Who Leads a Smart City Initiative?

The conversation about smart city technology and infrastructure is rapidly expanding and always evolving. In a previous blog we explored “What is a Smart City” and found that the definition isn’t as clear cut as one might think. Beyond the new and shiny technologies, there are very important conversations to be had about appropriate infrastructure and governance. Who should be in a leadership position to effectively Smart City Initiativeenact smart city initiatives? Who should try to bring new technology and make it more accessible and integrated into daily life? Currently there is no apparent leader or business strategy in place to make that work effectively. As we prepare for Gigabit City Summit, we are exploring the different options. While this has likely left us with more questions than answers, we constantly find ourselves coming back to, “Who leads a smart city initiative?”

BHC RHODES - Smart City Initiative

Current Smart City Applications

Smart City and IoT applications are being innovated daily as the race continues to simplify processes and life in general. But who provides the upfront investment? In a traditional wired and wireless model the carrier makes the investment to create the network and the user leases access to that network through their monthly premium. However, smart city investments don’t fit that traditional mold. When the benefit of the investment goes towards public safety, traffic efficacy and other services from which the public benefits, it calls into question who should reap whatever revenue stream that comes from that investment?

These technologies impact every facet of our business segments in new and exciting ways. Some examples include:

Public Works

From the public works perspective, these developments are changing life as we know it. Technology now exists to improve:

Development & Surveying

With coming changes to transportation it is necessary to start innovating smart sites through development and surveying. This includes parking optimization, adequate wireless access, enhanced consumer experiences including shopping apps and shared drop off to accomodate vehicle autonomy in commercial development.

Utilities & Telecom

Utilities, telecom and wireless really serve as the backbone of the entire operation because they provide the services necessary for it all to work. Fiber must be an integral part of the mix because it provides backhaul necessary to transmit the data quickly to make the whole process effective.

Exploring the Smart City Initiative Players

From an economic development perspective, communities that adapt will likely be the ones that progress. This brings us back to the consideration of who ultimately needs to take the lead. Without a strong economic and financial business plan in place, there is a missing link in the evolution of smart city development. With that in mind there are a variety of options to explore. Possible facilitators include municipalities, utility providers or carriers.

A smart city initiative with a municipality as lead means that the public sector would rely on city governance to oversee the implementation of these new technologies. This would give cities the ability to leverage infrastructure assets. This has the potential to be beneficial because they have direct interest in the well-being of the community, control of the right-of-way and the interest of their constituents. However, this would require significantly more resources to be completed effectively.

A smart city initiative with a utility provider as the lead would rely on the owner of that utility, be it fiber, power, etc. to oversee the implementation. They are at an advantage because they have the structure, power and often fiber in place to bring this new technology to people. However, they can be protective of the use and integrity of their utility and not always in sync with communities. A good example of utility as lead is Huntsville Utilities in Huntsville, AL.

A smart city initiative with carriers as the lead would rely on the products and services that they provide as a guide for the city. They would then oversee the implementation of these new technologies. Major carriers have proposed interesting smart city programs and have shown their ability to provide services. Examples of these types of companies include telecommunication providers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.

More Questions than Answers

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when thinking about the development of a smart city. Beyond the technology its critical to understand what financial model is best. Beyond that who is the buyer and who should profit? To learn more about the specific governing options make sure to attend Gigabit City Summit August 1-3. BHC RHODES’ President Kevin Honomichl will be leading a discussion on this very topic and Project Manager Amy Zents will be on a panel about wired and wireless technology.