Smart Cities takes the back seat at MWC19 as 5G enters the centre stage
With Google searches related to 5G reaching an all-time high during last week’s edition of the Mobile World Congress, it was no surprise that the topic of smart cities found itself on a well-deserved hiatus from the centre stage of conversation during the event. Perhaps a well-needed break for business managers faced with the mounting challenge of figuring out the business case for ‘smart city’ solutions that companies today are struggling with. Talks about smart cities has in recent years been dominated by the topic of how people move throughout cities, having led to an overflow of urban mobility products and services branded as ‘smart city’ solutions. How to go beyond mobility and to dust off the question of how to truly monetize smart cities across multiple verticals has been an issue that is now becoming increasingly relevant. Mrinalini Ingram, VP of Smart Communities at Verizon, said during her speech at MWC that the time to scale smart cities is here and she also pointed out that the lack of necessary infrastructure and platforms has been the main reason hindering cities from doing so. The required building blocks are now increasingly available and waiting to be deployed.

Indeed, amidst the blur of 5G and AI-related announcements and demos, a number of smart city operations centre solutions were displayed by leading companies such as Huawei, Nokia and AT&T, while other MWC attendees such as Telensa – which also announced its partnership with Qualcomm for edge-computing during the event – showed that they are ready to serve as the fabric that connects thousands of smart city sensors and devices throughout cities using their smart street lighting network. Smaller vendors such as IoTsens, Airly and Ino-On were as well attending to showcase an array of sensors enabling applications such as waste and water management, air pollution sensing and infrastructure monitoring to name a few. Intel moreover announced its new and somewhat fuzzy ‘network in a box’ solution during the event, a smart city solution combining 5G network, multi-access edge-computing and the company’s Movidius AI accelerator into a single compact box of technology.

All well and good, but the question still remains how realistic and affordable these solutions are in the eyes of city managers who often need to operate with highly limited budgets. Challenging questions such as how to ensure privacy while increasing data sharing, who the owner of data should be, and how to organise public-private partnerships (PPPs) lingers on while smart city solutions and investments continue to mainly grow in silos. Adding to that is the fact that connectivity revenues are estimated to shrink down to as little as 5% of total IoT revenues while platforms, applications and services will constitute the remainder, as pointed out by Singtel CEO Chua Sock Koong during her key note. This will require businesses wishing to succeed in the smart city space to completely rethink the way they do business in the future.

Hope for the future was however provided by a couple of players within the area of urban mobility present at this year’s MWC. ERTICO for example, which spoke during the event, has made significant advancements in terms of PPPs, and the new Interdigital spin-off Chordant demonstrated how it is building on its successful oneTRANSPORT project in the UK to expand the innovate data marketplace to other smart city use cases. What the future smart city landscape will look like remains to be seen, but it will likely be a different one where new business models and collaborative eco-systems of technology and service providers will have to take the lead.

Stay tuned for upcoming research on smart cities from Berg Insight this year.

Levi Östling, Berg Insight


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