| 7.7°C Dublin

Laying strong foundations for smart cities now will help Ireland maximise its digital potential


Digital pioneer: Dublin’s Docklands area is an early adopter of smart city technology

Digital pioneer: Dublin’s Docklands area is an early adopter of smart city technology

Digital pioneer: Dublin’s Docklands area is an early adopter of smart city technology

Did you know that many parts of Dublin are now home to self-compacting bins that send an email when they are full and need to be emptied?

Or that Galway has been at the forefront of using intelligent transport solutions to manage transport systems and infrastructure - including implementing smart street lighting and a smart parking system for Galway city?

A number of major traffic light systems in Dublin city now trigger automatic engineer dispatches when they suffer faults. Other cities such as Limerick and Belfast have also been engaging with tech providers and the public to lay the digital foundations to become truly smart cities.

While it is true to say we live in an increasingly connected world, the pace of change continues to astonish.

For businesses and consumers alike, connectivity has moved from being a nice-to-have to sitting at the heart of our daily lives; if we're not using virtual assistants to organise our work day, then we're consulting our fitness trackers, monitoring everything from our heart rate to our step count.

Smart cities represent the next stage in that evolution, utilising the latest technologies to provide improved and more efficient services in areas like energy, transport and resource consumption. All of which should not only aid economic development, but also improve the quality of life for urban communities.

Take transport as just one example. The rise of big data, connected sensors and mobile payments will facilitate the rise of car-sharing services, autonomous driving, smart parking solutions, and greater on-board safety in both cars and public transport. This not only means increased mobility for commuters looking to move around the city, but also less time wasted due to congestion, and consequently reduced carbon emissions.

At home, the momentum behind smart cities can most clearly be seen in the All-Ireland Smart Cities Forum, or regional initiatives such as Smart Dublin, which is aiming to engage smart technology providers, researchers and citizens to improve city life and develop new urban solutions. Some of the smart city technologies being promoted by these groups will already be familiar to many.

All of these technologies promise a better quality of life for those using them. But if we are to reap the rewards of advances in technology and connectivity, joined-up thinking will be needed to ensure there is proper planning on a city-wide and national scale. Previous boom-and-bust cycles have demonstrated only too well that a lack of long-term planning will see expensive and fruitless work undertaken in the wrong areas, at the wrong price, or with the wrong goals in mind.

Right now, many local authorities are including a condition in planning permissions that requires developers of both commercial and residential properties to install carrier-neutral/open-access ducting for fibre optic.

Not only does this ensure occupiers have access to all current services available, but it future-proofs premises for potential tech developments rapidly coming down the line.

Ireland's most recent boom demonstrated how over-investment in one district can come at the expense of others and see them fall further behind. If the benefits of smart cities are to be experienced and available throughout Ireland, then investment in smart technology enablers must be widespread.

Fibre is rightly considered the backbone of these smart city technologies, and while construction work will be required to deepen fibre penetration beneath a city's roads, it is the planning conditions that will determine the success or failure of these projects. Future deployments of such work should be undertaken in conjunction with plans for improving the flow of people around the city and be fully integrated with other smart city infrastructure.

For that reason, an incremental approach may be best - developing 'smart districts' before these ultimately link up to form Ireland's smart cities.

The Dublin Docklands is already serving as the country's test area for smart city infrastructure, partnering with global tech companies, innovators and entrepreneurs to develop new connectivity options. As network infrastructure continues to be rolled out around the country, other areas will have the opportunity to follow suit.

The appetite for connectivity among consumers and businesses is higher than ever, and will only increase as smart devices - and the technology that underpins them - become more prevalent. 4G LTE and the emergence of 5G will accelerate new connected services.

The latter technology will require a considerable number of fibre-connected endpoints due to high capacity requirements and the use of higher frequencies, driving a densification of small cell infrastructure. While this will connect more people and applications, new considerations around data privacy and security emerge. Traditional security measures are not going to be sufficient to cater for the complexity and scale of interactions between people and things. The more complicated and valuable the applications, the greater the dangers of deploying them before we are ready to address all of these concerns comprehensively.

Concerns around security and data rights will need to be addressed if smart cities are to be a success, as communities look to address the privacy issues arising from the amount of data generated by IoT, street cameras, traffic sensors and beacons.

Getting the balance right between respecting privacy and delivering connectivity will be key to unlocking smart cities' potential, but this needs to be front-of-mind even at this early stage. In the story of smart cities, we're still only writing the table of contents.

John Gilvarry is chief technology officer of Enet

Most Watched