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Why we should dispel the negative image of smart cities – Information Age

Mikael Sandberg, chairman of VXFIBER, explains why we should think more positively about the benefits of smart cities.

Whether it’s stories about people being treated like ‘lab rats in a surveillance experiment’ or research claiming that up to 20 million global manufacturing jobs could be replaced by robots in the next ten years, it would seem that technology being designed to enhance our lives is receiving constant criticism and demonisation.


This should not be the case – connecting the unconnected beyond a country’s major cities – and ultimately future-proofing nations to keep up with the digital revolution is something that will bring untold positive economic and socio-economic impacts. And that’s what building smart cities and taking advantage of emerging technology such as AI, robotics and machine learning is all about.


We must dispel the negative image of a smart city causing damage and view technology as an enabler. It is crucial to the regeneration of communities in both urban and rural areas, and can accelerate community connectivity through offering social benefits – such as economic stability and the creation of new jobs – to citizens.


Education, for instance, is just one example to consider. Digital developments can bring about unprecedented improvements to education services. The facilitation of remote learning is one key area that would benefit hugely, with more resources and teaching support made available online for students that would not otherwise be able to travel to school or university every day.


Furthermore, technological developments would make the higher education experience both seamless and transitional. From navigating around a university campus, to receiving mobile updates on the latest activities and notifications on overdue library books, the latest in tech could really transform the entire education experience beyond the academic.


Not only that, digitising healthcare services can create new methods of patient monitoring and diagnosis. Just recently, we have seen that the NHS is setting up a national artificial intelligence laboratory to enhance patient care and help develop medical research. As UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock claimed, this will enable doctors to spend more time with their patients, leaving the advanced computer software to assist in medical imaging and carrying out diagnoses by spotting abnormal patterns from huge amounts of data – to potentially spotting signs of diseases such as cancer earlier on.  


By just taking these two key areas of society into account, it’s clear that tech can have a positive impact on the way in which we conduct our lives, to create a seamless, efficient and easier experience to navigate. It’s therefore important that businesses and tech companies help citizens to understand the implications of such an impact – and collaborate to build a society for this to work effectively.


However, in order to achieve this, it is vital that we have the right infrastructure in place to deliver this – by prioritising the roll-out of full fibre. Faster internet access, together with the accompanying significant increase in bandwidth capacity through full-fibre, is one of the main catalysts that will propel societies into the future, thus allowing the technological innovations such as 5G and IoT that are only being discussed – or are pipedreams at present – to become everyday life.


It is also important, when building smart cities, to work with local communities, councils and governments to preserve local identities to create a future that is beneficial for all. Barcelona is just one example where citizens have ‘digital sovereignty’, as its city government is applying existing technologies to solve issues such as pollution and affordable housing. Central to this is the online platform – Decidim – which enables citizens to vote on issues related to the digital identity of the city and putting them in charge of their own social policies.


In a similar way, as we have done in cities in Sweden and South Africa for almost 20 years, in the UK we are working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council to implement a citywide, open-access gigabit network.  This project signifies a milestone as part of the City Council’s drive to transform Stoke-on-Trent’s digital landscape. For the first time, residents and businesses across the city will have access to full-fibre gigabit-broadband services of up to 1,000mbps from our Service Provider partners. Unlike other fibre roll-out projects this in Stoke-on-Trent is not focussed on profit, but the mission to help individuals and businesses as a whole gain their digital freedom.  It does this by combining money and purpose to create value, a better environment and better relationship with the local community. The financial reward is the result of this approach, rather than the prime objective. 


By ensuring this sense of collaboration and community spirit is front of mind, we are much more likely to work more effectively to achieve a future where smart cities are the norm. If we put local citizens in the driving seat, people will not only be engaged, but also enthusiastic about how the changes will benefit them.


The smart city should therefore be viewed as the key to unlocking vital economic and social benefits. With tech such as 5G and IoT gaining traction, we need to be able to continue developing and spreading opportunity. A full-fibre network can provide the answer – it is crucial to enhancing economic, social, environmental and efficient long-term goals for consumers and businesses. This, surely, can paint the smart city in a much more positive light.

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