Smart cities becoming reality

Smart city projects across the region are moving from pilot to reality

Tags: DarkMatter ( Integrated Telecommunications Company SAPUnited Arab Emirates
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Smart cities becoming reality Smart city projects in the region are starting to deliver results.
By  Mark Sutton Published  February 22, 2016

The time for talking about smart cities finally seems to be over, as projects across the region come online and start to showcase the real world benefits that smart initiatives can deliver. While it is still early days, as projects like Dubai Silicon Oasis go live with smart solutions, the potential of smart cities is becoming a reality, inspiring a wide spectrum of city leaders, government organisations, start-ups and private sector organisations to consider what they could gain from smart cities.

While there are different approaches to smart city, from individual projects to tackle a specific issue to broader city-wide visions, it is becoming evident that factors such as innovation, integration and leadership will have to go hand-in-hand with infrastructure, security and analytics tools in order to ensure that cities are able to make their smart plans a success.

“At the end of the day, to me, a smart city is a city where people want to live, and people are happy. It is about experience. You have to see it through the eyes of the people that are going to be using that space. You have to think about what people care about — they don’t want to spend too much time in traffic, they want to be able to get all the services from the city delivered seamlessly to their phone, they want to feel secure, and they want to feel that they have the space to live,” said Dr Chakib Bouhdary SAP, digital transformation officer, Office of the CEO, SAP.

“Some cities are focused on a unique problem, and when they fix the problem they learn from it, and start to see how they can apply it to [other areas],” he added. “Some governments, like in Dubai, have a bigger vision, they want to make Dubai the smartest city in the world, so they are going after the resources and the talent, but it requires an awareness and investment. The infrastructure and funding play a big role.”

Creating this seamless smart city experience will not be easy, Bouhdary said, but the co-ordinated, collaborative model of a holistic smart city project will be important to creating a true smart city. The seamless model will require the breaking down of barriers between different city functions, such as emergency services, utilities and transportation, and sharing of data between them. Breaking down silos and sharing data — ideally real time data — will help smart city teams to start exploring the wealth of information generated by sensors to find new patterns in data and to create solutions based on analysis.

“Police have data, hospitals have data, everyone has data, but they don’t share it, it is siloed. Cities that are really seriously looking at being smart cities are looking at breaking those barriers down,” he said. “Seamlessness will come from big data and understanding. The cost of managing sensors and big data is low enough now that people can innovate, they can think ‘if I had sensors everywhere what would I do with them?’ so it has come down to data. Smart city is trial-and-error, you don’t know what you want to do until you collect the data and start playing with it.”

An essential element of co-ordinating a seamless smart city experience according to Bouhdary is the emerging role of the Chief Smart City Officer. Many cities around the world are appointing these cross-functional leaders who will be tasked with both co-ordination and development of new projects for a smart city. These officers need to be open minded, need to be able to foster collaboration between a lot of departments, should be able to work with all ranks of personnel in order to get ideas from all levels of an organisation and they should also be able to create a culture of trust and innovation.

“Risk should be very high on their list, they need to be ready to fail, because not everything will go right,” he added. “They have to be very aware of technology, to understand the different options and they have to be focused on speed — it is better to get something done and get credibility and get people talking than to just talk.”

The role-should also be non-politically aligned, and cities will also have to focus on retaining their top talent as they are likely to be very sought after, Bouhdary added.

A major factor that may slow down smart city roll out, is cyber security. Bouhdary said that agencies are not against sharing data, but they will want to know that it is protected. Sharing of all data into a central database might create a highly attractive target for hackers, he said, so technologies such as SAP HANA analytics solutions could help provide a central source of analytics, while allowing agencies to retain control over their data and keep it in their own databases. Regardless, cyber security has to be addressed from the start of the smart city project.

“We have to deal with those issues, because they are barriers to adoption, but we have thought about them and I think we know how to deal with them, but they will be a big topic for how fast innovation will be adopted,” Bouhdary said.

One organisation which is very focused on securing smart cities is cyber security company DarkMatter, a multi-discipline specialist and trusted partner for the UAE government.

Harshul Joshi, senior vice president, Cyber Governance, Risk and Compliance, DarkMatter said that the UAE government is taking security very seriously and investing in the resources, people, processes and technology to protect any area that could be compromised. However, with the high degree of connectivity required by a smart city, with multiple systems interconnected, the attack surface for hackers becomes much greater. There are also issues with the lack of security for sensors, and a lack of standardisation for smart city technologies as a whole, creating a highly complex environment.

“We call ourselves the fourth ‘i’ at DarkMatter — smart cities is traditionally focused on three ‘i’s: instrumentation, the sensors; interconnection, so the sensors can talk to the systems; and intelligence, to make sense out of the data. We bring the fourth ‘i’ which is immunity from cyberattacks. If you don’t have immunity from cyberattacks then the rest can crash really quickly.” Joshi said.

“We really are focusing on Smart Dubai, looking at what is the platform, at a city level, at an entity level and how you can secure it. Securing a city is very different to securing an enterprise. You can’t shut down access to a city, and you cannot change certain factors. Dubai or Abu Dhabi has to deal with water issues or sandstorms, we can’t change that. We have to bring security from a whole different standpoint.”

Joshi explained that with such a large environment to secure, it is best to assume compromise and to prepare for mitigation of any security event. With such interconnectivity between entities, security officers need to consider the cascading effect of one system failing and impacting on another. He gave the example of a black out in the US North East in 2003, which was caused by the failure of a single transformer, that then affected the whole power grid.

“When you start adding sensors and connections, then things become connected in a way that you have no idea about,” he said. “The key is the government has to be smart enough to put the right roles and responsibilities in place. Government has to be responsible and manage expectations. Whether it is a cyber breach or natural disaster, every city has to think about a use case in terms of disruption of service to its citizens.”

Another piece of the smart city puzzle that is being put into place is the crucial network to link sensors and systems. Although many of the communications standards for Internet of Things have yet to be finalised, UAE telco du is pushing ahead deploying connectivity solutions and developing its smart solution portfolio, to ensure that it is well positioned to become a leader in the smart city sector.

According to Carlos Domingo, senior executive officer, New Business & Innovation, for du’s Digital Business division, the company is concentrating on smart cities both to support the UAE’s ambitions and also because as telecom operator it is well positioned to co-ordinate the different players that are needed for smart cities.

Domingo said that real progress is being made in smart cities: “The main difference has been that many of the things that we had on the drawing board are now reality.”

du is an official smart city partner, he explained, and has begun the roll out of a nationwide free WiFi network, WiFi UAE, which is intended to provide mobile connectivity to all. Another important step in connecting a smart city is du’s initial deployments of alternative network technology that is specifically designed to enable the Internet of Things. One of the main problems previously with sensor networks was that if a sensor could not connect to a mains power source, it required a built-in battery. Once the battery ran out, it had to be replaced, which could be time consuming and disruptive. The sensors were usually connected via the standard cellular network, which drained power rapidly because the network attempts to connect to the sensor too frequently.

New network technologies have now been developed specifically for the Internet of Things, Domingo said, which don’t interact with devices as frequently as the cellular network, that don’t consume as much bandwidth, consume less battery and have a wider coverage. du has selected one such ‘Low Power Wide Area’ technology, ‘LoRa’ and, jointly with Cisco, have deployed the first LoRa networks in the region. With the existing WiFi and fibre network, Domingo said that du now has a feasible smart city infrastructure.

The telco has a number of LoRa deployments in Dubai at present, including a pilot for smart parking, and a smart street lighting project in Dubai Silicon Oasis. The infrastructure for LoRa is minimal, Domingo said, with a base station the size of a shoe box able to backhaul through WiFi and provide a very wide area of coverage.

“At the moment what we are doing is leveraging the network to be able to use smart solutions that are based on sensors that connect to LoRa, we have not started offering LoRa to customers, we are only using it for our own deployments, but we are very open to whatever usage people want to do,” he said.

There are competing technologies in this area, but no standards are set as of yet, including a GSMA Low Power, Wide Area solution, but Domingo said he did not expect the standard to be finalised for another 18 months.

“Dubai has a huge ambition of becoming a smart city by 2017, so we can’t wait for the standards to be ready, we need to deploy the solutions today, so we took the pragmatic decision to start using LORA, the technology is affordable and it is the closest thing to standard today. Over time if the standards for IoT over cellular can be deployed, and the sensors have been trialled, we will switch to it,” he said.

Alongside the infrastructure, du is also building out its solutions portfolio and looking for new partners in different areas. The telco already has solutions for smart buildings, smart parking, and smart meters, and has created a road map of services that it intends to deploy. The operator has also developed a new ‘Smart Insights’ initiative, which will look to make some of its user data — aggregated and anonymised — available on a commercial basis, so that companies could see patterns of mobility, footfall, demographic information and so on.

The company is involved in the bidding for the Smart Dubai platform, the central government platform for smart cities, and Domingo said that more government action will further spur the growth of Dubai as a smart city.

“As we start actually doing things, people are getting more excited about this space, which is good because there was a lot of talk with very little action,” he said. “The Smart Dubai platform, this will be a very interesting project, but I think what is going to happen next is that especially if Dubai wants to be a smart city by 2017, a lot of these pilots that are ongoing today in different government entities and different parts of the city, need to become full deployments.”

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