While the possibilities under Smart Cities appear tantalizing, the current dialogue between the national government and the private sector needs to be more inclusive, with the latter receiving a wide set of incentives. This will help private firms to further develop IoT technology that can enhance the current plans and modus operandi towards smart city development and maintenance.
By Kuldeep Malik
India is on an upward trajectory towards achieving a significant level of economic success within this decade. Most market experts agree that one of the core drivers for this rapid expansion is owed to the burgeoning field of technology. From initially being perceived as a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) hub, the country has emerged as a strong contender that is able to provide world class solutions to an array of fields that include aviation, retail, banking and cybersecurity. It has also been able to churn out a wealth of offerings towards achieving a connected world, where Machine to Machine (M2M) compatibility, cloud storage and retrieval and intelligent data analysis are redefining how urban and rural populations carry out their daily lives.
From this abundance of technological output, the national government has envisioned a bolder construction, which will significantly help to bolster resources and ensure a more comfortable and productive existence for people living across different locations. The term ‘smart city’ is broadly defined as a highly advanced urban ecosystem, with state of the art infrastructure, sustainable real estate, point to point connectivity across all technological platforms, which ensure non-stop communications between all stakeholders that include the general public and government. More so, it represents a populated space that is able to operate from a secondary and tertiary market perspective in the most optimal way possible, while also ensuring minimum wastage in the production of goods and even services.
At the heart of a smart city, information technology is the underlying infrastructure that operates, monitors and efficiently control all aspects needed to sustain positive living conditions for human beings. They are run on vast networks that are both tangible and intangible with various data centers located at strategic points across a cityscape. The national government aims to create 100 such cities, and according to Deloitte, it would require approximately USD $150 billion to make that happen. At this stage the government has already initiated two programs with an initial investment of approximately USD $7.5 billion for ‘Smart Cities Mission’ and the ‘Atal Mission for Rejuvenation of Urban Transformation (AMRUT)’ for the upgradation of approximately 500 existing cities. From this the first 20 cities to be developed into smart cities include Bhubaneswar, Pune, Jaipur, Surat, Kochi and Ahmedabad. However, a crucial point to note is that in order to further fructify this vision, the private sector in the country will need to play a significant role via the Public Private Partnership (PPP) schemes in existence.
One of the key reasons for private participation is the wealth of knowledge and on-going research technology firms can share from the initial stage of redevelopment to system maintenance and security. From a commercial standpoint, the Internet of Things (IoT), would help to create a unified channel for facilities management, data collection, business transactions as well as personal activities such as commuting, grocery shopping, healthcare etc. According to Gartner, another area where private participation would help in the context of IoT is in the optimum use of handling building management systems that drive efficiencies around energy conservation and maintaining optimum environmental conditions. This would be crucial to oversee as with India’s varied weather and terrain, smart cities would need to be handled and taken care of like a well-oiled machine that needs to be safeguarded against corrosion or system breakdowns owing to external environmental factors.
IoT can go even further by including a variety of solutions that can reduce the burden currently being seen in urban environments such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. SCADA systems, which handle public utilities such as water, electricity, gas etc. would benefit immensely as IoT enabled devices would ensure less manpower requirements and more effective distribution of vital services across various neighbourhoods and commercial districts. Further, IoT would deliver more benefits with the use of RFID tags, GPS sensors and scanners, which would allow a smoother monitoring of local traffic, significantly reducing the chances of automobile grid locks that occur during peak hours as well as tracking vehicles that are not complaint with pollution norms and drivers who are road offenders.
However, while these possibilities do appear tantalizing, the current dialogue between the national government and the private sector needs to be more inclusive, with the latter receiving a wide set of incentives. This will help private firms to further develop IoT technology that can enhance the current plans and modus operandi towards smart city development and maintenance. But while the development of a 100 smart cities over the course of the next several years is commendable, it may most likely be fraught with obstacles as technology currently being utilized will become obsolete rather soon and replacing it would push maintenance cost to an astronomical level. In our current scenario where basic Wi-Fi and networks face issues, it is difficult to imagine connected devices that will work seamlessly across the initial set of smart cities being developed. Further, a more collaborative effort towards having both the public and private sector work together will be critical especially with regard to manpower development. Proper training and orientation programs are crucial for those within the technology implementation teams as well as the construction crews themselves. This will be critical as it is important to align all teams together. However, if this isn’t done correctly then as smart cities utilize multiple architecture models, standards and platforms, there is a high risk of incompatibility and fragmentation, and networks failures.
In the long run of things, it is also critical to demonstrate a strong ability for the nation to build smart cities as the general public needs to be convinced of what might seem like an outlandish concept is in fact a viable option. With India’s population set to increase to a point where 50 percent are estimated to occupy urban areas by 2050 as opposed to 32 percent today, speed is of the essence. Hence, the urgency to move forward towards better city environments that offer a higher quality of life, in terms of resource distribution, sanitation, and legal enforcement as well as local economy strength, is paramount. Setting up such metropolitan areas will serve as the backbone and continue to push the country further up the economic curve it so richly enjoys at the moment.
The author is country head – corporate sales international – MediaTek India