Smart cities, in their various incarnations, are already beginning to happen. But existing 4G, 3G, and wireless networks can only do so much. The current limits on the number of connections these networks can support, as well as their data carrying capacity and their data speed. For the idea of the smart city to reach its true potential, the essential element is 5G.
A smart city's data usage could include traffic monitoring, utilities management, and even V2X ("vehicle-to-everything") connectivity for autonomous vehicles. The long-promised “self-driving car” can hardly amount to much more than a toy without a smart network amalgamating it with the traffic control system, telling it when to stop and go without the need for human intervention.
5G's speed and low latency could ease some of the immense strain produced by the resulting data-hungry system. Marie Ma, Combra Telecom’s Senior Director of Technical Marketing Solutions and General Manager of Enterprise Business, described this concept in an interview with Techwire Asia as hyperconnectivity—the huge number of data points simultaneously passing huge data streams across the length and breadth of the covered area.
But you don’t have to wait for 5G and it’s OK to start small. You don’t even have to call it a smart city. Digital empires can be built piece by piece.
Here are three examples of 5G smart cities in the making right now.
Citywide Digitalization in Australia
Taking advantage of earlier digital network infrastructure put in place to support the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the city of Gold Coast, Australia is building an IoT network covering greater than 500 square miles, along with a supporting fiber-optic broadband system.
The Gold Coast, Australia. Image used courtesy of Sandid.
In August, Australian telecom company Telstra announced that it "switched on" 5G for the Gold Coast area. As reported in ZDNet, early goals for the system include digital monitoring of water metering and waste management. The IoT system will not be limited to government use, but made available to all and to spur connectivity across the board.
As of March, Telstra had been sending 5G vehicles into the area: "We are also using mmWave spectrum and our 5G Gold Coast Innovation Centre to put a connected car on the road with the Intel 5G Automotive Trial Platform, one of the most advanced 5G prototype devices available in the world today."
A Telstra 5G vehicle. Image used courtesy of Telstra
The cars are equipped with Intel's 5G Mobile Trial Platform, which aims to combine Intel processors, antenna and RF components, and several FPGAs to develop mobile, scalable, and system-level 5G technologies.
5G Service for Africa
Vodacom is applying an interesting twist in the tiny nation of Lesotho in Africa. 5G here will be implemented at a frequency band centering on 3.5GHz as opposed to frequencies about ten times as great that power conventional 5G. Bandwidth will be lower, but the longer wavelengths will do a better job of penetrating into buildings.
This is central to the plan here, which is to replace outdated broadband modem services with a “fixed 5G” service for two large customers. Supporting rapid-fire mobile communications and wide area IoT is not yet in the offing here.
The important point is that while the service is only expected to offer download speeds of 700 Mbps with 10-millisecond latency, Vodacom is sticking to “standards-based 5G.” This is important because it insures that the system won’t bog down into a non-standard, obsolete white elephant as time goes on, but it will rather be poised to grow along with evolving 5G technology.
Just today, Vodacom announced the official release of their Lesotho 5G commercial service with a 5G-powered drone demonstration:
Moscow's Ambitious Plans for 5G
In May, Moscow officials signed documentation stating their intention to develop telecommunications infrastructure through projects such as AR/VR and further development of the IoT. Among their priorities were both "smart city technology" and 5G.
According to the official website of Moscow's mayor, "The document was signed in accord with the provisions of the Russian Federation’s Digital Economy State Programme, which provides for creating pilot 5G networks before the third quarter of 2019 and the commercial launch of these networks before 2022."
Moscow’s efforts will center on healthcare, transport, construction and housing utilities. The city has a head start because of the enormous wealth of digital infrastructure built for the recent Moscow World Cup.
The city plans to begin testing specific 5G elements in 2019. A first 5G effort for the evolving system will be to enable the quick transfer of gigantic ultrasound diagnostic files between different points of the medical establishments.
These examples illustrate that smart cities can be built from the ground up. Or, a smart city can come up from a very humble just-barely-5G beginning. It can even evolve out of an older gigantic system originally built to host a sporting event as it has in Moscow.
The future of smart cities may look different in five to 10 years. As each of these example areas grow and change, the challenges of hyperconnectivity may require more than even 5G can offer.