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Smart cities aren’t just a concept or 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 an intelligent network of connected objects and machines (also known as a digital city) transmitting 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 that improve quality of life.

Citizens engage with smart city ecosystems in various ways using smartphones and mobile devices and 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 improve air quality with help from the IoT.

Smart cities are examples of massive IoT use cases.

For instance,

  • Connected traffic lights receive data from sensors and cars adjusting light cadence and timing to respond to real-time traffic, reducing road congestion.
  • Connected cars can communicate with parking meters and electric vehicle (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 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 the city and local government services.

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

MORE: The anatomy of a Smart City (January 2019) (Infographic)

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 2050.

With the overall population growth, urbanization will add another 2.5 billion people to cities over the next three decades.

Environmental, social, and economic sustainability is a must to keep pace with this rapid expansion taxing our cities’ resources.

One hundred ninety-three countries agreed upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda 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.

How is IoT technology making cities smarter and better?

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

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

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 fires arise, for example.
  • 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 thriving 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.

These technologies include 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.

Today, open data is redefining the digital city.

Privacy concerns and fear of security breaches have far outweighed the perceived value of sharing information (see: Portland and privacy).

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

This is how informed decisions are made in real time.

Multiple sectors must cooperate to achieve better, sustainable outcomes by analyzing real-time contextual information shared among sector-specific information and operational technology (OT) systems.

The conclusion?

Data management (and access to this information) represents the backbone of the digital city.

Stay with us. Here is what we mean.

Examples of SMART cities

New York City

Below are helpful links to some of New York City’s significant initiatives mentioned in the video above.

  • The New York City Department of Transportation’s Midtown in Motionis a congestion management system that has improved travel times on Midtown’s avenues by 10%.
  • The NYCx Challenges initiative from the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology officer invites entrepreneurs, technologists, and tech professionals to participate in open competitions and propose bold ideas that solve real urban needs such as pollution, income inequality, and transport (site closed).
  • LinkNYC provides free super-fast free Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging, and a tablet to access city services, maps, and directions. It’s a unique communications network replacing payphones across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.
  • Cyber NYC is the city’s strategic investment to dominate cybersecurity.  It aims to grow New York City’s cybersecurity workforce, help companies drive innovation and build networks and community spaces.
  • MyNYCHAmobile app and web portal allow public housing residents to manage services online. It addresses over 300 public developments across New York City. Launched in 2015, MyNYCHA is a free service that puts the repair process in residents’ hands. Residents can submit, schedule, and manage work tickets online. They can also subscribe to alerts for outages in their developments, view inspection appointments, and pay their rent.
  • Biking in New York City: read the July 2019 planfor cycling in the city.
  • Automated water metersin NYC: Automated Meter Reading systems consist of small devices connected to individual water meters. They send daily readings to a computerized billing system.
  • The My DEP Accountlets New Yorkers track consumption from home. The system eliminates the need for a water meter reader to visit premises. It allows the Department of Environmental Protection to monitor citywide consumption more closely and manage the city’s water supply system more effectively.
  • New York’s data report – Open Data for All– provides free public data published by various local agencies. This tool opens data for people to make a difference in their communities—including educators, students, artists, builders, small business owners, advocates, reporters, community board members. It also means open data for the 300,000 workers who make New York City safer, cleaner, and more equitable.
  • More on the New York City Internet of Things strategy andIoT progress report (20 December 2021.)

Amsterdam Smart City

Amsterdam is a shining example of a well-connected smart city reaping the rewards of opening the data vault. The Smart City initiative began in 2009 and included over 170 projects.

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

Now, navigating the city is a 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.

City data is available online for all.


Here is another example.

Antwerp and the city of things

Antwerp is a partner in the EU’s CITADEL project. It explores the role of technology in a collaborative government.

The city is also about to create Europe’s largest smart zone.

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 to collaborate with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop an innovative intelligent 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?

In digital cities, connected cameras, intelligent road systems, and public safety monitoring systems can provide an added layer of protection and emergency support to aid 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 share information, how do we trust that participants are who they say they 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.

Four core security objectives for smart city solutions

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 data access, the smart city can’t thrive. How information is collected, distilled, and shared is critical, and security solutions must avoid adverse 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 reliable integrity protection.

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

The solutions also protect backend systems from intrusion and hacking.

Thankfully, legislation is being introduced to address threats and potential market failure due to growing digital security concerns.

Like the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act in the U.S. signed on 4 December 2020, or the UK IoT security law (not passed yet in June 2021), legislations will help 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 all ecosystem players’ success.

The software must be woven into the fabric of IoT solutions to benefit all ecosystem contributors; 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 to build smart infrastructures and spread out expenses moving away from a substantial one-time CAPEX spend.

  • Expensive medical equipment like MRI scanners, for example, can be sold on 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 sharedbetween owners who may choose from an array of custom options. This move could radically reduce traffic and optimize traffic patterns and ride-sharing.

As urban areas continue to expand and grow, smart city technology is developing alongside enhancing 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 much-improved experience for all ecosystem partners.

More resources on smart cities