The metamorphosis of a city into a smart city needs dedicated communications infrastructure to integrate the facilities and services offered by a city into a cohesive and efficient system that improves the standard of living of its residents.
Indian Infrastructure takes a look at new communications-based solutions being considered for deployment by the smart cities…
The brain of the city
An integrated command and control centre (ICCC) is an integral part of a smart city. ICCCs act as the brain and backbone of a city by gathering all the information for quicker decision-making across different segments – surveillance systems, traffic management, waste management, utilities management, public information systems, environmental sensors, public address systems, etc. An ICCC accumulates information for collaborative monitoring to analyse the data. The interface at the ICCC provides a real-time and unified view of operations. In India, of the 100 smart cities, ICCCs of over 45 cities are operational.
ICCCs have also been acting as Covid-19 war rooms for implementing initiatives such as CCTV surveillance of public places, GIS mapping of Covid-positive cases, GPS tracking of healthcare workers, predictive analytics (heat maps) for virus containment across different zones of the city, virtual training to doctors and healthcare professionals, real-time tracking of ambulances, disinfection services and medical services through videoconferencing, tele-counselling and telemedicine. For instance, Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited and the Pune Municipal Corporation came together to develop an integrated data dashboard to map Covid-19 cases using geospatial systems. They then started monitoring the areas around the infected people using heat-mapping technologies and predictive analytics in order to set up containment zones to limit the spread of the virus. Further, healthcare and quarantine facilities were also being tracked at the ICCC as well as the health of suspected cases and their contacts.
Digitalisation of tasks
Smart cities are developing a number of mobile applications to provide a common interface between citizens and the government. Various cities are developing apps to improve the overall management of the city in areas such as parking and traffic, solid waste and surveillance. Some cities are developing applications to monitor the progress of various central government schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission. Apps are also being developed to provide basic information to a city’s residents and tourists. This is particularly useful for cities that have a large tourist footfall. The basic idea behind these projects is to enable citizens to access e-services of the government anywhere and any time. For instance, Vadodara Smart City is working on the One Vadodara mobile app, which will provide citizens access to various government services. This project has been undertaken at a cost of Rs 31 million and is at the planning phase.
Under implementation of the Smart Cities Mission, the city corporations will move beyond the traditional use of credit and debit cards, and net banking payment options. With a view to boosting digital payments, city corporations will be focusing on increasing the use of mobile wallets, UPI/BHIM, and immediate payment service-based modern payment instruments. Cities such as Dharamshala, Raipur, Thoothukudi, Tiruppur and Varanasi have undertaken key projects that seek to provide citizens with multipurpose smart cards that can be used to pay for a host of different services such as transportation, utility bill payments, availing of subsidies, citizen e-governance services. Further, these projects also seek to integrate various payment mobile wallets with the city payments and service processing platforms.
Traditionally, an offline approach for grievance redressal used to be the norm. The aggrieved person was required to visit the concerned department to register a complaint. This was a time-consuming process that led to delays in complaint registration and resolution as well as under-reporting of complaints. In order to tackle these issues, cities are setting up exclusive cells for grievance redressal and are increasingly adopting electronic portals, mobile apps, social media, etc. for registering complaints. Around 10 such projects have been undertaken across various smart cities that focus on setting up a city-wide grievance management system. For instance, Saharanpur Smart City has launched the SAHART governance management system, which entails the development of the SAHART city app for an advanced grievance redressal system.
The upcoming smart cities are undertaking a number of projects for enhancing ease of paying bills. For this, options for paying bills through e-portals, mobile apps, smart kiosks, etc. are being developed. This will encourage timely payment of bills and thus save time for city residents. Further, in some cities, any discrepancy in the bills can be reported online. So far, around 18 projects have been launched that focus on setting up a common city payments and service processing platform. Most of these projects have been undertaken by Thoothukudi Smart City and Tiruppur Smart City.
Connectivity is the future
Optic fibre cable (OFC), with its virtually unlimited capacity, is the perfect backbone for the delivery of high speed internet. OFC facilitates the installation of sensors, which are crucial to the development of intelligent solutions for smart cities. OFC is the only way to handle the expected data traffic across the board and virtually in real time between mobile end devices, vehicles and the whole range of internet of things (IoT) applications as well as network subscribers. This can be made possible with, for example, modularly extendible, high density fibre optic distribution systems. Tailor-made, compact mini data centres at the edge of the networks (edge data centres) are indispensable for the future expansion of what is referred to as time-critical applications, such as remote-controlled surgical operations or autonomous driving in the city. The interaction between the end device and the network cannot take more than a few nanoseconds, thus almost instantaneous flow of information is a must. The cities selected under the SCM have submitted proposals for city-wide OFC deployments, ducting for OFC networks, deployment of OFC for command and control centres and other OFC-related civil works. In order to provide efficient and robust Wi-Fi connectivity, the upcoming smart cities are setting up Wi-Fi hotspots, free Wi-Fi zones, Wi-Fi lounges, Wi-Fi hubs, etc. at various locations. However, the pace of deployment of such facilities has been abysmally slow. The main reason for this is that broadband service providers and telecom companies are sharply divided over the utility of the technology, and the telecom department and the regulator are also not on the same page with respect to the mechanism to deliver such services.
It is hoped that the launch of 5G will bring about a hugely improved platform to deliver scalable and reliable connectivity. The technology is designed to have a high data rate and low latency. These two characteristics allow for fast real-time transfer of data between two or more points. In comparison to the currently deployed 4G/LTE technology, 5G increases the speed of data traffic between vehicles, smartphones, machines, data centres, buildings, sensors, devices and controls of all kinds by a factor of 50-100. This will allow for many new applications to be deployed that were not possible before 5G.
The country is thus on the road to developing several smart cities that can not only improve economic output but also the standard of living of its citizens. However, there is still a need for some initiatives in terms of easing regulations and tariffs to deploy 5G and increasing the use of innovative communications technologies.