The rapidly increasing ur­ban population is placing a tremendous amount of burden on the existing critical infrastructure and services of cities, resulting in the deterioration of living conditions for the citizens. According to the United Nations, about 55 per cent of the world’s population is living in urban areas as of May 2018. This is estimated to further increase to 68 per cent by 2050. Therefore, there is a need to develop adequate and appropriate infrastructure and services in cities.

Smart cities world over are focused on the digital integration and transformation of city management systems such as traffic, parking, pollution, electricity and water, wh­i­ch will help sustain urbanisation and ma­­i­­n­tain a good quality of life. A robust com­­­munication network is the backbone of smart cities and the internet of things (IoT) has a major role to play in this regard. IoT devices with embedded sensors provide real-time data, which can be used by supervisors to improve the operation of crucial processes and facilitate decision-making re­garding planning and operation. This data can be used by city authorities to devise additional revenue and new business models.

Service delivery

Smart cities can leverage IoT to significantly reduce the response time in case of lapses in service delivery. The operation, re­­pair and maintenance of public infrastr­u­cture such as parking, street lights and waste collection mechanisms can be stream­­lined and optimised through IoT. For example, smart parking solutions, whi­­ch provide information on the availability of parking lots and help citizens to book their spots in advance, have been deployed in New Del­hi and Chandigarh. However, the­se solutions have been facing technical and pollution-related challenges.

Resource management

IoT can also drive efficiency in the distribution of resources such as water, gas and electricity. Smart meters can be ins­talled to improve leakage and pilferage detection, enhance productivity by studying consumption patterns, and allocate re­sour­ces based on requirement. Provi­ding customers access to real-time information on their consumption can also help promote the judicious use of resources and reduce wastage. Such solutions can be crucial in areas with a water shortage problem. For instance, the drought-prone town of Fountain View, California, implemented smart solutions to reduce water usage by 20 per cent during a crisis period. The smart network would flag high volume users, allowing the authorities to work clo­sely with such users to cut back on ex­ce­ss­ive usage. These solutions enabled Foun­tain View to reduce its water usage by 23 per cent, thus surpassing its target.

Vigilance and public safety

IoT solutions have demonstrated imm­ense potential in public safety. Solutions capable of detecting gunshots in real time have already been developed and adopted in a number of cities to reduce the time needed to reach a crime scene and address the problem of under-reporting of gun violence. These solutions can not only detect the shootings and the number of gunshots, but also the model of the gun used and the number of shooters involved. It can identify the location of crime with reasonable accuracy. Besides, cities with comprehensive video surveillance systems can use video analytics software to identify any sus­picious activity.


Traffic congestion is an issue in a number of cities and is expected to become even more acute with increasing urbanisation and economic growth. IoT solutions are particularly effective in traffic management. They assist in reducing travel time, wait time and the average speed during city commute. Data from traffic cameras, mobile phones, vehicles and road sensors can be analysed in real time to monitor congestion and provide alternative routes in real time. This can also assist in making public transport systems more reliable. The city of Los Angeles leverages data from a number of magnetic road sensors and hundreds of cameras to regulate the fun­ctioning of around 4,500 traffic signals. Th­is has helped in increasing travel speeds by 16 per cent and reducing delays at major intersections by 12 per cent while also reducing carbon emissions.

Challenges and the way forward

Although IoT can be leveraged to benefit smart cities significantly, it is not without its risks and complexities. The task of ensuring the security of such systems will continue to be high on the priority list of city authorities. The magnitude of risks involved is high since crucial city infrastructure is at stake. Further, there is a need to ensure that these systems produce negligible errors since insights provided by them will be used to take real-time decisions regarding city management. A prerequisite for the implementation of smart solutions is a robust communications network, preferably an optic fibre cable network, which would entail significant investments.

Challenges aside, the uptake of IoT in cities across the globe is expected to rise in light of its potential benefits. Moreover, the declining costs of hardware and equipment will help in lowering the cost of implementation and driving adoption. The launch of 5G will also be a key factor in driving IoT uptake and ensuring smart operation of cities across the globe.