Gaurav Ahluwalia, Managing Director, R&M India

The digital infrastructure of a smart city cannot be networked by radio alone. Information and data volumes as well as time-critical applications are constantly increasing due to digitalisation and urbanisation. Ultimately, only a fibre optic infrastructure can meet the communication and performance requirements of a smart city. So fibre optic networks form the foundation walls of a smart city.

Cities, all over the world, are rapidly changing into smart cities. In doing this, interconnected technologies play a crucial role in capturing, transferring and translating data into meaningful material which is required to develop and reinforce urban infrastructure. All this is possible with high-speed fibre optic networks that provide the communications infrastructure to transport an enormous amount of data from one end to the other end, including the cloud-based systems.

Although there is a debate on the replacement of fibre optic network with 5G networks. Some argument stated that both the networks will complement each other in the coming years. Currently, as the fibre optic is leading in all sectors, smart cities will keep their focus on it. The fibre optic expansion projects discussed ahead are evidence that shows fibre optic technology is sustaining the smart city developments around the world.

Highlighting the existence of fibre optic cable network

The advent of fibre optic network opened the opportunities to have ultra-broadband and low latency communication in cities as opposed to the traditional copper cable network which had its own limitations.

Fibre optic made it possible to transfer data at speeds that also support the implementation of artificial intelligence in different infrastructure ecosystems. Whether you need a surveillance system for crime prevention, autonomous drones to survey lands, a smart traffic management system to tackle congestion and prevent accidents or smart buildings to support sustainable living, all this operates with the help of fibre optic in smart cities. Broadly, fibre optic is a fundamental player in improving the quality of life in cities while helping them reshape into smart cities today.

To name the types of fibre optic networks, there are three: Fibre To The Home (FTTH), covering the entire distance from telecom operator’s central office to the user’s home; Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC), covering the section from the central office to the street cabinets and from there using copper cables to connect to the homes; and Fibre To The Tower, connecting the primary telecommunications network to the cellular network towers. Among all, FTTH is the most powerful and advanced fibre optic network currently operating in the world.

Why are fibre optic networks so important to smart city projects?

The straightforward answer to that question is that the cables are already in place. They’re ubiquitous in urban environments, running for miles and miles underground, stretching from the centre to the outskirts and carry information across vast distances and at high speed. As a result, enhancing fibre optic networks to support smart city systems is more cost-efficient than new infrastructure. The cables are also simple, reliable and durable.

This is significant because, as cities are transformed by smart technology, there will be a pressing need to connect cities to low-density areas and rural regions. Because fibre optic cables are already being used to carry telecommunications and internet connectivity to these areas, it makes sense for them to help bridge the gap when it comes to the new digital services that smart cities will inevitably usher in. With better digital connections to city centres, citizens in rural and village areas will benefit from equality of service.

And with technology solutions such as Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), fibre optic networks can be augmented to do more than just carry information through a cable. DAS converts fibre optics cables into state-of-the-art acoustic sensors, innately ‘listening’ to the activities around them. Such use of sensors will be vital to developing new digitalised services and protecting utilities. With DAS, authorities will be able to do everything from increasing security around key facilities to detecting leaks in water and sewage pipes, to making traffic management more efficient.

Metropolitan fibre and smart cities

Fibre is essential in supporting the development of Smart Cities. Defining a Smart City is not as easy as it is broad in scope and requires forecasting the development of new technologies. Also few of those involved in the various aspects of what makes up a Smart City have the same view of what it means as they see it from only their point of view.

Generally, a Smart City is one that uses information and communications technology to manage the entirety of the city with the goal of making it more efficient, responsive and environmentally sensitive, etc. for the benefit of the people, the economy and the city itself.


Communications is the central focus of smart cities – communications among city departments and organisations, within the city for residents and visitors and links to the outside world via data (Internet), voice (landline and cellular) and video entertainment (CATV and OTT). A proper communications infrastructure will require a city-wide high-speed fibre backbone with sufficiently fast connections to the worldwide Internet backbone that neither capacity nor speed is an issue. The fibre backbone provides the connectivity for all the options listed below as well as fibre for citywide ISP connections to the businesses and residents.

Transportation and Traffic management

Smart traffic signals, video and radar monitoring of traffic, parking and creating a vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications environment that will facilitate autonomous traffic in the future. Public transportation is fully managed, online information and booking provided, wireless available to riders.

Autonomous vehicles like this will certainly have lots of onboard sensors and information processing to drive on the streets with regular cars. But engineers involved in developing cities of the future seem to believe that having cars talk to each other and with numerous city services – smart traffic signals, traffic signs, information from video surveillance as to the location of other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. will simplify the task of the vehicle itself and make its operation safer.

Public safety communications

Using communications to make the public safety divisions – fire, police, ambulance, etc. more responsive and more responsible. This includes wireless communications on reserved frequencies and perhaps a dedicated WiFi network throughout the city and if there are high-rise buildings that limit penetration of wireless, it may require DAS, distributed antenna systems, inside the buildings

Surveillance and Sensors

Traditionally video surveillance has been the focus of city-wide surveillance. These videos have been instrumental in preventing and solving crimes in many cities by identifying people. New types of sensors are being deployed, including gunshot sensors that can detect gunshots and locate the source using sophisticated audio techniques.Now the usefulness of those cameras can be extended to tracking traffic for smart vehicles and helping control the movement of traffic. As semi and fully autonomous vehicles begin using public streets, car-to-car and car-to-city communications are expected to be needed to facilitate this transition.


Connect schools, libraries, and the citizens to share information and optimise the educational experience for all. Students learn to use the Internet in ways that facilitate their work in high-tech companies in the future.

Public Services

Allowing monitoring and control of public utilities – electrical (generation and distribution as well as renewable), water, sewer, gas, etc. to make them more efficient and economical. The electrical “smart grid” is becoming smarter, integrating alternative energy sources with traditional electrical generation and distribution. With cities that have many businesses and private solar system, for example, integrating those sources and smoothing out the use of electricity is leading many to assume that local storage, batteries usually, can be used to store excess energy during the day for use at night. Managing these kinds of facilities requires sophisticated grid management, often down to the local level called micro-grids

Support for Business

The economy of a city depends on a healthy, expanding business base. This goes beyond just providing high-speed Internet to businesses, it means offering really high bandwidth services to data-centric businesses and even data centers located in the city. Cities should have plans for tech incubators and services to support and facilitate new businesses locating there.

The Internet of Things

IoT is an overused and little understood term that seems to imply that all sorts of things communicate over the internet creating a communications environment that facilitates the development of logical connections for improving the quality and economics of services. It implies that Internet connections, wireless and landline, is everywhere and cheap enough to allow connecting all sorts of devices.

Smart Economy

All of the above contribute to an environment where both the citizens and local companies will find opportunities for developing new ideas that benefit from the Smart City services and facilitates entrepreneurship and operation of commercial entities.

Data Centers

A Smart City generates and uses data – lots of data – to become and stay smart. Doing so requires a significant sized data center with sufficient storage, computing power and communications to handle the quantities of data generated, analysed and transmitted. Such a data center can be a city facility or a cloud service hosted in the city. Data centers require really big, fast Internet connections, usually with options for the data center operators to bring in their own backbone connections.

We include a data center as a required city service because Smart Cities are built on data. A large city could require a data center approaching the size of the mega-data centers being used by the large Internet companies or cloud service providers. Smaller cities of course can use smaller data centers or cloud service providers. But provision for acquiring, analysing, utilising and storing such large amounts of data requires planning for facilities and the personnel to operate them as well as sufficient communications services to handle the massive amounts of data involved.

Smart cities are built on fibre

As with all state-of-the-art communications, Smart Cities are built on fibre optic backbones. But fibre alone is not enough. It is necessary to use the fibre to connect other services like wireless, both cellular and WiFi, video, CATV and OTT on the Internet, and a large number of devices and networks that are used to monitor and control all the “things” that are capable of contributing to the Smart City only when they are able to communicate and be controlled through a central facility.