Nº 6 2015 > Smart sustainable cities

Infrastructure for new smart sustainable cities

By David Faulkner, Director, Climate Associates Ltd

Masdar City — A smart city in the United Arab Emirates
Masdar City — A smart city in the United Arab Emirates

In some countries, rapid growth in industrialization is causing populations to migrate from rural to urban environments, seeking higher paid employment. This trend started some years ago, and is expected to continue until at least 2050. While this situation exacerbates problems in many urban areas, it also provides opportunities for city planners to design new cities or districts starting from a clean sheet of paper.

Until now, city infrastructure, and the incorporation of information and communication technologies (ICTs), has evolved in a piecemeal fashion, to meet the needs of “organic growth” as villages have grown into towns, and then developed into cities, fed by ever-increasing populations. Each new building or group of buildings has been planned and built at different times.

New city planning

When city planners are embarking upon a new city design project, the following question is raised: “How should ICT infrastructure be planned for a new city, given that it has to be both ’smart’ and ’sustainable’?”.

“A smart sustainable city” is an innovative city that uses ICTs and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.

To begin with, a unique opportunity arises, when designing a new city, for the ICT infrastructure to be planned holistically, and a comprehensive set of technical requirements drawn up providing for growth and upgradability. Once planned, relevant specifications can be written, drawing upon the wealth of existing ICT specifications and standards.

This approach assumes that the city or district is to be built with no existing structures above or below ground. This could save additional costs of retrofitting services, such as a sensor layer network and peripheral devices, which may be directly connected to the Internet, or more specifically, to the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors may be connected directly to a source of power such as an electricity cable or metallic pair. Sensors requiring high bandwidth could be connected by optical fibre and stand-alone sensors, using wireless communication, which would need long-life batteries to provide power.

The importance of infrastructure sharing

Building and maintaining telecommunications and sensor layer networks is expensive, especially when installed piecemeal on a reactive basis to meet emerging demand. To reduce costs, infrastructure sharing could be a viable solution. As a starting point, the infrastructure could focus on a central location, such as the main railway station or city centre, or based in city districts where high-capacity services are distributed towards the periphery of the city. Shared infrastructure can save significant costs, especially when provision is made for maintenance, upgrade and growth over the lifecycle.

The primary concern for all types of installation is safety. For example, if a utility tunnel is planned to include a public railway or gas supply there may be a need to provide reinforced concrete barriers to provide protection against accidents or gas leakage.

Utility tunnel

Source: Nilesh Puery, Presentation on “Gujarat International Finance Tec-City” made at the ITU Training Event “Leveraging ICTs for Smart Sustainable Cities for Asia-Pacific Region”, New Delhi, India, 24–26 March, 2015).

Opportunities for infrastructure sharing occur when several services need to be provided along a common path to buildings or other locations, such as where sensors or actuators are to be located. Examples include urban corridors with direct trenching, utility tunnels and utility shafts within buildings.

When facilities are shared between ICTs and other utilities, ICTs can be used to support the utilities at a lower cost than using separate infrastructures. Sensors can facilitate better monitoring and control and give advance warning of failure or blockages. Possible examples include flood or fire detection sensors in utility ducts, temperature sensors in electric cables, gas leakage detectors, traffic flow monitoring, street lighting control and water utility monitoring and control.

Opportunities for infrastructure sharing at street level include wireless mast sharing, such as the installation of small base stations on street lampposts to improve broadband speeds and coverage. To obtain maximum benefit, the interconnection of street-level devices needs to be planned along with underground ducts. For example, optical cables could interconnect with wireless base stations on lampposts. Such cables can be fully dielectric to avoid the need for lightning protection required for metallic cables.

Opportunities for infrastructure sharing in the software domain may also represent a cost-saving advantage at the service layer. Each service requires termination onto a server, data storage or smart processor, as well as connection to devices including personal devices, sensors and controllers. In many cases, these can run on a common application platform. Most existing cities have a multiplicity of platforms to support a range of services, and expertise for managing them resides in separate organizational departments, or “silos”.

In contrast, when building a new smart sustainable city from scratch, planners have the option to select a service which can handle the bulk of the software functions required by application developers on a single platform. A wide range of applications are envisaged for a smart sustainable city ranging from e‑health to e‑transport. For example, an “open-data” approach to transport can greatly extend the opportunities for improved efficiency. Application developers can ensure that real-time information is available for citizens and for visitors who may be using a range of different transport types.

All the information concerning available service facilities can then be collected and converged onto a holistic platform, such as a city-level integrated management system. With integrated management, the sensors and sensing networks can function in an organized way to detect various infrastructure events or incidents, such as emergencies that can be rapidly detected and assessed. This may be followed by analysis and dissemination of information across the concerned agencies, helping achieve the goal of making cities smarter, and more sustainable.


Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

In this issue
No.6 November | December 2015

Pathway for smart sustainable cities:

A guide for city leaders

Pathway for smart sustainable cities|1

Meeting with the Secretary-General:

Official Visits

Meeting with the Secretary-General|1
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Boosting “SMEs” for ICT growth

What can governments do better?

A guide for city leaders

By Silvia Guzmán, Chairman, ITU Focus Group for Smart Sustainable Cities