FROM MY VANTAGE POINT
The Four Layers of Smart City Architecture, and How They Can be Implemented
There’s no question that technology has infiltrated every corner of our lives, from smartphones and watches to smart doorbells, electric cars, and non-stop streaming media. And most would agree that technology makes us smarter. Or at least more aware and engaged.
Cities worldwide, too, have gotten smarter. As a matter of fact, smart cities are proliferating; these municipalities are taking advantage of technology to increase operational efficiency, share information, and improve the quality of government services and citizen welfare, according to the Internet of Things Agenda website. And in a study by research firm Frost & Sullivan, it was reported that smart cities’ spending on technology in the next six years will reach $237 billion by 2025, up from $96 billion in 2019, and there will be more than 26 smart cities worldwide by 2025.
So, how are smart cities designed? And how do they utilize technology?
Smart cities create and implement an ecosystem of solutions that add value and employ intelligent methodology and proper implementation of problem-solving techniques to benefit the collective good. Most smart cities rely on the internet of things ( IoT), a network of connected, web-enabled, unique computing devices. Further, they depend on these “things” transferring data over this network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. For example, smart earbuds, fitness trackers, and a person with a heart monitor are all “things.” IoT provides businesses as well as cities with a real-time view of how their systems work, providing insights into everything from machine performance to supply chain and logistics operations.
How is IoT used in smart city architecture?
Definitions vary, but researchers generally agree that there are four layers of IoT architecture that comprise a smart city. They are:
- The sensing or perception layer, where sensors either monitor or control some physical object to capture data; for example temperature, humidity, fluid levels in a tank, or the speed of an assembly line. Then an actuator—a mechanical device for moving or controlling something—can take action in real-time, like adjusting the flow rate of a fluid.
- The network layer transfers raw data and converts it from analog into digital format and then sends it through an internet gateway via WI-FI, cellular, or wired technology systems.
- Once the data has been digitized, the data processing or management layer processes it to reduce the data volume before it goes to a data center or cloud. Machine learning tools can be used to provide feedback to the connected system to improve its performance. The data can then deliver key information to IT and business managers.
- At the application layer, industry and/or company-specific applications can be used to perform in-depth analysis to determine what action needs to be taken, like making changes to device settings or other means of optimizing performance.
By utilizing these four layers of smart city architecture, municipal planners and architects can work to improve a city’s quality of life for its citizens using technology and data analysis. Key characteristics that determine a city’s intelligence include a technology-driven infrastructure, environmental initiatives, a streamlined public or even free public transportation system, a strong sense of urban planning, and people to live and work within the city and utilize its resources.
A smart city’s success ultimately depends on its ability to form a strong relationship between its government and the private sector because most of the work that is done to create and maintain a digital, data-driven municipality occurs outside its government. U.S. cities including Columbus, OH, Denver, CO, and San Francisco, CA are just a few examples of how cities are embracing smart technology to find new solutions to some of their most urgent urban challenges. While creating a smart city has its issues—connectivity, energy conservation, and traffic and waste management are just a few—with good communication between city officials, urban planners, and residents, building or transforming a smart city is an attainable goal.
With 5G Still in Development, A Glimpse Ahead at 6G
5G technology has brought the world its fastest generation of wireless technology ever. Tech savants will tell you that includes greater speed, ultra-low latency, more reliability, grander network capacity and a better user experience.
Experts believe, in fact, that the 5G rollout, when it is complete, will unleash “the Internet of Everything,” which has been defined as a system that connects people, things, data and processes. That means sensors everywhere. It means smarter devices, which will enable people to engage in data-driven decision-making.
As exciting as all that is, tech executives and researchers couldn’t resist peeking ahead even further at the Mobile World Conference in July 2021, to 6G. That, they believe, will change the landscape even more dramatically.
Jeffrey Andrews, director of 6G research at the University of Texas, told Biz Tech Magazine that while 5G is “making some steps toward” enabling the IoE, “6G will really get it right.”
The signal towers that deliver 5G to our devices can likely change to deliver 6G as well but some research is suggesting that use of satellites might alter the way 6G arrives to our cells and computers.
John Byrne, the service director of telecom technology and software at analytics company GlobalData, told Biz Tech, “The general thinking right now is 2030. It tends to be the same companies and folks that are involved, so everything on 5G impacts the timeline on 6G as well.”
While that may seem like a ways off, consider how fast these networks have started evolving. By 2035, projections state that the 5G network of companies will carry 22.8 million jobs, amassing nearly $4 trillion in economic output.
One of the most intriguing possibilities of 6G is the ability to further connect our devices, giving us more computing power by creating a synergy between our most intelligent tools. By the fifth and sixth generation of wireless technology, it will have become the fundamental technology on which almost all the world’s industries rely.
That reliance is both an opportunity and a burden. Rollout of these new generations of technology need to be nearly flawless to support America and the world’s interconnected economic enterprises.
Various reports in late October showed Engineers at LG and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft set 6G transmission distance records, expanding the network’s quicker data transfer rates with reduced latency.
To date, 6G’s limitations have been short range which is why the engineers celebrated their increased transmission distance. Their power amplifier successfully transmitted a stable signal, equivalent to the previous transmission strengths at shorter distances.
Between now and 2030, the world will have lived through 10 years of 5G, and that will have brought more institutional knowledge about signal transmission and data transfer speeds. That increased knowledge will engender more advanced research that puts 6G at our fingertips in the next decade.
Balancing Short- and Long-Term Goals in IoT Deployment
While there is considerable hype surrounding autonomous vehicles, there are still miles to go before widespread deployment of this technology. A 2020 MIT study concluded, in fact, that Level 4 implementation — i.e., the appearance of self-driving vehicles that can handle complex situations, albeit with human monitoring — will likely not be seen until at least 2030, and even then only in specialized situations.
Further, the study added:
Overall shifts in other modalities, including fleets and passenger cars, are likely to be no faster, and so disruption to taxi, rideshare and bus driver jobs is likely to be limited in the near term.
In other words, we need to pump the brakes, so to speak, on our expectations for autonomous driving. Certainly the auto industry gets that, as on one hand it is developing technologies related to the Internet of Things (IoT) that can be used in autonomous vehicles down the road, while on the other integrating those technologies into current designs. Think of things like navigation systems, lane-departure warnings or infotainment systems; all of them are commonplace in the cars of today, and hints at all that will be featured in the cars of tomorrow.
There is an object lesson here, for all industries deploying IoT — how it’s important to keep one eye on short-term goals, another on the big picture. Developments in this sector are constant, meaning it will be vital to make mid-course corrections, while at the same time being cognizant of what the ultimate goal might be.
This has also been illustrated during the pandemic. Time and again we have seen how useful connected technologies can be in ensuring well-being and achieving sustainability, goals that will obviously still be in place going forward.
Consider, for example, the crucial roles played by telehealth and wearables during the crisis. There are those who believe that these technologies will only become more prominent once this crisis subsides; that indeed they will provide users and healthcare professionals alike with more data than ever before.
In addition, smart buildings make such things as social distancing and contact tracing possible. That can only bode well for the future, considering that experts fear other pandemics lie ahead.
The pandemic has also underscored the need for a circular economy — i.e., one in which single-use items (like, for instance, protective masks) are best avoided in favor of those that can be reused or recycled. One example is circular lighting, where a business’s lighting is managed remotely by a provider (thus ensuring greater efficiency) and parts, upon obsolescence, are harvested for further use.
Those in the public sector are also coming around to the big-picture/small-picture juggling act. Consider smart city technology, where sensors monitor a whole host of things, notably traffic patterns and pollution levels. As these sensors become more commonplace, the ability of governmental officials to track potential issues will likewise increase.
The greater point is this: Innovation is ongoing. It is occurring with such swiftness that it is best for business leaders to implement what they can, while they can. In that fashion they can meet short-term objectives, while at the same time keeping larger goals in mind.
The Future of AI, According to Business Leaders
Momentum continues to gather within the business world around artificial intelligence, described by one leader as “the glue that stitches analytics results with actions” and another as a technological breakthrough that is essential for success. Still another leader surveyed the AI landscape and offered this assessment: “The future is indeed AI for everyone.”
The present, too. Gartner reported in 2015 that just 10 percent of companies responding to a survey were using AI, or planned to do so. Four years later, 37 percent fell into those categories, a 270 percent increase. Other reports indicate that 91.5 percent of firms have an ongoing investment in AI (though only 14.6 percent have actually implemented it). And while the percentage of firms assessing AI as the most disruptive technology slipped from 80 percent in 2019 to 69.5 percent in 2020, it still greatly outdistances cloud computing (11 percent).
In all, the AI market size, which stood at $27.23 billion in 2019, is expected to mushroom to $266.92 billion by 2027, a compound annual growth rate of 33.2 percent. Small wonder that Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a computer scientist and head of the Chinese venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures, asserted in 2018 that AI is going to “change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity.”
That same year, Andrew Ng, chief scientist of the Chinese multinational technology company Baidu and former Google Brain head, put it this way to ZDNet:
“Lots of industries go through this pattern of winter, winter, and then an eternal spring. We may be in the eternal spring of AI.”
And indeed, 54 percent of the companies adopting AI have seen a spike in productivity, while 44 percent have seen an increase in profitability. Additionally, 62 percent of consumers expressed a willingness to use the technology to bolster their experience.
AI has impacted businesses across the board, but it is expected to have a particularly profound effect on healthcare, as has already been shown during the pandemic. While some 45 percent of American healthcare systems indicated in 2019 that they had begun to use AI or were planning to do so, in 2020 that rose to 84 percent. Another study concluded that the healthcare AI market, valued at $3.9 billion in 2019, will increase to $107 billion by 2027, a staggering compound annual growth rate of 49.8 percent.
It has been found that AI can automate image diagnosis, a case in point being its ability to identify COVID-19 on chest X-rays. AI can also reduce dosage errors and play a role in robot-assisted surgery, and reduce doctors’ administrative burdens, a major cause of burnout.
AI is also impacting transportation, as shown in the development of autonomous vehicles, as well as manufacturing, where robots are being used more and more for repetitive tasks. It is also a factor in the recruiting process in all industries, as well as cybersecurity.
So yes, it does appear to be an eternal spring for AI, with new developments constantly blossoming and fertile ground forever available to investors.
The Marriage of NFTs and DeFi and What It Means for the Virtual Economy
While in 2020 decentralized finance (DeFi) was all the rage, 2021 has seen the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are essentially digital certificates of ownership of a scarce asset on a blockchain.
After $400 million in gross sales of NFTs were consummated in 2020, some $1 billion were completed in just the first quarter of this year. That includes $230 million in transactions involving NBA highlights. It includes the sale of the first tweet by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey for a cool $2.9 million. And it includes the sale of a collage of digital images by the artist Mike Winkleman (a.k.a. Beeple) for $69.3 million.
Beyond offering a virtual platform for artists, NFTs have become a central part of the virtual economy, as they are being used to tokenize hard valuable assets like real estate, jewelry, racehorses, fine art and fine wine. It is expected, in fact, that NFTs will transform the worldwide web itself. As Nitan Gaur, founder and director of IBM Digital Assets Labs, wrote for Cointelegraph.com in early April:
(T)he NFT movement is indicative of a larger token revolution that will not only fuel massive innovation and growth in Web 3.0 protocols but also test the resolve of the DeFi movement, along with its ability to intersect and provide platforms and an exchange vehicle for all token types.
Gaur went on to explain that while earlier iterations of the web made it possible to circulate information, they were not designed with the idea of circulating items of value. The new-look web, dependent as it is on edge computing, decentralized data networks and artificial intelligence, will be able to do that.
In other words, the marriage of DeFi and NFTs can be expected to play a critical role in this transformation. Already we have seen the development of platforms like NFTmall, an NFT marketplace that is powered by DeFi and eCommerce and provides even greater exposure for artists and other content creators. We have seen the emergence of NETfi, which enables borrowers to post digital items as collateral, thus heralding a redefinition of financial services.
NETfi, in fact, underwent an $890,000 investment round in February, and is one of a dozen companies making possible the coupling of DeFi and NFTs. Consider Ark Gallery, which has developed tools to make NFTs more fungible. Consider Zora Protocol, which has created an NFT auction model. Consider Unifty, which has designed a management system that is “the WordPress of NFTs,” as one of its team members, Markus Medinger, informed CoinDesk. And consider Polyient Games, which has both invested in NFTs and developed a decentralized exchange for the technology.
All of this was neatly summarized by Lasse Clausen, a partner at the venture firm 1kx, in a news release circulated to Coindesk and other finance-related outlets:
“As NFTs re-imagined how we produce and define ownership of digital content online, we’ll also, in turn, begin to re-imagine a whole new category of financial services based on these new building blocks.”
Certainly that can be expected to continue. Certainly NFTs will continue to be robust, continue to thrive. And it appears that its looming marriage to DeFi will play a significant role in its ongoing surge.
Can You Hear Us Now? Where 5G is Concerned in the U.S., That’s Still Not Clear
In November 2020 T-Mobile executive Neville Ray declared to Fortune magazine that where 5G was concerned, his company was “off to the races” and that it “came out of the blocks super quick.”
T-Mobile, labeled in that same Fortune piece as “the next big thing” by Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research, has been able to maintain that momentum in the early stages of 2021, as it works toward its stated goal of nationwide coverage by the end of the year. The company’s coverage, speed and upload speed are superior to those of Verizon and AT&T, giving every indication that it is in fact winning the race.
There are, however, lingering worries about how the U.S. is faring in the larger 5G race against China, and the economic implications going forward. Former Google head Eric Schmidt, writing in Financial Times in early February, asserted that China is “far ahead” in that competition, as it will soon have a national network, while American progress was actually stunted by an FCC auction in January that saw a sizable swath of 5G-friendly “C-Band” spectrum peddled for the record-setting total of $81 billion.
As he wrote:
The massive sums winners paid for the spectrum will reduce their financial capacity to actually use it. Instead, it will probably result in disinvestment and downsizing. … The outcomes are predictable: Americans will face higher prices and weaker digital services — yesterday’s internet tomorrow.
Others are more optimistic. Nearly seven of every 10 business leaders believe, for instance, that 5G will aid in their companies’ recovery from the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Verizon 5G Business Report. Roughly eight in 10 of those decision makers believe the rollout of this technology will create new opportunities for their enterprise, their industry and their role.
Certainly there is compelling evidence to support that. While the downlink speeds have not yet reached the hoped-for rate of 100 megabits per second (Mpbs), T-Mobile, at least, was on an uptick. Its rate of 58.1, in addition to being superior to those of AT&T (53.8) and Verizon (47.4), had inched up from 49.2 in June 2020, according to data from the research group Opensignal. (The other two companies had actually seen their speeds decline.)
T-Mobile is also seeing its customers use 5G service 30.1 percent of the time, up from 22.5 percent in mid-2020. Respective user rates for AT&T and Verizon are lagging at 18.8 percent and 9.5 percent, by comparison. And finally, T-Mobile’s upload speed — i.e., the rate at which larger files, like photos and videos, can be shared — stands at 14.0 Mbps, ahead of Verizon (11.9) and AT&T (8.0).
Additionally, T-Mobile was the first carrier to launch a standalone 5G network — i.e., one that is not built upon 4G LTE infrastructure — having done so in August 2020. That has resulted in increases in the number of rural users, which is critical to the larger goal of nationwide coverage, and brings with it hopes for things like a supercharged Internet of Things and the rise of autonomous vehicles.
Miles to go on all fronts, of course. But so far T-Mobile seems poised to deliver on its promises.