Investing in ICT

A robust broadband network key to smart city development

According to the International Data Corporation’s forecast, spending on information and communication technology (ICT) in India will grow by over 10 per cent in 2021 to reach $91 billion, and will touch $111 billion by 2024.

The development of a rich broadband network infrastructure that supports digital applications is essential for smart city projects. Thus, ICT access should involve the setting up of a broadband infrastructure that combines optical fibre, cables and wireless networks. This will offer maximum connectivity and bandwidth to citizens and organisations. Optical fibre cable (OFC), with its virtually unlimited capacity, is the perfect channel 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.

The integrated command and control centre (ICCC) has been envisaged as an integral part of a smart city. An ICCC acts as both the mind and the backbone of a smart city by gathering all relevant information across different segments from all over the city – surveillance system, traffic management, waste management, utilities management, public information system, environmental sensors, public address systems, etc. An ICCC accumulates information for collaborative monitoring in order to analyse data for quicker decision-making. 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 and Wi-Fi hubs at various locations. The upcoming smart cities are also undertaking a number of projects to make it easier to pay bills, through avenues such as e-portals, mobile apps and smart kiosks.

In a smart city, a unified ICT backbone paradigm and a common infrastructure pool can enable the creation of an interconnected and truly homogenous system, with seamless communication between devices and services. Thus, information infrastructure is the foundation of any smart city project. The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated the pace of digital transformation in India. To cater to such exponential data consumption across the country, telcos have to now efficiently identify technologies to deploy additional capacity across radio access networks, and extend services through high speed broadband connectivity.

A number of mobile applications are being developed with the aim to bridge the gap 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.

Sterlite Power has recently completed a project for creating an intra-city fibre network in Gurugram Smart City. The company’s convergence business had entered a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement with the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority to build, manage and maintain the fibre network in Gurugram Sub City two for 21 years. The PPP has created a world-class optical fibre infrastructure to place Gurugram Smart City on par with global standards, and the company aims to provide best-in-class communication infrastructure and solutions by creating the most reliable network.

Agra Smart City has launched a tele-video consultation service that allows citizens to book appointments with healthcare professionals and download online prescriptions from a dedicated app. The city administration and the Agra Police have also joined hands to set up a control room for monitoring compliance with social distancing norms at various locations, via video surveillance. Thane Smart City has completed an interesting pilot wherein it tested the delivery of property tax assessment reports using blockchain technology. This will help track late payments, resolve disputes, monitor collection targets, identify non-delivery of bills, and facilitate inter-department coordination. Indore Smart City has implemented an automatic vehicle locator system, an automatic fare collection system and a passenger information system across its entire city bus infrastructure to make public transit more reliable, user friendly, efficient, secure and economical for commuters.

Also, backhaul is an essential part of telecommunications networks. In brownfield cities and dense urban areas, due to various constraints, microwave technology is used as a substitute for optical fibre. Microwave technology can provide high capacity backhaul for broadband networks in a cost-efficient manner and is more suitable for operations in cities and difficult terrains, where laying fibre is not possible. While India’s backhaul fibre network stands at 31 per cent, there are initiatives such as Digital India, BharatNet and the Smart Cities Mission that are aggressively prioritising countrywide optical networks to take India to around 80 per cent fibre backhaul network. Globally, the mobile backhaul network is evolving with a mix of fibre and microwave.

Next steps

Robust ICT infrastructure acts as the backbone of a smart city, and 5G is going to make smart cities a common reality. 5G technology promises the complete transformation of mobile connectivity. Alongside enabling faster speeds for downloading data, 5G mobile networks will support transportation, power and many other kinds of infrastructure, including remote controlling of machinery in factories. 5G technology can be seen as the foundation for realising the full potential of the internet of things. Thus, 5G technology is capable of providing optimised and affordable solutions to a large number of problems. W

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