What are the technological challenges facing the smarter city?
The smart city uses information and communication technology to improve urban infrastructure and enhance services for local authorities and their citizens. With its highly collaborative nature, the smart city offers facilities that have virtual capabilities to meet the needs of local inhabitants and reduce environmental impact. Data collection, analysis and treatment are all central to the smart city. The stakes are high. In France, every stakeholder has their own set of demands. Emerging 5G networks will play a key role and offer significant developments, particularly in terms of the zero-carbon transition which ENGIE Group is so committed to. Christophe Poulain, Business Developer in Wireless Solutions at ENGIE Ineo, analyses the challenges facing the smart city and the major technological issues to come.
Explanations with Christophe Poulain, Business Developer in Wireless Solutions at ENGIE Ineo
What is your assessment of the smart city?
Today, with communicating technology and networks, smart cities have everything they need to exist: low-energy public lighting, smart parking solutions, urban security systems, hypervision platforms, etc. The most innovative technology is available to local authorities that have realised the benefits it offers their citizens (attractiveness, well-being, etc.) and its genuine added value in decision-making (urban security, maintenance, etc.). To meet rising urbanisation and protect the environment, all issues managed by a city must be governed in an optimum manner, with the help of data reporting. This is one of the strategic challenges of the transition to a zero-carbon world, ENGIE Group’s leading ambition. Every town, whether it is a large urban area or part of a rural district, is affected and they are all gradually committing to the idea of the city of the future. The smart city has a great future ahead of it and is perfectly consistent with the sustainable city we all want to live in.
Today, exactly what areas are covered by the “smart city” concept?
The smart city covers several areas: energy management (electricity, gas, renewables, etc.); water and waste management; connectivity available throughout the city; the indoor, i.e. the smart building (extremely smart constructions that consume far less energy); smart and soft mobility for greener transport that is better suited to users’ needs (electric charging stations for cars and buses, smart parking solutions, passenger information, etc.) and, of course, smart governance using the communication networks of authorities such as the state, the police, the fire brigade (safeguarding calls), etc.
What are the levers that will drive the implementation of these smart cities?
The principal levers are data collection, storage and analysis, which are all vital elements in smart city management. For the areas I mentioned in my previous answer, the Internet of Things, consistently more efficient sensors and smart networks all enhance data reporting to enable local authorities to offer more sustainable and more effective services. And we mustn’t forget to include rural districts because, by developing “smart villages”, there can be a better spread of people across the whole country and everyone can benefit from a better quality of life. So, we must hope for two things: on the one hand, that networks of the future have not just one but several “cores”, and on the other, that they do not increase the digital divide but rather reduce it. And this is totally conceivable!
Yet France must continue to move forward to lift certain obstacles surrounding the culture and governance of data. The understandable anxiety surrounding the question of how public decision makers are finding new ways of using data may be hindering our progress compared with other players on the international stage. Data strategy and management, and the implementation of open data, are challenges we must tackle and overcome to make a significant leap forward towards greater sustainability and efficient development of smart cities.
Will 5G bring us a new world?
Imagine an Ultra High Speed network that is at least twenty times faster than 4G, with ten times lower latency, and that can connect up to one million devices per square km: these are just some of 5G’s promises!
Once it is fully operational, 5G’s phenomenal speed and connectivity capacity in terms of the IoT (Internet of Things, i.e. devices with the ability to transfer data over networks using sensors) will make it a revolutionary driver of the smart city and industrial world. By freeing up the circulation of information, 5G technology overcomes an obstacle. With its wide bandwidth and very low latency, 5G expands the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality and of the connectivity of tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles. It will also speed up existing technological tools already used in and for the smart city. 5G’s small cells will consume far less energy than existing amplifiers. It will also totally change the face of telecoms because 5G’s largely virtualised architecture will offer greater network flexibility and more effective customisation through network slicing.
How is ENGIE Ineo anticipating this technological revolution?
We have practical experience in this field because we design data-based technology. Our aim is to offer a wide range of turnkey expertise “as a service”, to inspire a more sustainable city. So, by focusing on listening, co-construction, continuous improvement and innovation, ENGIE Ineo has, for example, created “connected Cities and Regions laboratories” with the aim of offering local authorities greater added value. In Ile-de-France and Provence, we have built miniature cities to present all our smart city services. Our experts have also designed Livin’, a unique hypervision platform to centralise data (which has already been launched in France and abroad). It helps local councillors, decision makers and city officers responsible for different services to manage their city better by providing a wide range of immediately accessible data (for example, simultaneous management of car parks, display panels and traffic lights reduces time spent looking for free spaces and enables the creation of “green wave” lanes leading to them, thereby improving traffic flow). Thanks to cutting-edge technological tools, data collection and analysis are opening up important positive prospects. When it comes to mobile connectivity, the solutions offered by our subsidiary Icomera, which has enabled us to become the world’s leading high-speed WiFi provider for public transport, provide another concrete example.
To extend and diversify our expertise in multi-technology connectivity solutions, we recently took a stake in the French fibre optic operator Netalis, which provides high and very high speed Internet to SOHOs and SMEs. The partnership opens up new prospects for ENGIE Ineo to provide even better support to connected cities and regions.
Research and innovation are always at the heart of our commitments. We are meeting the digital transition head on and are ready for a 5G world!