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​Secure, sustainable smart cities and the IoT

Smart cities aren’t just a dream of the future. 

Thanks to the wildly innovative Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, many are already active and expanding rapidly. 

Municipal governments are leveraging cellular and Low Power Wide Area (LPWAN) wireless technologies to connect and improve infrastructure, efficiency, convenience and quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

Let's dive in.


What is a smart city?

A smart city is a framework, predominantly composed of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), to develop, deploy and promote sustainable development practices to address growing urbanization challenges. 

A big part of this ICT framework is essentially an intelligent network of connected objects and machines that transmit data using wireless technology and the cloud. 

Cloud-based IoT applications receive, analyze and manage data in real-time to help municipalities, enterprises, and citizens make better decisions in the moment that improve quality of life.

Citizens engage with smart city ecosystems in a variety of ways using smartphones and mobile devices, as well as connected cars and homes. Pairing devices and data with a city’s physical infrastructure and services can cut costs and improve sustainability. 

Communities can improve energy distribution, streamline trash collection, decrease traffic congestion and even improve air quality with help from the IoT. 

smart city

For instance, 

  • connected traffic lights receive data from sensors and cars adjusting light cadence and timing to respond to real-time traffic thereby reducing road congestion. 
  • Connected cars can communicate with parking meters and EV charging docks and direct drivers to the nearest available spot. 
  • Smart garbage cans automatically send data to waste management companies and schedule pick-up as needed versus on a pre-planned schedule. 
  • And citizens’ smartphone becomes their mobile driver’s license and ID card with digital credentials, which speeds and simplifies access to city and local government services. 

Together, these smart city technologies are optimizing infrastructure, mobility, public services, and utilities.

Why do we need smart cities?

Urbanization is a non-ending phenomenon. 

Today, 54% of people worldwide live in cities, a proportion that’s expected to reach 66% by 20501

Combined with the overall population growth, urbanization will add another 2.5 billion people to cities over the next three decades2. Environmental, social and economic sustainability is a must to keep pace with this rapid expansion that is taxing our cities’ resources.

193 countries have agreed upon the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in September 2015 at the United Nations. But we all know how centralized decisions and actions can take time and the clock is ticking.

The good news?

Citizens and local authorities are certainly more agile to launch swift initiatives and smart city technology is paramount to success and meeting these goals.

What is a smart city?

How is IoT technology making cities smarter and better?

Secure wireless connectivity and IoT technology is transforming traditional elements of city life - like streetlights - into next-generation intelligent lighting platforms with expanded capabilities. 

This includes integrating solar power and connecting to a cloud-based central control system that connects to other assets in the ecosystem.

These solutions shine far beyond simple lighting needs. 

  • High-power embedded LEDs alert commuters about traffic issues, provide severe weather warnings and provide heads up when environmental like fires arise. 
  • Streetlights can also detect free parking spaces and EV charging docks and alert drivers where to find an open spot via a mobile app. Charging might even be able from the lamppost itself in some locations! 

Exciting stuff! But how does it all fit together?

What makes smart cities successful

In addition to people, dwellings, commerce, and traditional urban infrastructure, there are four essential elements necessary for successful smart cities:

  1. Pervasive wireless connectivity
  2. Open data
  3. Security you can trust in
  4. Flexible monetization schemes

Let’s break it down…

What’s the best wireless technology for smart cities?

The first building block of any smart city application is reliable, pervasive wireless connectivity. 

While there’s no one-size-fits-all, evolving Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies are well suited to most smart city applications for their cost efficiency and ubiquity. This includes LTE Cat M, NB-IoT, LoRa, Bluetooth and a few others that all contribute to the fabric of connected cities. 

The advent of 5G technology is expected to be a watershed event that propels smart city technology into the mainstream and accelerates new deployments. 

But only with a few more elements…

Opening the data vault

Historically, governments, enterprises, and individuals have held their data close to the pocket, sharing as little as possible with others. 

Privacy concerns and fear of security breaches have far outweighed the perceived value of sharing information. 

However, a key enabler of sustainable smart cities is that all participants in the complex ecosystem share information and combine it with contextual data that is analyzed in real-time. This is how informed decisions are made in real-time. 

Multiple sectors must cooperate to achieve better, sustainable outcomes through the analysis of contextual real-time information, which is shared among sector-specific information and operational technology (OT) systems.

Amsterdam Smart City

Amsterdam is a shining example of a well-connected smart city that is reaping the rewards of opening the data vault. 

It shares traffic and transportation data to interested parties such as developers who then create mapping apps that connect to the city’s transport systems. 

Now, navigating the city is snap for all. 

There's more.

The city built autonomous delivery boats called ‘roboats’ to keep things moving in a timely fashion. 

It also supported a floating village of houses, solving the city’s overcrowding problem with a sustainable, energy-efficient alternative. Power is generated within communities, and homes receive water straight from the river and filter it within their tanks. 

None of this is possible without shared data.

Here is another example.

Copenhagen Smart City

Copenhagen is known as one of the smartest cities in the world and mobilizes expertise worldwide.

The city is leveraging open data in its collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop an innovative smart bike system

Embedded with sensors that provide real-time information to both the riders and administrators, data is shared to monitor and manage air quality and traffic congestion.

While data sharing is essential, opening the vault also expands the cyber-attack surface area. 

So, how do we keep data private from the masses while sharing it among stakeholders?

Can smart cities be secured and trusted?

Secured and trusted smart cities

Connected cameras, intelligent road systems, and public safety monitoring systems can provide an added layer of protection and emergency support to aide citizens when needed. 

  • But what about protecting smart cities themselves from vulnerabilities? 
  • How can we defend against hacking, cyber-attacks and data theft? 
  • In cities where multiple participants are sharing information, how do we trust that participants are who they say are? 
  • And how do we know the data they report is true and accurate? 

The answers lie in physical data vaults and strong authentication and ID management solutions.

Smart cities can only work if we can trust them. 

4 core security objectives 

All ecosystem partners - governments, enterprises, software providers, device manufacturers, energy providers, and network service providers - must do their part and integrate solutions that abide by four core security objectives:

  1. Availability: Without actionable, real-time, and reliable access to data, the smart city can’t thrive. How data is collected, distilled and shared is critical, and security solutions must avoid negative effects on availability.
  2. Integrity: Smart cities depend on reliable and accurate data. Measures must be taken to ensure that data is accurate and free from manipulation.
  3. Confidentiality: Some of the data collected, stored and analyzed will include sensitive details about consumers themselves. Steps must be taken to prevent unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information.
  4. Accountability: Users of a system must be responsible for their actions. Their interactions with sensitive systems should be logged and associated with a specific user. These logs should be difficult to forge and have strong integrity protection.

To achieve these security core objectives, strong authentication and ID management solutions need to be integrated into the ecosystem to ensure that data is shared only with authorized parties. 

The solutions also protect backend systems from intrusion and hacking. 

Thankfully, as a result of growing digital security concerns, legislation is being introduced to address threats and potential market failure. Legislation like the IoT Cyber security Improvement Act in the U.S. will help to establish minimum security requirements for connected devices.

Show me the Money: how do we monetize smart cities?

In the age of IoT and smart cities, data is the new oil

For smart cities to thrive, we need to establish sustainable commerce models that facilitate the success of all ecosystem players. The software must be woven into the fabric of IoT solutions so that all ecosystem contributors benefit, this includes OEMs, developers, integrators, governments, etc.

Each member’s intellectual property needs to be valued and rewarded. Subscription software capabilities enable new business models that allow each contributor to extract value from their contribution to the ecosystem. 

Subscription-based models offer a way to monetize hardware and software used to build smart infrastructures and spread out expenses moving away from a huge one time CAPEX spend. 

  • Expensive medical equipment like MRI scanners, for example, can be sold at a cost-per-scan basis rather than as a one-time upfront expense for hospitals. This creates a win-win situation for hospitals and suppliers alike. 
  • And one day soon, cities will offer affordable subscriptions to fleets of vehicles shared between owners who may choose from an array of custom options. This could radically reduce traffic and optimize traffic patterns and ride-sharing.

As urban areas continue to expand and grow, smart city technology is expanding alongside to enhance sustainability and better serve humanity. By leveraging pervasive connectivity, open data, end-to-end security, and software monetization solutions, we can align evolving smart city needs for a greatly improved experience for all partners in the ecosystem.

Now it's your turn

Certainly, we can't claim to list all the important issues and topics related to smart cities and the IoT and those that will emerge in the years to come. 

Can you fill in some of the gaps?

If you've something to say on smart cities, share best practices, a question to ask, or have simply found this article useful, please leave a comment in the box below. We'd also welcome any suggestions on how it could be improved or proposals for future articles.

We look forward to hearing from you.

For more information on building trusted smart city IoT solutions, just contact a local representative.

1 https://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/publications/files/wup2014-highlights.pdf
2 https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html


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