Smart City: The networked city of the future

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected. We have become familiar with modern technologies in our everyday lives. Sometimes we are not even aware of this, because digital offers have become commonplace. Digitization is omnipresent in urban areas, where more and more people come to live and work. In the following article, we take a closer look at the concept of the Smart City and what lies behind this term. 

Smart City: The networked city of the future

Smart City: The networked city of the future © Deutsche Telekom AG

Definition: What is a Smart City?

A Smart City is a concept that pursues the strategic and ongoing process of living together in a city or region in a sustainable and efficient way. Everywhere in the world, urban planners are faced with great challenges that arise from globalization and growing populations. The demand for innovative, efficient and networked systems that will help with mobility, energy, environmental protection or communication is increasing.

Intelligent infrastructures add value, facilitate daily life in a variety of ways, and ultimately improve the quality of life. A smart city is simply an Internet of Things with intelligent services and offers. This technology improves the relationship between citizens, administration and businesses, and create important prerequisites for the careful use of resources.

A Smart City comes to life when wireless and super-fast radio networks, smart terminals and innovative applications are working together. The 5G communication standard will open new possibilities for networking people and devices over the next few years.

How does a digital city work?

A Smart City has a technological infrastructure with three important building blocks:

  • Sensors
  • interconnectedness
  •  data

In a smart networked city, the existing structure will be equipped with sensors. They collect information and transfer data in real time to a cloud, where it is stored and archived. Thanks to the extensive networking of devices and applications, information can be retrieved and processed for specific processes. In concrete terms, processing means that the digital data can be used, for example, for an analysis or the representation of events. In an intelligent city, these can be very different areas.

Examples of intelligent projects in a Smart City

Smart City concepts are now more than just a vision for the future, they are firmly anchored in our daily routine and infrastructure. A good example of this is the smartphone app of your local transport company. With its help, citizens and tourists can search for the fastest route from A to B as well as book and pay for the appropriate ticket digitally. This innovation is an example of what Smart Cities offer. If you travel by public transport and use these smart services, you will save time and help protect the environment.

Smart parking solutions are another innovation. Sensors in the car parks monitor the parking space and detect whether it is occupied by a vehicle or not. The user can check this data in real time via an app or record it via digital signposts. This helps the user to find the next available parking spot easily.

A similar technology hides behind the smart waste management in a city. Waste bins and containers are also equipped with sensors here. They report the filling quantity to the responsible company at any time. With artificial intelligence or by a logistician, the routes of the vehicles can be individually adapted and improved to the current demand.

Sensors record numerous data points and define conditions, which in turn automatically trigger a certain action. Even heating systems or light sources in buildings can be smartly controlled, depending on how many people are still in the premises or not. This saves energy and sustainably strengthens the environment.

These are the advantages of smart cities

Smart City concepts are digital solutions for future challenges and questions in our global society. How do we deal with pollution? What are we doing about the scarcity of raw materials? What are the consequences of demographic change and population growth in urban areas? In addition to these questions, there are other topics from the economic, social and political spectrum. Smart-City strategies try to present the right answers.

Therefore, projects such as environmentally friendly mobility concepts or an energy economy that conserves resources play an important role in a sustainable city. Today, intelligent transport systems which give public transport priority at intersections by switching traffic lights to green can be found in many cities already.

In addition, renewable energy sources are increasingly being installed to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. These include photovoltaic systems on the roofs of buildings that supply electricity. Share Economy models also have a positive impact on the environment and social interaction. People's living conditions are improving. Digital processes also promote the image of a city and its infrastructure as well as the relationship between citizens and their administration. In a Smart City, public authorities offer numerous online services, for example when people make an appointment with the Citizens Advice Bureau to apply for ID documents – online and fully automated. In addition, residents participate transparently in decision-making processes, for example through the provision of information or opportunities for co-determination.

Finally, Smart City projects always have a positive effect on overall economic growth and thus give the city a competitive advantage. This in turn attracts new businesses and residents. In the end, the entire urban society benefits from smart technology.

Big Data: Smart Cities in controversy

The desire to improve and optimize everyday living together in the smart city is the central motivation for modern urban concepts. However, technology that relies on sensors is always subject to the accusation of surveillance. Critics see the dangers of misuse of data that is collected and stored. Traceable motion profiles make people transparent. The use of the mobile app of a transport company shows the conflict very well. The user leaves a data track by repeatedly entering requests. In the best case, this helps the company to adapt the offer to demand. On the other hand, there is a risk that this data could fall into unauthorized hands.

The dangers of a Smart City are the subject of repeated political discussions. In order to promote the digitization of communities and to steer them in a reasonable direction, initial guidelines have been defined in a Smart City Charter. A central concern of the Smart City Charter is to ensure that digital transformation is sustainable, targeted and integrated into basic urban development. To this end, the participants have drawn a normative picture of a Smart City. Among other things, the New Urban Agenda of the United Nations served as a model.

Since 2017 municipalities, representatives of politics and trade associations have been regularly exchanging information on the latest innovations in Smart City and related projects on a specially created Smart City platform. The dialogue helps to highlight positive aspects, to share experiences and to make planned or already implemented projects practical and citizen oriented. To support this, research commissions have been set up on the city of the future to investigate specific relationships between urban development and digitization. The aim is to identify digital technology that works well within the framework of smart city solutions and realizes the goals of a city or region.

Smart Cities: added value for the citizen

But Smart City is more than just a new technology. The concept puts the human being to the foreground. They should feel safe and healthy in the modern city. People's expectations are rising and the desire for digital innovations that provide rapid help in everyday life is growing.

The development of smart solutions in the public space of large cities therefore requires appropriate cooperation and participation of all interest groups. For a large city or community, it must consider both the problems of citizens and the local economy to become more intelligent. The earlier this involvement takes place in decision-making processes, the greater the benefit for the future Smart City.

A city is a living space for many people. Above all, urban agglomerations and large cities can hardly keep up with development. Digitalization is already a topic of everyday life everywhere. But cities are increasingly reaching their limits, for example to ensure a clean urban climate through CO2-neutral mobility. But how can the goal of such a livable city with networked standards be combined with shrinking household budgets?

Municipalities that are pointing the way to a Smart City have recognized over time that any innovative and sustainable solution is only the precursor to fulfilling their state, social and economic goals. The term "Smart" does not just describe a mix of IoT solutions. It strengthens and promotes the connection between administration, citizens and business. Moreover, this network is no longer only reserved for large cities, but also a sensible topic for smaller cities and municipalities. The Internet of Things can also improve public safety or facilitate the search for free parking spaces there.

European cities such as Copenhagen and Vienna have become metropolises with a high quality of life. They invested a lot of energy early on to solve people's problems with their stakeholders in a meaningful way instead of changing them from top to bottom. The current Smart City strategy of the Danish capital "Let's Shape Copenhagen Together" shows this approach and its sustainability. Based on the vision of strengthening city life, people are encouraged to work outdoors, for example, or to use their bicycles for everyday mobility.

Positive examples of the integration of IoT into everyday life can also be found in German cities. Municipalities such as Bad Hersfeld, Monheim am Rhein and the digital city of Darmstadt have successfully launched a smart city initiative.

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