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Smart Cities And 5G: Taking It to the Next Level

Singapore’s planned eco-smart city Tengah aims to use artificial intelligence to support smart energy management. Fukuoka, Japan, is drawing on sensor data to build models that can help monitor water use. San Diego, California, uses an app to connect, coordinate, and manage service requests. Vienna, Austria’s WienBot, a chatbot that provides answers to a range of user questions, continuously learns from its “conversations” to capture the public’s most frequently-asked questions—of particular importance during the COVID pandemic. These global examples of how smart cities are using technology are ever-growing. But with all this innovative application comes the potential for bottle necks that can slow down operations, diminish the ability to scale solutions, and impede the development of the smart city ecosystem. Enter 5G. 5G brings the capacity that smart cities need to connect—enabling the use of sensors, data, analytics, and more. Critical to the evolution of urban spaces into sustainable, resilient, and efficient entities, 5G quite simply is the key to the future of smart cities. Why 5G? The number of Internet of Things (IoT) active connections in smart cities in the European Union alone is expected to double by 2025, with the global IoT in smart cities market size expected to grow by 18.8% overall. This ability to connect a range of urban activities—from traffic to energy to garbage—gathering data to improve services, quality of life, and environmental impact is what makes a smart city smart. But the only way to realistically support the number of devices and sensors needed to achieve that quality of life and services is through 5G. An emerging global wireless standard, 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices—all at an exponentially higher rate than current networks. Consider 4G’s ability to connect an average 2,000 devices per square kilometer (km2) against 5G’s 1 million devices per km2. 5G also boasts increased speed (up to 10 gigabytes per second versus 4G’s 300 megabytes per second), lower latency (network connection delay between devices), and better reliability. 5G’s higher performance and improved efficiency can empower the user experiences and connections integral to the smart city vision. It also allows for stronger end-to-end security—not only critical to protecting city infrastructure and operations from cyberattacks but also critical to protecting the personal data and privacy of citizens. There are a few key ways that 5G can boost cities’ transformations. It can: Provide enhanced services and infrastructure for citizens: Aging infrastructure needs a reboot and adding connectivity to services allows them to be run at lower cost, with improved efficiency, and tailored to citizen needs.

  • Improve operations and enhance security: Government-run outlets like ports and warehouses are adopting Industry 4.0 use-cases and 5G allows them to improve operations as well as security.

  • Close the digital divide: Ubiquitous connectivity is becoming a utility and many citizens lack the necessary access. Without adequate connectivity they are unable conduct activities like remote learning, attending medical appointments, and working from home.

Governments are already driving increased productivity and efficiencies at lower costs with 5G enabled innovations. Cities are leveraging 5G jointly with edge computing for such functions as crowd control and infrastructure monitoring. 5G stand-alone architecture can also connect transport, from tugboats to trains. And cities can integrate real-time asset tracking and autonomous robots that can “virtually” validate and inspect inventories and supplies.

Getting started According to Deloitte’s Future of Global Infrastructure report, a survey of more than 600 public officials and infrastructure executives worldwide, digital investments are likely to be one of governments’ top priorities over the next three years, with 70% expecting a shift toward digital infrastructure investment. This is indicative of the push for smarter cities. But smart city transformation can be a mammoth undertaking and having the right 5G infrastructure in place will be critical to success. That said, 5G strategy shouldn’t be formulated in a vacuum but rather as an integral part of smart city planning. Some steps cities can take to guide their 5G strategy include: Ideate and prioritize: Leveraging smart city plans, select the areas to be improved with 5G, ideating, identifying, and prioritizing the top opportunities. This could include intelligent transportation systems, healthcare and medical delivery, or safety, to name a few.

  • Develop the business case: Formulate the operational benefits of 5G and its associated business case value proposition, including the capture of customer/citizen experiences, more efficient services, and lower energy consumption, among others.

  • Design tech and security requirements: As part of the larger smart city architecture, define and design technical solution architecture and requirements for 5G opportunities, considering deployment strategies and application requirements.

  • Build and evaluate: Start with a pilot that can be monitored and evaluated against the business case, then refine and proceed with a larger rollout. Cities should also identify and leverage best practices as well as develop a roadmap and implementation plan—including timelines and accountability—to stay on track.

  • Operate and maintain: Define overall governance, operating models, and procedures to ensure 5G’s sustainability. This includes securing and determining when and where to place funding as well as setting up the proper controls to mitigate fraud, waste, and abuse.

The role of cities The public sector and smart cities have a unique role to play in realizing 5G’s potential—leading the way around 5G regulation, data privacy and ethics, inclusivity, and funding. Cities are driving much of the innovation and doing the real testing when it comes to technology and 5G application. They are not only providing opportunities for the private sector to scale their efforts but also often providing the funding to do so. By building up these ecosystems, smart cities are paving the way for sustainable solutions across the entirety of the urban landscape. And 5G can take them to the next level. Deloitte will be participating in the upcoming Smart City Expo World Congress on 15-17 November in Barcelona, Spain. To learn more about 5G and Smart Cities, visit our 5G hub or Urban Transformation pages on

*This article originally appeared on

Craig Wigginton Craig Wigginton currently serves as the Global 5G Leader. Prior to this, he served as the Global Telecommunications Leader, the Global ... Read More

Brian Greenberg Brian Greenberg is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Government and Public Services (GPS) 5G/Edge lead for Deloitte. In this GPS ... Read More


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