DCN June 2017 - Page 31

big data & IoT ‘The IoT will prove invaluable over the coming decades, and as urban populations swell, our cities will be forced to meet the requisite demands.’ lightbulbs will cause them to increase in brightness as people approach or as noise levels rise. Additionally, the lamps also measure levels of air pollution, an increasing concern as our metropolises become ever more bustling. A little further from home in New Zealand, paint ‘smelling’ sensors are being deployed to combat instances of vandalism and graffiti. In Finland, self-driving, electric buses are cutting carbon emissions and costs for commuters. Solar powered smart bins that allow cities to monitor rubbish levels are gaining popularity in South America. Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven security cameras which can detect suspicious activity are in development by a number of established companies and enterprising start-ups. Whilst individually these applications may seem to offer relatively minor benefits, when they’re looked at in aggregate the cost and energy savings amount to a far more efficient urban environment and begin to take the shape of the smart city ideal. A fly in the ointment So, we’ve established that, through the incremental ‘smartening’ of a city’s processes, we’ll be leading less wasteful and arduous urban lives. However, before we put our feet up and enjoy an automated existence, there is one very important matter to sort out. In much the same way as smartphone and tablet adoption over the past 10 years brought added strains to enterprise networks, the promise of a city’s worth of connected smart devices will pose similar problems for a city’s network infrastructure. The boons that IoT devices could bring to the lives of city dwellers could potentially prove harmful if IoT adoption outpaces city planners’ ability to establish the infrastructure necessary to support it. Take, for instance, the concept of remote healthcare. It’s no secret that the NHS is overstretched and hospitals are struggling to find enough beds for increasing numbers of patients, and remote healthcare, wherein patients can be monitored from their own homes, promises to alleviate at least some of that pressure from our healthcare system. It could lessen the stress faced by patients too ill to travel, as well as provide a greater source of healthcare data than we’ve ever accrued before, bolstering future medical research and treatment techniques. It’s a perfect example of how IoT could bring tangible benefits. Remote healthcare could be a powerful force for good but, conversely, could do a great deal of harm if mismanaged and not supported by a robust network infrastructure. The ideal remote healthcare ecosystem will thrive on data flows, and any connectivity issues or network downtime would potentially be putting lives in danger. Other major IoT initiatives could face similar issues. Connected cars, for instance, could potentially lead to city travel being less onerous and safer for citizens. If all the vehicles on our roads are feeding location data into our traffic systems we can have real time insights into traffic flows and divert them as necessary. This could lead to less congestion and fewer road hazards and danger spots for drivers and cyclists alike. Again, however, if this data were to fail due to insufficient network infrastructure it could serve to endanger, rather than protect. One small step for connected devices… Despite the warnings listed above, there are promising developments which might expedite our shift to smart cities. The launch of 5G, slated for some time i n the next two or three years, is a great first step to harnessing a network with the capability of handling a more advanced smart city. However, it is just a first step. What’s essential is that city planners are cognoscente that, when planning for smart cities it’s not just about planning for the next five or 10 years, but the next 20 or 30. This long tail planning will require collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as a new IP approach focused on virtualisation and automation, to ensure that cities’ network infrastructures are scalable enough to keep up with future IoT innovations. We’re still a way off from the easy automated life, but if we lay the groundwork now, it may come sooner than we think. June 2017 | 31