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5G-Enabled Smart Cities: Mastering the Challenges of Urbanization

In this blog, I usually focus on the latest technological trends in the travel and logistics industries. This month’s post has a different flavor, showcasing a major topic in the public sector: the rise of smart cities and their implications for logistics in the wider sense. The backdrop to this development is the rapidly growing number of people now moving to towns and cities.

Growing urbanization poses many challenges – especially in terms of quality of life and sustainability. As citizen numbers rise, it becomes imperative to optimize the use of scarce urban space, reduce carbon emissions, and curb noise pollution. By harnessing geospatial data and making it available in real time, smart cities help master these challenges – optimizing traffic flows, enabling autonomous driving, and boosting sustainability, safety, and quality of life.

Cities Aren’t Just Getting Bigger, They’re Getting Smarter

Urbanization is gathering pace, with 60% of the global population expected to live in cities by 2050. As population centers grow, new technologies are being used to help improve citizens’ lives. The result is smart cities – urban environments that deploy Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and actuators to capture and leverage vast volumes of data to make peoples’ lives easier. The immense potential of cities of this kind is reflected in spending on associated technology. Back in 2016, this totaled USD 80 billion – and is expected to jump to USD 135 billion by 2021.

Geared to the Challenges of the Cities of Today and Tomorrow

Smart cities have come about in response to the challenges that accompany ever-expanding urban communities. As the number of citizens grows, so too does the risk of increased noise and air pollution. Another major issue is the lack of space in cities, which, combined with the increased number of vehicles, can fuel congestion and push road infrastructures to breaking point.

To master these challenges, some city authorities are now establishing high-tech infrastructures that can capture and share the data needed to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, optimize traffic flows while enabling fast, efficient delivery of goods to business and private individuals. All of this is happening alongside other initiatives designed to tap into the sustainability benefits of smart technologies– such as sensor-controlled street-lighting systems.

5G Connectivity: Promoting Livability and Sustainability

Besides IoT technologies, a key enabler of smart cities is 5G wireless broadband. (Readers of this blog may remember that we spotlighted this tech back in May.) With their ultra-low latency, rapid, high-volume data transfer, and capacity for connecting large numbers of smart (IoT) devices, 5G networks not only offer new business opportunities; they also support the autonomous vehicles of the future and the benefits these will bring.

In smart cities, 5G broadband enables machine-to-machine communications, allowing connected vehicles to “talk” to IoT-based urban infrastructures. This not only allows these vehicles to draw on the very latest road and traffic information. They can also tap into the data of other connected vehicles in real time.

More Efficient Routing Plus Greater Road Safety

With this technology in place, city authorities can deliver a host of benefits. The combinatorial effect of IoT and 5G optimizes traffic flows and greatly enhances road safety – thanks to near-instantaneous interaction between autonomous vehicles.

Information gathered from sensors spread across a smart city can be transferred to vehicles in next to no time, enabling them to be automatically rerouted or to avoid potential hazards as they arise, and nipping gridlocks in the bud. And this is no longer merely a pipe dream: Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication has already been piloted in the I-80 freight corridor in Wyoming.

Other attractive use cases include real-time information on parking availability, consolidation schemes combining logistics pickups and deliveries, and certification systems that designed to allow only low-noise delivery vehicles onto city streets during the hours of darkness.

Smart Cities: The Benefits at A Glance

The advantages are evident: By reducing urban traffic volumes, eliminating congestion, and increasing safety, smart urban solutions can boost citizens’ quality of life – making cities more pleasant and safer places to live. Plus, optimized route planning and vehicle deployment drives efficiency and lowers carbon emissions, making for a healthier environment and greater sustainability.

Collaboration is Key

While city authorities are obviously pivotal in setting up the necessary technical infrastructures, they are not the only smart city stakeholders. By working hand in hand with other players, such as retailers and logistics providers, public sector bodies can make sure that the data captured by their IoT-based infrastructures is put to the best possible use – reducing the number of vehicles, cutting emissions, and meeting customers’ expectations by ensuring timely deliveries to businesses and private individuals alike.

It’s Time to Act

With the advent of 5G, truly smart cities are just around the corner. So, it’s imperative that public sector actors start planning is now. If your city is not already examining ways of deploying IoT and 5G to meet the challenges or urbanization, now’s the time to start seeking expert advice and assistance. And if you already have a smart city strategy in place, you may want to consider reaching out to other stakeholders such as logistics providers and retailers so that you can reap maximum benefits – for your city’s businesses and citizens alike.

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