A new role for telcos in smart cities

Growing Enterprise Revenues

Login to access

Want to subscribe?

This article is part of: Growing Enterprise Revenues

To find out more about how to join or access this report please contact us

A successful smart city strategy is crucial in enabling cities to manage rising populations and compete for investment and talent at a national and global level. The challenge is getting the complex ecosystem of players and partners to work well. How can telcos position themselves as strategic partners in this transition, and help enable successful collaborative innovation?

This report considers how telecommunications operators could play a deeper role in smart city projects, arguing that the multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary nature of smart city strategies requires a high level of coordination. Some telecommunications operators may be able to play that role. That will bring the operator closer to the citizens, who, in turn, are also their customers. This new position could enable new business models for telecommunications operators.

With the aim of identifying how telecoms operators can evolve and deepen their reach into the smart cities vertical, this report explores the various forms of smart city governance used or that could be used in the development of smart city strategies, and the potential value for telcos in participating in each of them.

The smart city lifecycle

The evolution of smart city strategies

The concept of smart city and smart community goes back to 1997 when the California Institute for Smart Communities developed a “Smart Communities Guidebook” in which smart community was defined as following:

“A smart community is simply that: a community in which government, business, and residents understand the potential of information technology, and make a conscious decision to use that technology to transform life and work in their region in significant and positive ways.”

Since then, the definition of smart city has evolved between an approach majorly focussed on the use of technology and another one towards a more collaborative approach among different disciplines trying to make the entire concept less technology centric. The latter has driven the attention on the concept of smart city. In fact, on the technology side, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) has provided the technological tools for simply implementing the definition by the California Institute for Smart Communities. On the socio-economics side, the continuous demographic pressure on cities and their increasing economic importance have pushed city administrations to re-think the purpose of the city and the services provided to citizens, businesses and other city stakeholders. The combination of the possibilities offered by technology and the increasing socio-economic importance of cities have brought the concept of the smart city to the top of the political agenda and challenged the business community to explore how to transform smart cities into a business opportunity.

Putting aside the socio-economic and political aspects of smart cities, the IoT has become an important technological framework for smart city development. The IoT transforms spaces into connected and intelligent ones. The data are gathered, exchanged, analysed and actions are taken based on that analysis. However, the data gathered within smart cities is spread across multiple different systems. The key role of IoT is therefore to provide the technological fabric for the smooth functioning of a smart city’s “system of systems” that benefits both citizens and businesses.

In practice, many smart city projects evolve organically, from the bottom up, rather than from a top-down technology driven model. Several cities have started experimenting with the application of IoT in their services, initially, focussing on a specific application. There have been then several smart parking projects, intelligent lighting projects, smart public safety solutions and so on. But that is only the first step. As per any IoT solution, the user appreciates the value of the IoT project outcome – the beauty of the data gathered and the value of its analysis – and wants then to explore more. In that way, the smart parking projects have expanded into environmental monitoring solutions and/or public safety solutions, gradually morphing into more complex projects.

Introducing the smart city strategy lifecycle

The evolution of smart city projects requires an overall smart city strategy that needs to be managed. The smart city strategy does not have a conclusion, but rather evolves continuously based on achievements, issues and new city needs. Therefore, it is important to see smart city strategies with a lifecycle approach, broken into five key phases.

Figure 1: Smart city strategy lifecycle

Smart city lifecycle: assessment > design > launch > implementation > monitoringSource: STL Partners

  • Smart city assessment: This phase looks at the needs of the city, as well as its level of digital maturity. The digital maturity can be addressed in a variety of ways through the monitoring framework (discussed in more detail later in the report). This phase needs to be very inclusive of all the city stakeholders: businesses, academia, public organisations and citizens’ groups. The output of the smart city assessment is then used in the strategy design phase.
  • Strategy design: A smart city strategy document should contain overall objectives, projects to implement, and resources to use. The strategy document should also include a monitoring framework.
  • Strategy launch: Following agreement on a smart city strategy, some cities run an external consultation with city stakeholders for a sort of wider evaluation. The launch phase’s main goal is to make the city aware of the strategy and the roadmap for implementation. The inclusiveness of the city as a whole in the process is a key factor of success.
  • Strategy implementation: The length of this phase really depends on the decisions in the roadmap. The roadmap could include both short-term and long-term projects.
  • Smart city monitoring: In this phase the monitoring framework established in the strategy design phase is put into operation. That framework should assess the evolution of the smart city strategy implementation. The output of the smart city monitoring can enable another cycle, starting with a fresh assessment. The repetition of the cycle can also be established in the smart city strategy.

Those participating in smart city monitoring, assessment and strategy design phases tend to be long-term, ongoing partners of municipalities, while the implementation phase includes many more partners on a project basis. For telcos seeking to play a broader role in smart cities, the goal is therefore to be more involved in the monitoring, assessment and strategy phases.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • Research methodology
  • The smart city lifecycle
    • The evolution of smart city strategies
    • Introducing the smart city strategy lifecycle
    • Smart city monitoring framework: What smart cities are trying to achieve
  • Smart city governance models: How cities are working towards their goals
    • Defining smart city governance
    • Mapping smart city governance models
    • Smart governance case studies
  • The smart city coordination opportunity for telcos
    • Telcos’ current participation in smart city governance
    • How telcos can develop a coordination role in smart cities
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Technologies and industry terms referenced include: , , , , , , , , , ,