Viewpoint: Building 'smart' cities the smart way

Get the most effective use of smart technology through planning and coordination

By Eric Moore

Smart cities, using smart applications and services, are the inevitable future. Cities around the world have started to embrace the smart applications that increase operational efficiencies while improving the quality of life for residents and the economic environment for businesses.

Smart applications and services, broadly speaking, encompass technologies and devices that improve accuracy, reporting and/or efficiency. For example, Chicago police installed 2,000 surveillance cameras that could be adjusted and monitored remotely to oversee a section of the city. Those cameras provided an additional 2000 sets of eyes on patrol 24/7. By installing the cameras to extend surveillance coverage well beyond available manpower, crime in these areas declined between 12 to 33 percent.

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative expects to save $1 million a year once it has completed installation of 83,000 smart meters. Smart meters accurately monitor and report usage electronically without requiring a person read each meter. This eliminates meter reading errors. Further, once the smart meters are installed, the work forces, trucks and fuel that have been utilized to do the monthly meter reads can be shifted to other uses.

Parking sensors have been installed in multiple cities around the world. The sensors guide drivers to open parking spaces and send notifications to drivers when their meter time is going to expire, reducing traffic congestion and enforcement costs.

Transitioning to a smart city is similar to installing a new information network with a lot of advanced and different applications. There can be downtime, conflicts, installation bugs and learning curve delays, and all on a major scale. Potential problems could include anything from out-of-sync traffic lights to security system failures to power outages. However, there is a way to proceed that will greatly reduce, if not totally eliminate, the possible pitfalls.

First, city leaders need to understand the smart services that currently exist, and likely will exist in the next five to 10 years. That includes a high-level evaluation of the benefit versus cost of those services.

Next comes evaluation of existing infrastructure. Is the city connected by cable or fiber? What existing networks does the city have? What is the capacity of the data center that controls the city services? What is the available bandwidth?

All wireless devices and networks use radio frequencies (RF) to receive and send data. All the new smart services use radio frequencies, as well. RF engineers need to analyze the frequencies for strength, patterns, boundaries and range to design a roadmap that ensures the new applications and systems operate seamlessly together and with the older ones without downtime or service disruption.

Ordering equipment, permits, implementation and testing — all follow in sequence. Ideally, city leaders would engage a coordinator who understands all steps in the transition and can work with the IT, public works and other departments to implement the new technologies.

That kind of partnership between private industry and cities, with a well-planned process, is the smart way to build smart cities. Cities that make the transition to smart technologies the smart way can save millions of dollars.

Eric Moore, chief operating and technology officer for Sandy Springs, Ga.-based Axis Teknologies, has more than 20 years experience in wireless infrastructure. He can be reached at

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