cities can help ease that burden, according to proponents.

“As they become more connected, they need to take advantage of connectivity to solve some of those,” Peterson said.


What is a smart city?

In short, “smart city” is a broad term that can encompass a lot of different connectivity technologies. The fundamental part of a smart city is connectivity. The result comes from how cities use connectivity to do things like ease traffic or place resources.

Last May, ADAPT reported about how Chicago set up sensors around the city to measure noise, climate and air quality. City planners and other officials used that data to try and predict weather patterns, traffic safety incidents and other events.

The CES event touched on that fundamental part and was called “Connected Cities: Only as Good as Their Connectivity. In addition to Peterson, the panelists included Jennifer Love-Wright, vice president of network partnerships at Verizon, and Ashok Tipirneni, head of platforms for smart cities at Qualcomm.


Forming the Smart City

The panel’s conversation took generalized look at what connectivity means in the smart city vision. 

Tipirneni said that stakeholders should think about three key perspectives when planning a smart city. First is the citizen perspective, who can benefit most from improvements that can be made.

“Citizens are able to get the best use of their existing infrastructure,” he said.

Tipirneni said that the city perspective comes next. It’s in the city’s interest to improve its infrastructure, resources and opportunities for residents. That interest is often what starts a smart city project.

Finally, it's the local businesses and other users, whose perspectives should get consideration. They should also be able to share and anticipate upgrades to digital and connective services, much like how mobile device owners know that they will get a software upgrade every few months.

“When we turn around and look at the cities, it’s not as fast,” he said. “And we want to bring the same cadence of innovation.”

There was little talk of specific solutions during the panel. Love-Wright did talk about how Verizon contracted with Oklahoma City to set up a wireless private network to help the city manage traffic.

“There are so many different ways that we can improve the operations of a city,” she said. “It means, to me, taking advantage of the technology to really solve that community’s needs”

There was, however, a lot of talk about partnerships, as private companies will look to secure contracts with local governments to provide connective technologies.

“With any new innovation, or as you're trying to move an organization to do things differently, you have to find partners who are willing to think about the world differently,” Love-Wright said.

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