Smart Cities moving into 5G

Later this month, I will be sharing three masterclasses organised by the Australian Smart Communities Association (ASCA) and the Australian Computer Society (ASC) on the potential of using 5G as an infrastructure solution for smart cities. Just to make sure, I am doing this pro bono so no financial gain or otherwise for me.

What was also interesting was that last week, Standards Australia launched its Smart Cities Standards Roadmap to help with smart city rollouts.

They have 11 recommendations which can be grouped together as follows:

  • support the implementation of existing smart cities framework and policies;
  • improve knowledge sharing and collaboration within Australia;
  • ensure Australia can influence smart cities global and national standards development;
  • improve data accessibility and interoperability across Australia; and
  • support Australian communities’ development of smart cities strategies and initiatives.

One of the most important outcomes of this report, hopefully, is that there will be more co-operation between cities in developing their smart city infrastructures. While on a federal and state level there is a large level of collaboration, this is seldom the case with local councils. Often the simple situation is that there is no budget to meet and develop projects with other councils. I would even say that in relation to the bigger cities, there is also very little structured co-operation for the same reason.

As a standardised technology, 5G can certainly play a collaborative role and, as a matter of fact, Telstra is already working with the city of Melbourne in several testbeds.

Some of the applications under test include:

  • rubbish bin fill levels;
  • pedestrian counting;
  • bench and stage use;
  • humidity and temperature of different tree species;
  • local air quality;
  • local rainfall levels; and
  • local wind speed.

The city is not putting all its eggs in one basket and is also testing other internet of things (IoT) technologies.

This most surely will lead to some interesting discussions. While 5G certainly can be used, its full potential will only be reached once the so-called millimetre wave spectrum will be made available and subsequently deployed by the operators. While I am convinced – based on solid science – that this is a safe technology, the reality is that thanks to a lot of misinformation and fearmongering, there is confusion among users and cities are very sensitive about it.

I hope the cities that are going to use this extremely high-frequency spectrum will do their own test and closely involved the local population in this research and its outcomes.

With that next level of 5G still some years away, I would also be interested to hear what the reasons are for cities to start using 5G. My questions include what can 5G in its current format do that 4G cannot? Also, as the other IoT technologies are significantly less costly, what does 5G have that those other IoT technologies do not? I would like to hear what the best horses for the best courses are.

This leads into the area of business cases. While we all know that technologies can do a lot of things and/or can be used for many applications, how do we pay for it? So far, the funding – not the technology – has been the major stumbling block of getting large scale smart city projects off the ground.

One of the major problems is that smart cities offer many economic and social benefits; these benefits, unfortunately, do not show up on a balance sheet. Smart cities can provide significant savings as well but to achieve them, first investments in new technologies are needed. In one way or another, we must fund smart cities from the perspective of essential infrastructure.

This will require collaboration between all three levels of government and with industry and universities. The City Deals policy from the Federal Government is a very good start here. But as with everything politics, these initiatives are not always based on a sound long term vision and good strategies — I question the viability of some of these projects. So far, there are only a few real success stories, with perhaps the Western Sydney City Deal one of the better ones.

Plenty of material for our masterclass discussions, I will update you on any good outcomes.

Paul Budde

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