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Recently, we attended this year’s Smart City Expo in Barcelona, an exciting event that brings together leading technology companies, policy-makers and entrepreneurs to help shape the smart-cities of the future.

While we were there to showcase our industry-leading Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) technology, it was a great opportunity to catch up on some other intelligent innovations from across the globe.

The expo touched on the most important issues facing cities today, with a focus on five main tracks: digital transformation, urban environments, mobility, governance and finance, and inclusive cities.

And there were a vast variety of thought-provoking new technologies on display to help cities attempt to overcome these challenges.

Powerful potential

A 5G-powered digital twin city – Yingtan, China – demonstrated how it uses 5G and IoT networks, high-precision information models and an artificial intelligence ‘brain’ to power real-time insights. In the past two years, IoT connected devices in the city have actually exceeded its total population, in addition to 214 new edge-computing based companies being established.

Hexagon showcased its solutions which connect satellite and operational data –helping trigger predictive maintenance for utilities. The project aims to reduce the cost of sewer system maintenance by preventing the breakdown of sewer pipes caused by subsidence or ground instability. The initiative has been shown to improve the effectiveness of inspections by up to 40%.

These examples are proof positive of the potential smart cities have to transform the ways urban centres operate. But perhaps no single city encapsulates this potential better than Stockholm, which took home the award for ‘Smart City of 2019’ at the expo.

People living in the Swedish capital have access to a vast range of e-governance services – with businesses and individuals benefiting from an open fibre network, owned by the city.

And although fibre optic networks are not the most visible part of smart cities, they could be one of the most crucial.

Fibre optic future

Despite the wide range of challenges discussed and new technologies demonstrated at the event – one common theme was clear: data is key. But something that people have tended to overlook is how useful fibre optic networks are in providing data for smart cities.

Using solutions such as DAS, fibre optic cabling can be transformed into a network of highly sensitive acoustic sensors – innately ‘listening’ to the activities around them. The huge amount of data provided can then be used to power crucial insights into everything from traffic management to crime prevention.

And the great thing about fibre optic networks as a data source is, the infrastructure is already in place – fibre optic cabling is ubiquitous in urban environments. To build and install separate remote sensing technology would require a huge amount of planning, construction, development and capital expenditure. But using DAS, all of those costs are greatly reduced.

The expo undoubtedly demonstrated that technologies such as 5G and AI will have a large role to play in the future of smart cities. However, it’s equally important that solutions that take advantage of existing infrastructure – while still providing the depth of data smart cities require – are not underestimated.