Smart cities require technology, but that technology is already here, according to panelist Edward Knapp, chief technology officer of the American Tower Corporation during a CES 2020 session.

The next step toward developing successful smart cities involves the coordination and presence of various teams in cities, specifically those involved with cellular towers, cellular manufacturing, and safety response teams, which is what the session panel gathered to specifically discuss on Thursday.

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Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Center of Automotive Research, hosted the session consisting of panelists from each of those key teams to determine each one’s role in creating a successful smart city.

With 70% of internet of things (IoT) devices expected to use cellular connections by 2022, cities are looking ahead to determine the best way to handle and support the technology, according to Ericsson’s Internet of Things forecast report.

“There is a big area of opportunity for us over the next three to five years to work together as an ecosystem to really help cities scale and provide value in an equitable way,” said panelist Mike Zito, general manager of AT&T Smart Cities Business.

Cellular tower

“In smart cities or in a buildout of different types of IoT solutions, we want to be able to provide that infrastructure,” Knapp said. “What it starts out with is space, power, and connectivity—those are the fundamentals that we provide.”

Knapp gave some examples of the various technological successes American Tower has experienced around the world, but explained that technology isn’t really the main concern anymore when discussing smart cities.

“There’s a lot of good technology, but the real opportunity here is to look at the use cases and solutions for customers that really take the long timescale to get in place,” Knapp said. “It’s the people in the process part that’s really the most challenging.”

On the cellular tower side, Knapp said a lot of the initial hangups with developing smart cities has to do with privacy and regulatory issues. The way to figure that out though is through trial and error and just getting people in the city onboard, he said.

Knapp described working on a project in Paris, which began with a few people spitting ideas and trying things out. When experiments saw success, more people began to join.

“Folks started to come from the operative community because they saw that there was something real happening as opposed to just meetings and discussions,” Knapp said. “It’s getting your hands dirty with sort of these trials that will really help show folks in those cities that there’s something there they can benefit from.”

Cellular manufacturing

“It’s definitely going to take a village to get any kind of scale,” Zito said.

The role of cellular manufacturers is obviously connectivity, according to Zito.

“Connectivity is the thread that’s weaved through all of these IoT solutions that help you create a smart city. But we’ve really taken the approach to create end-to-end solutions and act as a master systems integrator to help cities drive a strategy with holistic outcomes,” Zito added.

However, to get to a place where city’s benefit most from this technology, Zito said mayoral or city manager support was critical.

“Cities are strapped from a resource perspective, and traditionally they’ve been run in silos,” Zito said. “Where we found success is when we had a mayor or city manager that believed in the smart city’s vision and who knew that there were problems that could be solved through using innovative technology. It really starts there.”

Cities at the forefront of becoming smart cities also have a dedicated CIO or CTO in place to start developing this holistic strategy and speaking with the other different teams, including cellular towers and public safety, Zito said.

“It’s really [the mayors or city managers] that can communicate well across those different departments and get them involved early, versus trying to dictate something down because they’re trying to build their own platform for another purpose that see the most success,” he added.

Safety Response

The role of safety and response is twofold when it comes to the smart cities discussion at CES 2020, said panelist Jennifer Harder, senior director for product of the first responder network authority at FirstNet.

“One, looking at the smart cities concept and saying, ‘Hey cities, if you’re going to go smart, public safety is a major component of what you’re doing in that smart cities ecosystem.’ So, think about your first responders and how you’re equipping them to make the community function better overall,” Harder said.

“Two, even beyond just the cities themselves and the governmental entities. ‘Hey, industry, public safety is an industry that you can leverage. How are you entrepreneurs coming up with ideas that might benefit public safety responders? How are you developers thinking about what public safety could do with the technologies that you’ve developed?'” she added.

“We can’t have one piece working without the other,” Harder said. “Some of the areas we’ve seen good successes is when public safety is able to articulate a technology need or an idea that other departments, other silos, other areas can see a correlational benefit from.”

Similar to the other two sectors, Harder said the key to successful smart cities is collaboration.

“That governance collaboration outside of the traditional public safety silo and further through the community seems to get more bang for the buck for the various different technologies they want to do,” Harder said.

If cities want to become smart, they must communicate and collaborate between teams in a smart way, according to the panelists.

For more, check out Protecting innovation and privacy and the role of government on TechRepublic.

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