Smart Cities Trends for 2020s

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A smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. A smart cities success depends on its ability to form a strong relationship between the government -- including its bureaucracy and regulations - and the private sector to create and maintain a digital, data-driven environment.

Entering 2020, smart cities will embrace a list of trends that are expected to influence and shape their future. These are my quick-fire predictions for some tech shifts we will see by 2025. Smart cities will have widely deployed IoT solutions as part of public service provision, alongside edge computing, hybrid computing and advanced analytics. Cities will start to use local data centres as part of their resilience and performance strategy. However, it will create an ICT framework that supports the delivery of future-ready digital services, helping cities to remain competitive as urban populations increase. We will see more of a concentrated effort by government, cities and regions to use the latest best practices and have a roadmap-based approach to emerging standards for cyber-attack detection and recovery. All smart city service providers will be forced to comply with defined cyber-security standards as part of the procurement process as cities seek to better protect themselves.

Edge computing will develop an enabling framework for mobile assets such as drones and connected cars, meaning they will become more visible and integrated into public and private services. The term ‘carbon neutral’ will become common for cities, regions and nations and we will see smart grids and regional resilience being integrated into smart city ecosystems. More renewable energy will be generated locally, boosting resilience, improving the local environment and enabling cities to explore new revenue models. Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations will become widespread and more common at petrol and gas stations and malls, stimulating the uptake of EVs. We will start to see cities owning fibre as a fundamental part of innovation and digital transformation to deliver the next generation of public services, stimulate economic development and bridge the digital divide.

NB-IoT and low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) will become more widely deployed as IoT solutions deliver effective smart city services. We will start to see more large-scale deployment of these connected devices and sensors.

5G will begin to prove initial use cases such as "fibre over the air" and faster performance of services at the edge such as connected cars, drones and other mobile assets within cities and regions. Wireless providers provisioning 5G will have to engage better with communities and cities as deployments start to affect the visual urban landscape. Telcos will invent new technologies for fibre-based ICT architectures to disrupt 5G. This will enable smart city services to be run without disturbing the aesthetics of the urban landscape.

Digital twin technology will become more common as cities begin to recognise the importance of this data to increase automation and enable new data economies and revenue streams. Digital twins will provide a pathway to ‘digital citizens’ – digital intelligence based on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and tasked to deliver the next generation of individual and community digital services and experiences.

Cities that have a robust edge compute strategy and data governance policies will get ahead of other cities relying solely on the cloud. As such, a handful of forward-thinking cities will transition away from the limited impact of IoT v1 (the built environment listens) and explore IoT v2 (the built environment listens and automatically interacts with communities and citizens). An example could be related to managing traffic across a region. Digital intelligence located at the edge operating across an entire jurisdiction and region could ensure that traffic flow is optimised and automatically managed with little human oversight – a ’digital traffic controller’, you could say. In the case of an accident, these edge digital intelligence would detect and automatically schedule delivery of emergency assets and services to any specific location.

Smart city crypto and digital currencies will become popular as communities start to redefine trade and the exchange of goods and services. This will force change within existing financial systems.

The environment, sustainability and food security will become prominent themes. The majority of cities have a climate action plan. We will start to see local food production within jurisdictions, including community gardens, resulting in healthier eating and fewer carbon emissions.

We will also start to see more carbon sequestration within cities to absorb emissions and reduce temperatures. Greenfield developments will leverage the latest in sustainable building materials and could act as a proving ground.

Self-driving trucks and other forms of autonomous transport will start to become widely accepted by society and government. The connected car may become successful before the self-driving car to enable existing vehicles, both old and new, to operate within a common transportation, mobility and safety framework. Cities will trial new forms of business models for vehicles, such as paying for fast-moving lanes.