The cities of tomorrow will carry a very different notion of growth, one that goes beyond the realm of simple urban planning and uses advanced technologies to make the environment and governance of a city more efficient and effective. The element of making a city “smart” will be plugged in through greater dependence on information and communication technology (ICT) and digital infrastructure.

To this end, the Smart Cities Mission, which aims to achieve urban transformation and improve the quality of life of ­people, envisions harnessing technology for deploying smart solutions. This opens up a plethora of opportunities for various participants across the telecom value chain. Several telecom companies are now collaborating with state governments and urban local bodies to help them plan and create smart cities. This includes building of broadband highways, providing public internet access and ensuring electronic delivery of services such as healthcare, education and entertainment.

ICT pillars for smart city development

The foundation of a typical smart city is a highly advanced ICT infrastructure, which comprises devices that are connected through telecom networks. The data generated on these devices gets stored in data repositories, to be later leveraged for decision-making and for creating services and applications.

World over, a mix of communication networking technologies including wired networks, wireless networks, satellite networks, transmission protocols, machine-to-machine (M2M) and internet of things (IoT) is being used  to provide the requis­ite infrastructure to meet the objectives of a smart city. Currently, India scores well on the private wireless connectivity front, though much needs to be done in the public Wi-Fi and optic fibre cable (OFC) segments to make the Smart Cities Mission a success. The progress of the BharatNet project, which seeks to address this issue, especially in the rural areas, has been extremely slow and its deadline has been revised several times in the past.

  • Fibre infrastructure: OFC, with its high capacity, acts as the backbone for ensuring high speed access to the internet. It facilitates the installation of sensors, which are key to the development of intelligent solutions for a smart city. Larsen & Toubro [L&T] Construction’s Smart World and Communications business unit has been awarded the contract to develop the Nagpur Smart City by the Maharashtra government. Under this, it will lay 1,200 km of OFC.
  • Public Wi-Fi hotspots and kiosks: In addition to wired broadband networks, public Wi-Fi solutions will play a key role in smart city implementation. Sterlite Technologies, which has been selected to develop Gandhinagar as a smart city, will set up 400-500 Wi-Fi access points across the city. Meanwhile, for the Jaipur Smart City Phase II project, Sterlite will set up interactive information kiosks besides a Wi-Fi network extension. In Nagpur, L&T will deploy 136 Wi-Fi hotspots and establish 100 digital interactive kiosks at key locations.
  • Devices and chipsets: In a bid to ensure real-time data management, alerts, information processing for the city administration, embedded systems and a host of devices such as smartphones, sensors, radio frequency identification tags, chipsets and actuators have to be inducted into the physical infrastructure set-up. This collective embedded intelligence keeps city planners abreast with key developments, making a city much smarter by enabling new ways of city transport management, traffic control and environmental pollution monitoring. In line with global trends, India too is focusing on using devices that are compliant with IPv6 in the smart city set-up.
  • Data centres and central control rooms: Cloud technology is bound to play a big role in terms of storage as well as to provide access to a common group of key city applications. Further, central command centres need to be established for monitoring all applications and integrating apps. This ensures a single interface to view all the integrated city-level information.
  • Smart city applications and analytics: Smart cities are set to witness huge inve­stments in data centres, cloud services, control platforms, and M2M and IoT technologies. They are taking the lead in IoT deployment by integrating smart devices into all aspects of modern living. For instance, Cisco is investing in IoT to transform Jaipur into a smart city over the next few years. It is allowing people to access information about bus schedules, restaurants and entertainment spots at touch-screen kiosks located across the city, and find and reserve parking spaces through their smartphones, etc. Sensors can be used to manage city transportation systems – predict the arrival of trains and buses, manage parking space availability, identify areas where waste disposal pick-ups are needed, and measure energy consumption and emissions. Analytics will be used extensively on the data gathered through the various smart applications to derive new insights. Analytics will thus help in making smart decisions for the betterment of the city and citizens.
  • IP-based surveillance systems: Security, privacy and safety are crucial for the smooth functioning of a smart city. Leveraging information from video surveillance cameras and combining it with social media and citizen reports can re­sult in better planning for urban safety. As a result, the deployment of city surveillance systems today forms an important component of the contracts being awarded to develop smart cities. For instance, L&T will develop city surveillance systems with 3,800 IP-based cameras in Nagpur.

Opportunities for various stakeholders

The Smart Cities Mission presents significant business opportunities for all players operating in the telecom domain – infrastructure vendors, network vendors, OFC manufacturers, Wi-Fi and internet service providers, and telecom operators. Tower providers are set to witness an accelerated growth in installations as the smart cities programme gains traction. The programme requires seamless connectivity across various digital platforms, promising significant opportunities for companies such as Indus Towers.

Cisco, Nokia, Ericsson, ZTE and Hua­wei are optimistic about capturing sizeable business opportunities in this space. ZTE­soft, the software subsidiary of ZTE, has signed an MoU with the Gujarat government for collaboration on the development of smart city projects in the state. Nokia is also in negotiations with a number of cities for implementing smart city initiatives, while Cisco is working on smart city projects in about 13 cities, from among the 20 selected initially by the government. Huawei is also eyeing several smart city projects in collaboration with other partners, with a key focus on public safety.

As smart city development takes centre stage, the focus will no longer be on a simple connection between two persons or end-devices but on seamless interconnection amongst several users, devices and systems.

Meanwhile, mobile operators are well placed to play a significant role in smart city enablement. For instance, Airtel Business has been in talks with various state governments to help them design smart cities. Airtel already provides custom-made m-governance solutions for video surveillance, city traffic systems monitoring, public distribution, property tax collection and financial inclusion. Airtel is also working with three electricity boards for smart metering. Device management and M2M services are the other focus areas.

Tata Teleservices Limited is also in talks with multiple departments and government bodies to provide Wi-Fi services under the programme. Vodafone India too is looking to play a larger role in supporting the state and central governments through solutions for smart governance. The operator is drawing lessons from successful global smart city models and is closely watching the Indian landscape to partner with other companies to explore IT- and telecom-related opportunities arising from the mega programme. Recently, state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited expressed its intention to participate in the Smart Cities Mission and plans to submit proposals to build the smart cities of Pune, Indore and Bhopal.

OFC manufacturers such as Sterlite and Aksh Optifibre are also keen on tapping the opportunities offered by the Smart Cities Mission. Sterlite Technologies has won the contract from Gandhinagar. It entails creating a Wi-Fi city, with applications such as smart parking and lighting. It has also won the contract for the Jaipur Smart City Phase II project.

Going forward

As smart city development takes centre stage, the focus will no longer be on a simple connection between two persons or end-devices but on seamless interconnection amongst several users, devices and systems. While this will open up new opportunities for companies operating in the ICT domain, addressing interoperability issues and reducing the complexity of different technical standards will be crucial for the success of the programme.