Creating a safe, smart city environment

Issue 8 2022 Integrated Solutions

As more governments around Africa start embracing the smart city concept, significant investments will be required to strengthen the underlying infrastructure essential to keep systems and data safe. Access to a high-quality, redundant, and secure telecommunications network is the critical building block before any value-added services can follow.

Heman Kassan.

Events of the past several years have highlighted the importance of scalable connectivity to meet the demands of the government, businesses, and consumers. Full internet access becomes an enabler for implementing the applications and solutions that comprise a smart city.

Connectivity is something that has been talked about a lot. But in the modern world, where many corporate and public service functions happen online, this is something that must materialise even in developing nations across the continent. Consider how telecom operators must push the latest technologies like 5G to deliver a more immersive experience to the digital environment. Without this, the promise of a smart city remains just that.

Connectivity driver

As 5G continues to roll out in Africa, more public sector departments will leverage faster connectivity to introduce smart city technology. For instance, using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors in traffic lights reduces congestion. An added benefit of this is fewer vehicle emissions that align with a more sustainable approach to living at a time when people are aware of the environmental impact their actions are making.

While Africa might still take a long time before cities here can introduce urban clean air emission zones with automated enforcement and digital payments, the potential of the technology exists. This reinforces the possibility of new revenue streams for the government and the private sector. An example is the development of content services accessible to all citizens for everything from e-learning and telemedicine to upskilling and reskilling themselves for new job functions.

A metaverse waiting

Even though many consider the metaverse as something that has no real value yet, it does hold the promise of reinventing how people experience and interact in a digital world. This can provide an additional layer of innovation on top of the smart city environment.

People can engage digitally with their surroundings using a virtual reality headset and motion sensors. Calls, meetings, and product demos are just some of the things currently hosted in the metaverse. The practical applications of the technology are significant, especially in Africa, where unemployment and lack of skills are significant concerns. Using metaverse technologies, governments can help drive education and training in the skills needed to grow smart cities.

Now imagine the potential of 5G to push the adoption of digital twins. Essentially, these are computer-modelled digital copies of physical objects or systems that can be monitored, tested, interrogated, developed, and improved. With access to 5G connectivity, remote sensors can stream data from any machine, system, or process in real time. In conjunction with artificial intelligence and machine learning, this can deliver detailed analysis and insights on optimising performance and maintenance schedules.

Utility transformation

Furthermore, the potential for the rejuvenation of utility management in a smart city is too good to ignore. Municipalities are under immense pressure to improve service delivery while managing ageing infrastructure. Advanced technologies can enable them to increase operational efficiencies while also reducing costs.

Adding further impetus to this is the drive towards sustainability. As energy sources start becoming distributed, thanks to the availability of alternative power generating service providers, the decentralised environment can more effectively tap into a range of energy sources.

Generation occurs closer to the point of consumption, with excess energy sold back to the larger grid for redistribution. It is vital that this environment is kept safe from malicious users who also leverage advanced technologies to try to compromise the environment.

Upgrade and enhance

None of this means cities need to rip and replace their existing infrastructure. Instead, it requires them to work with trusted service providers to identify where best to modify current systems and implement new technologies to enhance capabilities.

For instance, enterprise asset management (EAM) systems must incorporate a new category of assets that did not exist before. Along with capitalisation information, utilities must integrate maintenance, repair, deprecation, and replacement cycles into the system to ensure compliance with regulatory and safety standards.

Extended oversight is critical, with assets distributed across various geographical areas. Innovations such as geographical information systems (GIS) will become commonplace, helping utilities monitor assets in real time, regardless of location.

The realisation of smart cities will happen sooner than many people expect. Instead of transforming into a science fiction fantasy overnight, it is about changing processes to reflect the digital needs of citizens better while doing so securely.

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