The idea of the smart city is quite old, but due to lowered price of sensors and technology just similar to IoT it has gained a big momentum in the market. Smart cities are now being developed to improve environmental, financial, and social aspects and quality of urban life for both citizens and visitors.

Other names can also be intelligent cities or data driven cities. Since more than 60% of total population is expected to live in cities worldwide by 2050. Smart cities are very important step for assuring a higher quality of life. However, there are major challenges regarding the democracy and the society of people living in a smart city due to technology being used to gather so much data.

Elements of a smart city

The main reason why Smart cities are being developed is to improve the quality of the lives of citizens. Another great thing about smart cities is that it enables people to not only get information but provide a two-way dialogue and interact between an individual and their environment. Building blocks of every smart city are IoT sensors, actuators, and technology to connect components across every layer of a city together with servers and web portals or mobile apps

European cities of Barcelona, Amsterdam and Copenhagen were the early adopters but there are a lot of others that followed like Dubai, Singapore, Hamburg, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Miami, Boston, Atlanta and many more. There is a lot of vendors providing smart city solutions, the big ones like Cisco, IBM, GE, Ericsson, Siemens, Intel any many smaller ones.

Smart cities of today are deploying blazing fast WiFi networks and running fiber optic cables. Additionally telcos are seeing the smart city applications as the reason to deploy dense small cells and to leverage LTE-M, NBIoT and future 5G technologies.

Apart from the tech and business perspective (which I am naturally biased to) there is a very good article about social effects of smart cities from Bianca Wyle on this link.

I would summarize her article that for smart city it’s important to:

  • Have open and transparent procurement and contracting
  • Not to do anything before the public buy in
  • Educate and consult the public, because people need to be aware of the benefits and challenges in order to be able to ask meaningful questions. The education would target IoT, surveillance, what data is collected and who get to see it etc.
  • The government of data should be a government responsibility, and not the responsibility of some private company. There should always be ways to opt out of data collection.
  • Be aware that smart cities are not only a technology, but also a political issue
  • Municipal, provincial and federal policies are designed before the IoT and Internet era and should be improved by using agile policy making i.e. not be lagging behind the technology sector

Bianca also differentiates the types of data a city can collect as personal data, aggregate data, environment data, geospatial data and infrastructure data.

For city officials there are three four major steps for implementing smart city projects: 1. Planning, 2. Assessing tangible benefits for the citizens, 3. Consult and educate the public 4. Do pilot projects 5. Scale successful pilot projects to entire districts or the whole city. While doing all these steps the city policies must reflect these projects.

Use cases and applications

Although there are numerous use cases, I will name only a few that are already being deployed across the cities worldwide:

Smart streetlights: The biggest benefit of smart lighting projects is the fact that LEDs are much more energy efficient than incandescent ligting. Additionally, by controlling each lamp you are able to dim it and reduce the consumption even further. The third benefit is the fact that now on light poles there is power 24/7 (not only during the night) so it’s much easier to add other devices that need constant power on light poles

Smart parking solutions: These solutions are quite common nowadays. By using smart parking solutions people can instead of searching for a free space use a mobile app that through central system and through sensors that are deployed on parking spots let you know exactly where to go. This enables waiting less and the cars also emit less CO2.

Noise sensors / shot spotter sensors: These can detect if on some area there is noise above the level acceptable to people. Shot spotter sensor can spot shots fired from the gun and inform the police.

Digital kiosk: These typically host WiFi hotspots to cover the surrounding area with WiFi signal and also provide information and mapping for citizens and visitors, they can be used to charge cell phones etc. However, there are people saying that with today’s smartphones in each pocket these may become obsolete.

Smart waste systems: The idea is to put a sensor on a waste receptacle. It then knows when the trash is basically filling the container and then it alerts the team to collect the trash. Routes can be optimized and collection can be done faster. There is even a solution that is compressing the waste so that more waste can fit inside them.

There are several other use cases, so I would just name a few that I have browsed that are being deployed in the city of Las Vegas:

  • The system that is counting pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles dynamically and 24/7 instead of surveys that were done once a year in the past. With the gathered data city official, developers and business people can plan more effectively
  • Using video analytics and cameras to detect people leaving bags behind or other anomalies
  • Air quality monitoring in dependence with density of traffic so in case there are more cars polluting the air the traffic lights would turn green.
  • Radar and lidars scanning intersections for people crossing on a red light or detecting drivers driving in wrong way and then acting upon that data
  • Another example of smart citiy, also from the USA is Kansas smart city. More about it can be read here.


To conclude, smart cities are a major part of IoT since it affect very large proportion of the population who live in the cities. There is a very large number of use cases and application being deployed or tested today. Finally, when deploying smart cities, we shouldn’t abandon the fact that it’s not about technology first or some private company profits, it’s about improving the life of citizens by informing them better, providing better environment, reducing their wasted time and generally improving the quality of their lives.


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