The Internet of Systems: Getting Smart about Cities


The world needs its cities to grow out of the industrial age and into the new Industrial Revolution: the IoT.

All around the globe, forward-looking municipalities are looking to the Internet of Things to save money, ease congestion and improve quality of life for the ever-increasing population. But it’s not about getting the “Things” in place, not really. It’s about creating the “Systems of Things” that are going to generate the mass of interconnected data sets that will lead to statistical determinations of efficiencies and make possible the predictive analysis and controls. And that’s the ball game.

A recent Gartner report said that in 2016 smart cities will use 1.6 billion connected devices, which is a 39 percent increase over 2015. That represents deployments across Healthcare, Public Services, Smart Commercial Buildings, Smart Homes, Transportation, Utilities and other categories. All of these will need to be intertwined in connectivity loops, contributing to data warehouses in the cloud that can deliver actionable intelligence to city planners, zoning boards, administrators and residents. A Smart System of Things.

Daniel Raskin, SVP of product at IoT identity management firm ForgeRock, told us that security is the secret to making these numbers happen. And he’s not wrong about security and privacy being critical to success, but the deployments are happening with security in its current state.

“Governments looking to add connected devices to their smart cities must make sure they have in place an identity platform that can secure access to the broad array of new devices getting deployed,” Raskin said. “A modern identity platform today must secure the device, understand context and promote privacy.”

ForgeRock is working with San Francisco on such an identity platform right now. San Francisco is giving each device within its smart city ecosystem a virtual ID, or credential that will only allow data exchanges to occur when the ID card is accurate and the identity of the device or user behind the credential is verified.

In London, Mayor (until recently) Boris Johnson had for years been leading the charge to implement Smart City technology in his city. The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) and Hypercat, which are leading the push toward resolving the city’s epic-level congestion problems, have published an interim Smart Strategy report for Old Oak and Park Royal, the UK’s largest urban redevelopment.

“The collaboration with Hypercat has helped us to tap into the expertise of a huge number of smart city experts in a very short space of time. I’m keen that the OPDC can quickly build upon the interim Smart Strategy so we can embed technology, innovation and smart approaches into everything we do to plan, design, build, and finance the UK’s largest regeneration project,” said Victoria Hills, CEO, OPDC. “A Smart approach at Old Oak and Park Royal will not only further bolster London’s competitive position in the global economy. It also makes economic sense to embed and foster innovation that leads with delivery around growth hubs such as HS2 stations.”

This is a major first step in one of the biggest and most important cities in the world, but it’s only a first step, and we look forward to seeing where London will go.

American cities, like San Francisco, are getting smarter about implementing IoT technology, although the American landscape has been lagging behind other global IoT markets in implementation of Smart Cities. Dallas, Texas has announced that it will partner with Ingenu, a connectivity deployment company, to roll out the company’s Machine Network in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The network is powered by the Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) communication technology.

“The Dallas/Fort Worth metro area is leading the country in technology innovation, and we are excited to have Ingenu’s powerful network enabling IoT connectivity in our community,” said William Finch, CIO, City of Dallas. “The Internet of Things is an important technology strategy for the region, and the Machine Network will accelerate the deployment and adoption of limitless IoT solutions.”

Application development for the Machine Network is already underway with partners like Dallas-based Plasma, an enterprise digital transformation and IoT company.

“The greater Dallas/Fort Worth area is one of the most machine-dense areas in the country,” said John Horn, CEO of Ingenu. “Because of its strong ties to the IoT-rich technology, oil and gas, and transportation industries, Dallas/Fort Worth is a natural fit to turn on the first segment of the Machine Network as we continue the build out across the country.”

Missouri’s Kansas City SmartPort freight-based economic development organization is looking to revolutionize how the city handles Supply Chain and connected transportation in one of the busiest ports in the U.S. The group recently hosted Microsoft’s head of supply chain management at its annual industry briefing to talk about how technology is changing the way companies produce and distribute products around the world. 

“When you talk about logistics and the technology revolution going on, logistics is the new manufacturing,” said Mark Heinrich, GM, Strategic Sourcing and Supply Chain Management, Microsoft. “This is especially true in Kansas City where you can reach nearly the entire U.S. population within 48 hours by truck. The thing that is amazing to see is how this is changing the face of the workforce in Kansas City.”

Connected Transportation is the roadway into Smart city deployment (if you’ll pardon the pun) for many regions, and almost no one is doing it better Kansas City.

“The KC region is recognized nationally for innovative approaches to community planning and development. Our region will receive significant Federal funding to implement Smart Transportation in partnership with Google, and Cisco has picked KC to be one of the world’s first Smart Cities,” said Chris Gutierrez, president, KC SmartPort. “We are proud to carry that innovative thinking into discussions around making our regional supply chain companies more successful in today’s global marketplace.”

The potential problem is that these deployments are putting single-application tactics in place where strategy must be used for long-term planning. Verizon recently released its annual State of the Industry report for IoT, and that report said that the 2016 will be a year of growth and positive impact, Smart Cities included.

The report talks about how Verizon Telematics is expanding its capabilities for the automotive OEM market with the roll out of a new LTE solution, designed to facilitate global expansion for automakers and make cars safer with over-the-air vehicle updates and other features. Also supporting Smart City development, Verizon has partnered with, a connected residential property solution, to encourage Smart Building implementation using the company’s ThingSpace platform to create a sensor network covering the fitness center and laundry room facilities in a luxury apartment building in Manhattan, allowing residents to check real-time availability of treadmills, stair masters, washing machines, and other communal equipment.

As each city seeks to address its most pressing needs, or move toward the implementation that has the most potential for success, the leaders need to start working together with each other to share knowledge and intelligence about these projects so the successful ones can be replicated and the failures won’t be.

The city of Santa Cruz, California has announced a project to bring gigabit internet speeds to local residential, business and community sites in the city by using hybrid fiber-wireless technologies. The plan is to marry existing fiber connected to provider Siklu’s fiber-like wireless radios with connectivity provided by Cruzio in order to provide wireless gigabit service to Santa Cruz residents in just under 3 months.

Santa Cruz is a member of Next Century Cities, which has been advocating for such partnerships to boost broadband in cities throughout the country. Groups like Next Century, which advocates for high speed internet connectivity across municipal airways, are going to be critically important in the communication process between cities over the next 50 years.

The stakes here could not be higher. On the day I’m writing this, almost 300,000 people were born, globally. Only 125,000 died. We are expected to be here with more than 8 Billion people by 2024, and, according to the World Health Organization, the urban population in 2014 was more than half of all people for the first time in human history, and it’s only going up. What’s more, the growth in absolute numbers is concentrated in developing regions. By next year, the WHO predicts, and even sooner in less developed areas, a majority of people will be living in urban areas everywhere in the world.

That means that the infrastructure in the aging cities of the developed world is in real danger of collapse, and woefully insufficient in newer, developing cities. The only viable solution lies in the technology of the IoT, and a coordinated System of Internets of Things.

Now is the time to work together to build the use cases. We need to learn the lessons that will provide the best practice guidebooks for implantation of Smart Infrastructure all over the world before a crisis of resources becomes an unassailable boondoggle, with municipalities raving uphill, begging for governments to throw more money at problems that need better efficiency, not blind spending.

We can bring about a utopia, or, through inaction, a tragedy of overpopulation that will make you long for your morning commute while you wonder what happened.

Do it. Take the lead. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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Editorial Director

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