Smart Cities

Smart Cities Explained

Just like IoT or M2M, Smart City is another loosely used term that is not clearly defined. It has political origins and summarizes the economic, technological, and social concepts necessary to create an efficient, fast-paced green city that provides its residents with a high quality of life. IoT components are crucial to any smart city initiative, as they provide and gather the datasets needed to make “smart” decisions. While smart cities offer great benefits to governments, for the city’s residents, and humanity as a whole, there are also grave privacy and security concerns that cannot be overlooked.

What are the goals of a Smart City?

A Smart City is more efficient, greener, and sophisticated compared to conventional cities. The Smart City addresses issues of mobility, population growth, environmental pollution, climate change and the scarcity of resources with uniquely innovative concepts and technologies. Real-time information and communication technologies are used in such a way that resources are conserved, the quality of life for all residents is improved, and the competitiveness of the city and the local economy increases. While most wealthy cities feature technologies and systems reminiscent of a smart city, it is difficult to identify at what point the city is so advanced that it can boast with the “smart city label”.

Besides technological factors, social aspects play a significant role as well, which is why smart city-related projects are frequently supported by the government through various funding programs.

What are the benefits of living in a smart city?

Generally speaking, a Smart City has far-reaching social, economic, and psychological benefits for the city’s inhabitants. In the following, we list some of the lifestyle benefits that a Smart City provides to different stakeholders:

For private individuals

At the smallest level, a Smart City offers people the opportunity to save time and money and enjoy a better quality of life. From time savings and reduced stress when commuting to improved security and faster response from public services (such as police, fire, ambulance, and rescue services) to tailored healthcare – IoT and digital technology will make life more relaxed for everyone. Life will be more efficient without many of the current burdens of living in a fast-paced, modern city.

For the cities and governments

It is estimated that by 2040, 65% of the world’s population will live in cities. This rapid urbanization brings its own challenges: cities consume more energy (60-80% of the world’s annual energy consumption is consumed by urban communities) and more water and thus have the greatest impact on the environment. IoT can assist in making our cities healthier, more sustainable, greener, cheaper, and safer. This would of course, have the greatest impact on the lives of city dwellers.

For humanity as a whole

The most significant impact worldwide would be the efficient use of various resources. Cities consume the most natural resources and the most energy. Reducing waste and optimizing this use will ensure that we do not run out of the most important components of human life. Natural resources such as air, water, and soil can be conserved to ensure that they are retained for generations to come.

How IoT advancements fuel smart cities

The internet of things is the technology that lies at the core of every smart cities initiative. Without IoT or M2M, there is no smart city. Devices (mostly sensors or actuators) – collect the data that is used to make “smart” decisions. Smart water meters, for example, are IoT devices that report on the quality and consumption of water and can alert the respective utility company of potential leaks.

Smart city projects often require big datasets in order to function optimally. An IoT environment generates huge datasets, which are then processed and analyzed in order to make informed decisions. Recent technological advancements, such as edge computing, hybrid-cloud networking, 5G, LPWAN adoption, new types of sensors and actuators, greatly elevate the viability of IoT and broaden the scope of potential areas of applications within smart cities.

Smart cities, 5G and LPWANs

As mentioned above, every smart city project requires IoT or M2M components. Every IoT or M2M network requires a reliable, agile, and fast connection. There is no such thing as the perfect network protocol for IoT; however, there is an ideal protocol for each of the IoT use cases. Data volume, bandwidth, latency, transmissions range, connection capacity, and mobility are the most prominent factors to consider when deciding on a protocol for your smart city project. Different LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) technologies, such as LoRa, NB-IoT, LTE-M etc. come with different features and functionalities.

The deployment of 5G technology will benefit not only private consumers and smartphone users, but also IoT operators. While 5G has some downsides, its connection capacity and low latency of 1ms will accelerate new smart city projects. When an IoT network needs to alert a first responder unit, or a seismic sensor needs to warn citizens of an impending earthquake, every millisecond of latency can make the difference between life or death.

Most prominent Areas of Application for Smart Cities

Amongst others, smart cities consider these potential areas of applications, which can be categorized into central issues, most medium or large cities deal with:

  • Utility services 
  • Energy
    • Building automation
    • Home energy consumption and automation
    • Smart lighting systems
    • Grid distribution
    • Dynamic pricing of electricity
  • Water
    • Smart irrigation
    • Water leakage detection
    • Water quality tracking
  • Waste
    • Digital tracking of waste disposal
    • Solar-powered trash compactors
    • Route optimization for trash collection
  • Commute
    • Car, bike & scooter sharing
    • Multi-modal information
    • Real-time information for public transportation
    • Digital, contactless payment for public transit services
    • Pricing during congestion
    • Smart, autonomous traffic light systems
    • Predictive maintenance of public transit vehicles and shared vehicles
    • Smart, demand-based parking meters
  • Professional development
    • Digital taxation
    • Online training programs
    • Individually tailored education
    • Digital construction permitting
    • Digital business licensing
  • Community
    • Engagement of local citizens in city development
    • Digital administrative services
  • Health care
    • Remote monitoring of patients
    • Telemedicine
    • Real-time monitoring of AQI (Air Quality Index)
    • Online scheduling for caregivers
    • Patient flow management systems
    • Automated infectious disease control
    • Smart wearables to monitor vital signs
  • Security
    • Data-driven security inspections
    • Home security equipment
    • Personal alert systems
    • Early warning systems for natural disasters
    • Bodycams on first responders
    • Gunshot detection
    • Smart surveillance
    • Predictive policing
    • Real-time mapping of crimes committed

The concept of the Smart City is set to influence many sectors that make up modern cities. One of the most prominent goals in the energy sector is to break away from fossil fuels, in the long term, and establish electromobility. Integrated energy planning for public, private, and commercial areas is being developed for this purpose. Networking in the areas of infrastructure, mobility, and energy creates additional synergies. Citizens are actively involved and participate in the planning process. In order to achieve the goals, the Smart City will become interconnected and will be equipped with sensors that collect extensive data. The data collected will be analyzed and made available to the individual areas and measures via the cloud. Digital systems control entire infrastructures in real-time and building structures become energy suppliers.

Also included in the concepts are the various circulation processes such as water and wastewater management or waste recycling. In the field of mobility, the main aim is to promote emission-free vehicles and mobility concepts. In order to create a citizen-friendly administration, the various services for citizens will be available online. The entire public administration sees itself as a service provider and provider of innovative urban applications, and intensively involves residents in its activities and services. This also includes the areas of public safety and health care.

Amsterdam Smart city

During the development of a smart city, everyone should ideally participate in the effort: the city, businesses, science, and citizens. This requires formats for transparent exchange and technical platforms that promote and encourage the project. In the Netherlands, we can already see how this works. The city of Amsterdam is a good example of what the successful implementation of a smart city strategy can look like.

The Amsterdam Smart City platform shows how: Here, everyone who has the desire and ideas come together to create a smart Amsterdam, exchange ideas, and evaluate with whom they can put which ideas on the road. They look for financing possibilities, exchange ideas about possible legal or bureaucratic hurdles, how these can be overcome, and find the direct contacts for ongoing projects.

In addition, the progress of the various pilot projects is documented and made transparent for everyone to follow. Innumerable innovations could thus be initiated comparatively easily. One of the conditions is that the Smart City ideas that are put up for discussion here should be assignable to at least one of the six categories “Infrastructure and Technology”, “Energy, Water & Waste”, “Mobility”, ” Circular City”, “Administration & Education” and “Citizens & Life”.

Smart Energy

The platform is also used to develop projects in the area of smart energy. These include the development of the first comprehensive smart grid in an entire district of Amsterdam (Nieuw-West). Here, around 10,000 households have already been connected to a smart network and equipped with IoT and sensor technology at important nodes and with smart meters in the households. Currents and voltage are constantly and precisely monitored via remote monitoring and control functions. Remote operation from a central control room was previously not possible with a standard analog network.

But what is so smart about it? Power failures can be rectified or even prevented much faster. In addition, the effects of the increased installation and use of technologies such as PV systems, battery storage, e-vehicles, or heat pumps in households can be much better observed and controlled. But the smart grid also provides users of the electricity grid with real-time information, for example, about when it is cheap to use, store or trade energy. What is still being considered in theory elsewhere is gradually becoming part of everyday life in Amsterdam Nieuw-West and could be the prelude to an overall more intelligent, integrated, and sustainable energy system.

In southern Amsterdam, 480 solar panels have been installed on the roof of the IJburg College in the middle of the city, creating the largest cooperative solar roof in Amsterdam. The school itself, as well as the neighborhood, can thus make increased use of locally produced, clean solar energy.


A Vehicle2Grid (V2G) pilot project has also recently been launched in cooperation with various tech companies. During the tests, which are currently taking place in Amsterdam, the project partners are investigating the effects on the low-voltage grid if electricity from parked electric cars not used for driving is fed back into the grid. They are also investigating the extent to which electric vehicles and V2G technologies are suitable as a solution for bridging power failures. Cars can essentially act as a “power bank” for the building. It is possible that V2G could also make us a little less dependent on the lengthy and expensive expansion of the grid. Like the Smart Grid project, this idea is part of the larger City Zen program, which is intended to help Amsterdam achieve more clean energy and efficiency as part of an urban energy turnaround.

An intensive exchange between all parties involved in a Smart City project at an early stage gets all the wheels of the smart city moving. Amsterdam has dared to take this step and is now using the potential that was actually already there and only needed to be initiated.

Examples of smart city functionalities across the world

Copenhagen, Denmark:  Sensors on the road detect cyclists and will automatically switch traffic lights to green.

Barcelona, Spain: Elderly Residents can access health care services with a single click on their phone.

Lyon, France: Has 345 automated bike docking stations. Residents and visitors conduct 6 million shared bike trips each year.

Hong Kong: 47 buildings are connected on one grid and are used to create light shows at night.

Nairobi, Kenya: Thousands of smart water meters protect utility companies and residents against theft.

Mexico City, Mexico: IoT-enabled seismic sensors automatically warn residents of earthquakes, shortening reaction time, and thus increasing the time available for evacuation.

Port au Prince, Haiti: Drones with optical recognition AI are used to analyze earthquake damage and identify rubble.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Cameras and sensors are installed to improve emergency management.

Vancouver, Canada: Over a million smart meters monitor energy usage and can be used to locate power outages

Boston, USA: IoT-enabled Sensors are used to monitor energy usage across hundreds of facilities.

Chicago, USA: Smart meters resulted in a 10-15% reduction of average energy consumption.

Philadelphia, USA: 700 trash bins were replaced by 500 solar trash compactors. These compactors lowered the frequency of trips needed to collect public waste, reducing the city’s operational expenses by 1 million USD per year.

Risks of Smart Cities

Of course, the biggest potential downsides of smart city development stem from privacy and security concerns. While government surveillance using CCTVs with facial recognition can be used to reduce the prevalence of crime within a city, it can also be used by governments maliciously to track civilians for purposes way beyond the “smart city purpose.”

Besides the own government, there is also the possibility of a third party gaining unauthorized access to the numerous IoT networks that make up a smart city. Hacking into traffic sensors or autonomous vehicles is just the most talked about, of numerous examples, in which a single infiltration could shut down entire cities.