Smart cities: The next sexy place to live in

Smart cities are the next sexy places to live, said Cisco’s Global President of Cisco’s Smart + Connected Communities Business, Anil Menon during their IoT World Forum in Dubai, UAE. But while in Dubai, he described that”…the infrastructure, the political will and the desire is here”, that is not necessarily the case in other towns, cities or communities, where sound technology applications can bring  big benefit.

Besides the technology side of things, Anil opined that the IoT (Internet of Things) industry has to do things like change business models, collaborate through consortiums, design regulation and encourage local startups. “Then there would be a totally different market size,” he said.

Cisco touts being in the right solution space to offer IoT solutions and drive the industry.

Cisco VP of Infrastructure and Digital Solutions Marketing Inbar Lasser-Raab said, “The fact that we own the network, means we have visibility of data flows and apps that run on the network. We can make data more contextual and actionable,” she said stressing that IoT and security is really about the management and orchestration of the network.

“The network as the sensor and enforcer can detect anomalies and put it into context and then mitigate threats much faster as a result.”

All that is well and good.

But with technology and IoT standards taking time to form (testbeds are created to see how standards need to adapt, update or modify, which is time consuming), vendors are still not really talking to each other, should cities with ambitions to be smart, turn to only one technology vendor?

How do vendors start conversations with governments or municipalities, where rivalling vendors may already hold sway over?

The ASEAN case

The statistics are staggering and spine chilling.

With rapid urbanisations, comes rapid congestion and decline of resources and access to education, food, even parking – Parisians spend an average four years of their lives, looking for parking,

Anil shared that about hundreds of thousands of people are moving into cities every hour, that demand the kind of resources London city can provide – governments have to create one London city every month for the next 36 years just to keep up.

What then if it involves a region with aspirations to be a unified economic, cultural and political community? How unified can it be for efforts to build out a Southeast Asia-wide smart community?

Anil said, “From governments’ aspect, they would love for someone to come in and say ‘Tell me what your vision of a smart city should be. Tell me how we get started’. Then they want to go to just one person who can guarantee them everything will work from day one, and then you as vendor can deploy it.

“The fact of matter is I don’t think anyone can do that. Because it is economically not viable for one company to take all the cost into their books. Literally no one company can do it by themselves, we all recognise that. It doesn’t matter how big you are whether you are an IT company, an industrial company or a service company, it doesn’t matter.”

Here’s another reason why

Anil admitted that Cisco has had to do things a little differently of late.

“What we’ve done is we’ve increasingly come to say, we will come with a set of players together. So we may work with CH2M and AECOM. These are companies we would have NEVER talked to before.”

CH2M and AECOM are just two examples of engineering companies which provide consultation, design and construction or management support services to corporations or federal, state or local governments.

According to Anil, engineering companies like these have done master planning, installations and at times run operations as well, for example for property developments like Nusa Jaya in Iskandar, Johor.

“So, we work with them, because when they are designing something we can say, have you thought of the digital infrastructure also, not just the physical infrastructure?”


Anil opined that a single point of contact for one single large ASEAN-wide smart ‘city’, is not going to happen. “Because it is not possible to do that,” he pointed out, adding that for different solutions from different vendors to interoperate, they need to be based upon open standards and Internet Protocol (IP) first.

“Interoperability becomes a systems integrator play, which is extremely complicated.”

So the idea of an entire region with one common network… is not exactly a pipe dream, but rather a long and arduous journey, with a destination that is nowhere in sight, as long as there are different players in the ecosystem with different vested interests.

Anil said, “There are many reasons why (a common region-wide network) is not practical. More practical would be to have common digital (not legacy analogue) standards.

“That is probably the more practical way, the likely way. Then you can have an entire region that can work together.”


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