On June 25, 2015, the government launched its ambitious Smart Cities Mission to accelerate digitalisation in the country. The mission has helped scale up communications infrastructure including towers, fibre and smart poles, and increased the uptake of smart applications such as Wi-Fi, video surveillance and security, smart mobility and smart urban infrastructure management. This scale-up of telecom infrastructure along with the adoption of smart applications has opened up several opportunities for stakeholders across the telecom value chain. Telcos, towercos and technology vendors alike are jumping on the smart city bandwagon to leverage upcoming opportunities in the space.
A look at the evolving communications landscape in India’s smart cities and emerging opportunities in this domain…
Components of smart cities
The objective of the smart cities initiative is to create sustainable and inclusive cities, improve quality of life, and provide a clean and sustainable environment. The core infrastructure of these cities will include smart solutions such as data-driven traffic management, intelligent lighting systems, smart grids, smart applications and technology solutions. The key applications of optic fibre cable (OFC) in a smart city include smart grids for enhanced energy efficiency, smart health ecosystems, and sensor networks to improve public services and infrastructure. Digitally enabled tools and solutions can help solve urban challenges, undertake efficient city management, and foster transparent and accountable governance.
Role of integrated command and control centres
Smart cities have an integrated command and control centre (ICCC) depending on the city’s capacity and resources. An ICCC serves as the nervous system of the municipal ecosystem and helps in monitoring city operations, assets and resources. It can also identify incidents, coordinate responses, and predict future trends and events for long-term planning.
In fact, these ICCCs played a key role in collaborating with concerned government departments while dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. They helped manage the crisis and offered services including dedicated lines for handling hospital bed requests and monitoring Covid-19 hotspots, oxygen capacity, availability of hospital beds, number of patients in ICUs, and ambulance services. For instance, over 45 smart cities converted their ICCCs into war rooms for real-time data monitoring. They use the government’s data dashboard to provide up-to-date information about the status of Covid cases in different administrative zones of cities.
As of February 11, 2022, 75 smart cities had set up ICCCs to monitor the environment/traffic/waterlogging/law and order situation, which will facilitate decision-making and daily operations. According to the government, all 100 smart cities will have operational ICCCs by August 2022.
Establishing a robust fibre infrastructure
All the components of smart cities and ICCCs require a critical element, that is, fibre-based backhaul. Fibre not only provides the necessary backhaul support for the efficient functioning of smart city networks, but also enables the effective handling and transmission of the large amounts of data generated from these networks and systems. Services such as Wi-Fi, video surveillance and security, smart urban infrastructure, smart mobility and management are enabled through fibre infrastructure. Further, OFC, with its virtually unlimited capacity, is the perfect backbone for the delivery of bandwidth-intensive applications in a smart city. It facilitates the installation of sensors, which are a critical component of intelligent solutions deployed in smart cities. In addition, OFC offers higher network reliability and security, supporting lower attenuation for transmission over long distances.
Recognising the fundamental role of OFC networks in the development of smart cities, several cities selected under the Smart Cities Mission have already started deploying citywide OFC networks while others have started working on ducting for OFC networks, OFC deployment for ICCCs and other OFC-related civil works.
Infrastructure deployment by towercos
Apart from fibre, smart towers, smart poles, data centres and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure are the key components for establishing smarter cities of the future. In this regard, towercos have emerged as ideal partners for deploying smart poles, expanding the data centre space, and evolving the EV charging landscape in smart cities. While towercos are actively collaborating with smart city authorities to deploy smart poles, they are still exploring opportunities in the EV charging and data centre ecosystem.
In the smart pole domain, towercos have started collaborating with city administrations to convert the existing street elements such as street poles, light poles and traffic lights into smart poles. In the future, smart poles will be ideal for installing 5G equipment, thus saving the cost for setting up new poles. Another growth avenue for towercos is edge data centres. Since tower sites have a steady power supply, ready access to fibre backhaul connectivity and the requisite real estate, they are ideal sites for edge data centres. The evolving EV charging landscape also presents ample opportunities for towercos. However, the development of EV charging stations in smart cities is currently at a nascent stage. There are challenges pertaining to sustainability, scalability and inclusivity.
Apart from towercos, telcos have been actively involved in scaling up the communications infrastructure for smart cities. Among telcos, Reliance Jio has secured a contract worth Rs 3,340 million for the Indore smart city. The contract entails establishing smart poles including CCTVs, environmental sensors, Wi-Fi, OFC, in the public-private partnership mode. The work order for the contract has been issued. Further, Jio is part of a consortium for laying around 600 km of OFC around the Gurugram smart city. Apart from Jio, the consortium includes Sterlite Convergence Limited, Indus Towers and ATC Telecom and Infrastructure Private Limited. Meanwhile, Airtel has been chosen as the strategic network solution partner by Faridabad Smart City Limited to transform Faridabad into a smart city. Under the partnership, Airtel will work closely with the Haryana government to design and deploy a future-ready high capacity network and a range of connectivity solutions to make Faridabad a digitally enabled city. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited too has been awarded a contract for providing OFC connectivity across the Bhagalpur smart city.
Further, Vodafone Idea Limited’s (Vi) enterprise arm, Vi Business, has been appointed as the implementation partner for the Guwahati smart city initiative by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC). Under this partnership, GMC will provide Vi’s intelligent mobility solutions to Guwahati Municipal Swatch Bharat workers. Moreover, Vi has partnered with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) for a pilot project to test 5G-based smart city solutions, as part of its ongoing 5G trials on government-allocated 5G spectrum. The companies will collaborate to test and validate 5G use cases built on internet of things, video artificial intelligence (AI) technologies leveraging L&T’s Smart City platform Fusion, addressing the challenges of urbanisation, safety and security, and offering smart solutions to citizens, in a pilot to be conducted in Pune.
Cybersecurity and city surveillance
Since a smart city uses various technological solutions and digital infrastructure mediums, securing the infrastructure is important from the security perspective. Smart cities rely on sensors and network-connected devices and systems that generate large volumes of data, which are vulnerable to hacking by cybercriminals who can steal confidential data, shut down access to essential resources, and gain illegal access to security cameras. The data needs to be adequately protected. Creating and building a secure smart city requires strong policies that incorporate processes and technologies from both the government and industry into the overall strategy process. The growing complexity and magnitude of risks in such an integrated communications structure requires an unprecedented level of collaboration between public and private stakeholders.
Collaboration is the key
Net, net, India’s smart city ecosystem still has a long way to go. As the country stands at the cusp of a 5G roll-out, all key stakeholders will have to formulate a collaborative strategy of deployment so that each city can leverage the benefits of the technology. Thus, the future requires a widespread cooperation-based strategy involving all stakeholders across the value chain. This strategy can be based on a mutually beneficial mechanism that promises further digitalisation of smart cities while securing the entire communications infrastructure that forms the bedrock for these cities.