Launched in 2015, the Smart Cities Mission focuses on sustainable development of cities with the use of smart solutions. The element of smartness is introduced through information and communication technology (ICT) solutions and digital infrastructure. The deployment of smart solutions calls for advanced ICT infrastructure and devices, which require robust telecom connectivity that is provided by telecom service and infrastructure providers.
A look at the opportunities created by the Smart Cities Mission for various stakeholders in the telecom domain…
Network operators play a key role in smart city development. They upgrade the existing communications infrastructure to deploy new technologies and techniques. The implementation of internet of things (IoT) is also crucial to meet the high capacity communication network requirements. This calls for further participation from operators.
Besides, IoT services provide great opportunities for business and revenue growth for telcos, which are currently in a debt-ridden condition. Telecom operators can work alongside the public sector to deploy various smart solutions including meters, vehicle tracking systems, fuel monitoring systems, public distribution systems, traffic monitoring systems, payment mechanisms and e-commerce platforms.
Bharti Airtel, for instance, is helping various state governments design plans for smart cities and providing them with customised m-governance solutions. It is working with three electricity boards in the country to provide smart metering solutions, and has partnered with the Odisha State Road Transport Corporation to deploy a satellite-based vehicle tracking system as well as a fuel monitoring system. Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited is also working with government agencies to aid the implementation of smart city initiatives. As part of the Surat smart city project, the operator rolled out high speed Wi-Fi internet service at 19 locations in the city and also provided video surveillance, high speed detection and 4G infrastructure in Jaipur. Vodafone India also plans to invest in the IoT segment and given its global experience in enabling the creation of future-ready cities, it can provide better infrastructure and solutions.
Wired and wireless infrastructure owned by operators can be used to boost connectivity and create a more unified and intelligent ecosystem through voice, data and SMS services. Thus, the wave of internet of everything will be driven essentially by telcos. Given the additional benefit of last-mile connectivity that the telcos provide, their existing infrastructure and technology can be used as the fundamental layer to enable better interaction among places, people and other elements.
Tower infrastructure providers
Creating smart and critical telecom infrastructure that responds to the needs of the citizens and ensures the seamless flow of data is a prerequisite for establishing smart cities. This brings into focus the role of towercos, which will provide an interconnected and reliable city-wide infrastructure for the same.
The development of smart street infrastructure is expected to grow in the near future. Under the public-private partnership model, towers, smart poles, traffic signal poles, LED poles, etc. will be installed to provide services such as Wi-Fi, smart lighting and surveillance. As part of the smart city initiative, the Coimbatore Municipal Corporation has collaborated with a towerco on a pilot project to transform traffic signal poles at major city junctions into smart poles. Further, Indus Towers has partnered with Vadodara Smart City Development Limited, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the implementation of smart city projects in the city. The Vadodara Municipal Corporation will provide free limited Wi-Fi service to 450 spots in Vadodara through this SPV. This facility will be enabled through Indus Towers. Besides Wi-Fi, the poles will have CCTV cameras, digital billboards, environment sensors, public address systems, emergency call boxes, traffic signals and LED lights. For the implementation of the smart city project in Bhopal, Bharti Infratel will set up intelligent street poles across the city, which would entail the construction of a tower set-up, microsites and a fiberised backhaul network.
Towercos are now focusing on building smart poles for cities as installing more steel towers is not feasible. Smart poles ensure better network coverage and also have aesthetic value. These can be leased out to network operators as well as to the government for surveillance and traffic management systems.
With its virtually unlimited capacity, optical fibre cable (OFC) provides the perfect backbone for the delivery of high speed internet in a smart city. OFC also facilitates the installation of sensors, which are key to the development of intelligent solutions. Many cities have already submitted budget proposals for the deployment of OFC, opening up opportunities for OFC players.
In mid-2017, the Kakinada Smart City Corporation selected Sterlite Tech as the implementation partner to deploy various smart city-related ICT solutions. These include command control centres, CCTV surveillance cameras, Wi-Fi, automatic number plate recognition, face detection, waste and disaster management, among other platforms. Sterlite is also involved in the Jaipur and Gandhinagar smart city projects. Similarly, Aksh Optifibre was awarded the contract for the development of the Jaipur smart city (16 km of coverage area). As per the contract, it will deploy an OFC network, mobile hotspots, smart lighting systems, a surveillance system, smart parking solutions, environmental sensors, etc.
The successful implementation of new technologies such as 5G is not possible without a strong fibre network. This presents a strong case for the deployment of a citywide OFC network. However, there are certain challenges in the the deployment of OFC such as huge investment requirement, lack of infrastructure planning and high right-of-way costs. In a bid to reduce roll-out costs, it is imperative to create open access fibre optic networks for smart cities. Such networks will be available to multiple service providers on an equal-access basis.
Given the use of IoT in the implementation of smart cities, there are several opportunities for manufacturers to roll-out high capacity communication networks. Various equipment vendors have collaborated with the state governments on projects such as surveillance, internet of everything centres, water management, smart transport, smart buses, smart kiosks and smart parking.
Ericsson was among the first vendors to explore the opportunities in smart metering, public safety and remote health monitoring services in India. Other international players such as Cisco and IBM have also shown how connected systems in education, healthcare, smart buildings and transport can be used to ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability. Cisco has collaborated with several state governments for smart city projects to provide surveillance and automation solutions. The company has established a smart city surveillance system in Lucknow by deploying 280 cameras, 10,000 drones and night-vision mobile vans. Cisco has also established an Internet of Everything Innovation Centre in Visakhapatnam and is deploying smart technologies for Wi-Fi, safety and security, lighting, parking, transport, bus stops, kiosks and education.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has partnered with the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) to transform Surat into a smart city. SMC is working with Microsoft and its partners to develop solutions for water management and urban planning. The Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation has selected Hewlett-Packard Enterprise’s Universal IoT platform to create India’s first cloud-based integrated command and control centre in Madhya Pradesh. The centre is expected to enable the monitoring and administration of civic utilities and citizen services through a central cloud.
The government has taken up various initiatives to incentivise the manufacturing of telecom equipment in India. These include the introduction of policies to attract foreign investment in telecom equipment manufacturing.
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. In Nagpur, L&T is deploying 136 Wi-Fi hotspots and establishing 100 digital interactive kiosks at key locations.
Clearly, the telecom sector is expected to play an enabling role in the successful implementation of smart solutions across the 100 selected cities in India. The opportunities for telecom industry stakeholders in this space are abundant. Going forward, smart cities can emerge as a key driver of business growth and revenues for the industry.