The hype surrounding greener technologies has expanded to include the development of the Smart Grid. Utilities throughout the U.S. are working toward the more efficient use of energy, while also empowering subscribers to play a role in deciding on their energy spend. Coupled with these efforts is the move toward not just smart homes but smart cities. As pointed out in a previous article on this subject, surprisingly while telecommunications will/must play a strategic role in any smart city project, communications service providers do not appear to currently play a primary role in their development.
It is useful to return to a recent Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) posting which examined this phenomenon, "Getting Smart About Smart Cities - Executive Summary, Getting Smart About Smart Cities – Abstract, Getting Smart About Smart Cities - Market Analysis." The point is concise and well taken and documented, as much as smart cities can create significant business opportunities for service providers (SPs) their lack of a significant role early in the planning process poses the real risk of either missing opportunities or making sub-optimal decisions about solutions which could have long term impacts.
Alcatel-Lucent also points out that the failure of telecom SPs creates the potential for increased opportunities for cable companies, utilities and other types of service providers, in provisioning a broad range of information and communications technology (ICT). This is clearly an oversight by everyone involved in evolving smart city ecosystems. Service providers are in a unique situation to leverage their assets. These include broadband wireless capabilities like 4G LTE (News - Alert) and Wi-Fi for machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity, and the IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) for enhanced communications and collaboration between individuals to the benefit of themselves and key players. In the process they can change their role from facilitator to value-added strategic partner. Smart cities can be separated into four categories according to ALU. These are:
- IT Box (News - Alert): Where the smart city is categorized by the initiation and management of the project by an IT company. The focus in this category is on IT excellence.
- Dream Box: Turnkey smart cities centered on a public-private partnerships.
- Fragmented Box: This encompasses a number of defined projects to cover various elements of the smart city.
- Black Box (News - Alert): Generally led and managed by a government or government-affiliated agencies.
Aside from the ICT platform service providers could provide within a smart city hierarchy, as stated they also have a number of assets that can be useful in the build out of the smart grid that is the connective tissue of the Internet of Things that such projects. ALU believes these assets are well-positioned to serve as the foundation for an integrated approach to the smart city strategy giving service providers the role as not just enablers but also suppliers and integrators of key ICT components and services and hence a central role in the ecosystem value chain.
What to do?
ALU is a firm believer is being proactive. They advocate that telecom service providers need to promote the fact that they are a trusted brand. Their core assets are critical to smart cities and need to be promoted including the ability to deliver on their networks quality of service (QoS); high availability; privacy; security; mass-market customer care; self-service capabilities; real-time customer insights; consumers and commercial distribution and marketing channels; sophisticated authentication and billing capabilities; technology expertise in telecom, networking and IT; and data center scale.
They must emphasize their proven ability to manage and ensure the delivery of large amounts of data over secure, protected and reliable network infrastructures. When these assets are effectively leveraged, the service provider can change their role in the development of the smart city ecosystem. While seemingly things that should be self-evident, in the context of something as complex as the planning, deployment and maintenance of a smart city they need to be clearly articulated.
Governments tend to be involved in most initiatives, therefore projects surrounding smart cities are considered to be secure when it comes to execution and return on investment. In other words, SP proactivity should be construed as relatively low risk even in an environment that has significant economic uncertainty.
The good news is that it is not too late for service providers. The development of smart cities is still in the early stages. LTE and IMS can be enormous assets in any smart city build. That said, with a broad range of smart city projects being initiated across the globe, service providers must be careful. They should not over-commit themselves in terms of their assets or capabilities, and have in place engagement models that will allow them the opportunity to have an important seat at the table from project conception through execution and beyond.
Edited by Peter Bernstein