Connected futures: meeting citizen needs with smart city technologies
By Mark Fioretto, Senior Vice President, Dell Technologies, Australia and New Zealand
Thursday, 09 September, 2021
Connectivity is the thread that weaves our futures together — with the potential to make our cities more resilient and bring new opportunities to all. Any vision for building back a better world must reinforce connectivity to enable the next generation of digital innovations. This is crucial to ensure our advancements are inclusive, substantial and sustainable — and the smart city can be the foundation of these aspirations.
The provision of more robust infrastructure is now a palpable human need, with connectivity regarded widely as a human right in the digital age. Basic public services have and continue to digitise; thus, connectivity has a vital impact on the lives of citizens around the world. This is built into the foundations of urban living as smart cities evolve.
In its recent report, ‘Smart Cities and Inclusive Growth’, the OECD highlights the exciting role that national governments can play in enabling innovative solution delivery, capacity building, and upscaling.1
Data and connectivity are the lifeblood of the smart city. As we enter the zettabyte era, with more devices coming on stream, there is a risk that local governments could become overwhelmed if they are not prepared effectively. A zettabyte is the equivalent of 1 trillion gigabytes — about 250 billion DVDs’ worth of storage.
Consider that humans and machines will generate, at minimum, 175 Zettabytes of data over the next five years alone and we can understand the urgency. But we should not fear, as 5G is here, and can drive solutions to our seismic data challenges.
Unlocking connectivity with 5G
5G technologies promise lightning speed digital capabilities that lay the ground for next-generation connectivity opportunities — and everyone should be prepared. The governments that support the digital transformation of their businesses and economies will be at the forefront of cutting-edge innovations. These are only now possible with the convergence of maturing digital technologies. They have the potential to drive flourishing economies and connect citizens to their digital futures.
Preparing for 5G provides a unique opportunity to focus economic recovery on greater equity of access to transformational technology, for a resilient, digitally hybrid world. That means levelling the playing field when it comes to educating businesses on what 5G really means for them, how to prepare — and how to use 5G to transform. Governments play a key role, helping to keep the pace, elevating economic outlooks and laying the foundations for future innovations.
5G is the key to unlocking experiences that were once just figments of our imagination. It will make hyper-connected and responsive smart cities a reality, with autonomous vehicles and real-time personalised services on the go. It will take today’s remote working to the next level, making mixed-reality a real contender in the workplace — whether that’s with three-dimensional employee training in enterprise or remote precision surgery in health care. But before we can truly unlock these opportunities, the foundations must be set.
One of the integral facets to these foundations is Edge computing, which is the prerequisite for 5G connectivity and is already turbocharging IoT devices that connect our cities and homes. By embracing the potential of Edge computing, which can capture, store, process and analyse data where the data is generated, instead of in a centralised data-processing location, we can accelerate and unleash the power of 5G within practical, public and societal settings.
5G unleashed: Turbocharging digital twins
Urban digital twins are a practical example of edge computing today — and the 5G possibilities of tomorrow. Digital twins provide virtual representations of a city’s physical assets. They use data analytics and machine learning to update simulation models in real time — as their physical equivalents change. This technology is not new.
The concept of making a duplicate or ‘twin’ of an asset to enable simulations and predict outcomes based on changes in the operating conditions finds its origins in the 1960s, with the Apollo space program. It has evolved to crunch a two-day process into two hours, with the technology continuing to advance rapidly and meet the needs of a modern and digital urban future.
Advances in edge computing and in-memory processing — enabled by scalable computing, along with new pervasive network technologies like 5G to support streaming data — make it possible to interconnect these twins today. They are becoming an essential part of everything from city planning to improving health care, keeping smart cities running safely and enabling sustainable innovation.
Look no further than Victoria, where the government is investing over $35 million to build a digital twin of the state so that a centralised data platform will be accessible to all. Through this large-scale and open collaboration, industries, governments and communities will be able use the data to enhance real-world outcomes through planning and monitoring. It will enable city managers to test accessibility options, see the potential impact of new construction, manage emergency responses and monitor city health.
Thanks to all the potential use cases that exist, the digital twin market is projected to rapidly grow within the next few years. The market was valued at $3.1 billion in 2020 but is expected to reach $48.2 billion by 2026. 2 This wouldn’t be possible without the convergence of connective and digital technologies, or the nurturing of innovation.
Looking ahead, connective technologies like 5G will build our future cities and help ensure we can co-exist equally and sustainably. Digital twin developments provide only a small window into what is possible.
With 5G’s rapid speeds and high latency, we have the chance to witness innovation at its finest — making the unimaginable real. Putting this in the smart city arena demonstrates the value this can bring to urban residents, while highlighting the importance of maintaining a citizen-centric design. Ultimately, governments can arm themselves with critical data that will hero the needs of their future citizens — everybody wins.
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