When I last wrote about smart cities in 2014, municipal agencies from Oklahoma Gas & Electric to the South Carolina Department of Transportation were already employing wireless broadband to increase efficiency and improve safety. Since then, momentum has only picked up in this exciting space, most recently with AT&T’s big push to connect Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta.

It’s now quite clear that the smart city is more than an overhyped media trend – it’s something that could dramatically reshape and improve the way we live, from cutting down traffic on the morning commute to helping first responders react to an emergency. Gartner even predicted smart cities will use 1.6 billion connected devices this year.

Even so, the concept of an entire city being smart is still in its fledgling stages. Before it becomes a reality, city governments and network engineers have plenty of interesting obstacles ahead. In the world of wireless, here are the top three issues we must consider as we build the smart city infrastructure:

  • Cybersecurity. One core component of an intelligent urban infrastructure is cloud-based video surveillance. This helps with a wide range of applications, including public safety and monitoring traffic at intersections. Because the privacy and safety of citizens is at stake, surveillance tools must adhere to the highest security standards and protocols (for a primer on these, see here). Smart cities will also be vulnerable to hacking and Denial of Service attacks, so identification, authentication and data encryption can’t be afterthoughts.
  • Prioritized network traffic. With such a proliferation of data and usage at all times, the network must be able to prioritize the most important functions over lighter, less critical ones. Traffic lights and public transportation systems, for example, will need faster and more reliable access than the system that pings drivers about available parking spaces around the city. Having the right analytics, network visibility and remote device management tools will make data traffic management much less complicated.
  • Minimum interference. A smart city is a perfect storm of ambient radio frequency noise, which can put a serious dent in the quality of wireless communications. GPS synchronization tools can allow for the most efficient use of frequencies and better tolerance of interference. In addition, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration is looking into increasing spectrum sharing to free up bandwidth and decrease the strain on network capacity. Equipment that operates at 900 MHz can also assist with penetrating and delivering seamless connections through obstacles like buildings and thick foliage.

To me, these three stood out as particularly crucial. What other issues do you think will most affect urban wireless infrastructure?

And, if you’re interested in a real-world example of how broadband fits into the smart city vision, check out our new public safety video surveillance case study with HCSO Florida.

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