By Vino Govender
Across Africa, rural populations continue to migrate into the cities, seeking out work, education, and better lives. It’s a steady influx of individuals that puts increasing pressure on ageing infrastructure and creaking systems that already battle with the weight of a growing population. Already, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with that number expected to reach 80% by 2050. City leaders, public sector authorities, and private entities are rapidly realizing the value of investing in infrastructure and applications that will improve the capabilities of cities and leverage existing technologies to build intelligent networks and solutions. The era of the smart city has begun, and connectivity is essential to its success.
Smart cities are intelligent and connected ecosystems that collate and analyse vast quantities of data spun out by a complex network of sensors, devices, systems, software, and platforms. They streamline services from waste disposal and power to traffic, road maintenance, and ambulances, improving quality of life for residents and focusing on a more sustainable future. It’s not a trend – a recent study conducted by Grand View Research revealed a global smart-city market that’s growing at a phenomenal rate, with an anticipated value of US$237.6 billion by 2025. This is not alone statistical voice, either. Frost & Sullivan’s smart-city report expects the smart-city market to exceed US$2 trillion by 2025. Already solutions such as deep farming – underground farms that produce more food than farms above ground – and smart lampposts, smart parking, smart meters, and street sensors have been put in place to address the challenges that face urban environments and their burgeoning populations.
The technology is capable, the sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) are increasingly cost effective, and the long-term potential is undeniable. But one element underpins the success of any smart city or application: low-latency, reliable connectivity. The truth is that most governments and municipalities do not have the budgets to invest in flashy, science-fiction-style smart-city solutions. The solutions that will transform services and cities, in reality, are those that upgrade, leverage, and enhance existing infrastructure. Fibre has already been implemented in most city spaces and offers a reliable, low-latency and scalable foundation from which to springboard sustainable smart-city solutions.
The reason why connectivity, particularly low-latency connectivity, is critical to the success of the smart city is that it’s the glue that holds the data, communication, IoT, networks, and systems together. If the smart city is compared to human physiology, connectivity is the blood and the veins. It’s connectivity that ensures the vast volumes of data are collected from the endpoints across the city, that ensures seamless flow of data to relevant systems for data analysis and interpretation, and that allows for applications to leverage the data collected and analysed.
Connectivity works in parallel with IT, IoT, and geographical information systems (GIS) to collect and collate the data and to use this data in ways that allow for the smart city to consistently evolve and improve. It supports the use of IT frameworks – the machines and the sensors that comprise both the tech and the IoT networks – to ensure that data is transmitted in real time to relevant endpoints and services. Fibre, 5G, and edge computing will provide the low-latency, always-on, and reliable communication and data capability required to ensure the seamless management of the city and its services. This layer of connectivity must be solid, especially as connected vehicles and transport systems increasingly rely on these connections to function reliably and safely.
The Grandview Research report also found that ‘communication infrastructure and web-based services are anticipated to play a major role in the industry’s stride toward global adoption.’ This places fibre at the heart of the services, infrastructure, data and sensors that define the smart city. Fibre needs to become even more pervasive than it is today to realize its potential within the growing smart-city market but it remains the most capable of providing the speed, latency, and reliability that’s needed to build truly intelligent ecosystems. Fat, fast fibre is the key that unlocks the door to the smart African city and reshapes how citizens and government engage with a more sustainable and economically capable future.
(Vino Govender is the Executive for Strategy, Mergers and Acquisition at DFA, an open-access fibre infrastructure and connectivity provider in South Africa).