From smart city to smart world

City image with a world map as the background

From smart city to smart world

The smart city concept is no longer the stuff of sci-fi. Technologists are connecting the virtual world to the physical, delivering real-time services that adapt to real-time situations. So what, you may be thinking. This is old news in the IT industry.

What’s new is how this will impact on society’s understanding, and its usage, of data. Because until relatively recently, if you asked a member of the public to describe a smart city, they’d probably have mentioned things like smart traffic lights. Managing traffic flow by adjusting how often they go from red to green. Or smart buildings, automatically adjusting temperatures based on the weather.

Of course, these are all valid examples. But smart technology’s true potential is yet to reach critical mass in the public’s consciousness. Yes, the early adopters are using it. But not the early majority. The Internet of Things (IoT) will change all that. And not just for the public. Also for the data centre industry…

Smart world

In the UK, Milton Keynes council has a trial contract with BT. The vision is to use smart technology to connect residents to council services. For example, connecting drivers’ sat-navs to available parking spaces, installing IoT sensors into rubbish bins that alert refuse collectors when a bin is full, even tracking lost pets.

“If you know where something is or what its status is you can resource your engineers to go and fix it, empty it, make less journeys,” explains BT Project Director Alan Ward.

This is just a pilot for now. But what happens if this is rolled out across the country? Will the data networks and infrastructure be in place to cope?

This isn’t just a question for the UK.

In India, the government has approved plans to create 100 smart cities and rejuvenate 500 towns and cities. The Prime Minister declared an aim to build cities “based on the availability of optical fibre networks and next-generation infrastructure”. Narendra Modi symbolically compared this strategy with how cities of the past were built – on riverbanks for water, and then highways for transport.

In China, the EU Investment Plan places the IoT at the centre of plans to accelerate innovation. China Mobile has agreed an initiative with Deutsche Telekom to work on a “connected cars initiative”. At CeBIT 2015, Xiaomi’s founder spoke of his plans for the Chinese smartphone maker “to become the biggest provider of Internet-connected devices, allowing users to remotely control every appliance with a Xiaomi developed app on their smartphone.”

Catch 22?

By 2022, a typical family home could contain more than 500 smart devices. When you consider that India’s population is nudging 1.3 billion and China’s population is past 1.4 billion, that’s a lot of smart connections. And a lot of data – an estimated 44 zettabytes by 2020.

Alongside industry, governments are clearly embracing the IoT’s potential with exciting and forward-thinking plans. But they rely on data centres which can cope with the increased demand. So what’s the answer? Acquiring bigger data centres?

That approach may work in today’s economy. But what about the future?

Researchers are testing out 3D printing as an alternative (and cheaper) option for manufacturing fibre optic. Which is great timing, because scientists have recently discovered a record-breaking way to send data further via fibre optic.

These types of advances mean that by 2020, the world of data and infrastructure will be a very different place. That means looking at a journey. With options such as software-defined networking, colocation, and building digital ecosystems. For better, faster and more secure interconnections.

Because to progress, a smart world needs smart solutions.