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Smart cities should be taking more advantage of existing technologies and infrastructure rather than waiting for the full roll out of technologies such as 5G. That’s according to a poll of 100 smart city industry experts1 conducted but Fotech, which found that fully 80% of respondents would be more likely to invest in a smart city project if it was based on existing infrastructure rather than requiring the installation of new technology.

In the same poll 35% of respondents highlighted the cost of deployment as the biggest barrier to deploying smart city technology – only behind data privacy concerns which were considered the main barrier by 49% of those surveyed. This suggests that, while enhancing the ‘data view’ of cities is essential to providing the insight needed to meet the demands of urbanisation and societal changes, the assumption that ‘net new’ infrastructure will be at the heart of these systems may be false.

While the current COVID-19 pandemic is causing some doubt around the future direction of smart cities, 54% of those surveyed expect the pandemic to actually accelerate projects, compared to 41% that expect delays as a result of the crisis.

Chris Shannon, CEO, Fotech Solutions, said: “The findings of this research not only demonstrate that the appetite for smart city progress remains strong, they also highlight the need for more practical approaches to creating smart city systems – using innovation to extract more value from infrastructure that has already been expensively installed.

“Avoiding the cost and disruption of rolling out new technologies and capitalising on existing infrastructure – such as fibre optic networks and 4G technology for example – could have huge benefits for cities around the world and significantly shorten the ‘time to value’ for smart city projects. Indeed, what is very poorly understood and often overlooked today is the idea that the fibre cables themselves can actually be used as sensors in their own right – reducing, or eliminating, the need for new infrastructure.”

An example of a more pragmatic approach to smart cities would be technologies, such as Fotech’s Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), that capitalise on the thousands of kilometres of optical fibres already in place in our cities. DAS augments existing fibre networks by converting the cables into a network of state-of-the-art sensors that can detect the huge array of acoustic ‘signatures’ generated by human and vehicle activity taking place in a city. Given the coverage fibre networks provide in cities, such a system could provide full citywide monitoring of traffic flows, security threats, and even pedestrian footfall.

Because DAS essentially ‘plugs in’ to existing fibre optic cable networks, these benefits can be delivered at minimal incremental cost with zero need for additional construction work or digging up streets. In combination with other already available technologies this sort of approach can deliver the real-time insights cities need to become truly smart now.