As technology solutions evolve, and more and more of our economic and civic interactions incorporate some manner of digitalisation, government bodies across the globe are looking at ways to digitally coordinate services and utilities.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward: city authorities are facing a future in which people will flood to urban areas. According to recent United Nations (UN) projections, continuing urbanisation will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050. This means that 68% of the world’s future population is expected to live in cities.
For governments, the pressure is on to address the opportunities presented by smart city projects and to begin building infrastructures that can support massive population increases while still keeping citizens happy, safe and productive.
This is a huge challenge, and it has to be accepted that some networks and infrastructure will need to be upgraded. However, that is not to say that city authorities shouldn’t be looking at their existing assets to understand which elements can form a foundation upon which to build more sophisticated digital services. Among the most significant pre-existing assets cities have to play with are fibre optic networks.
So, why are fibre optic networks so important to smart city projects? And why will these networks play such an integral role in digitally augmenting and enhancing a city’s capabilities?
The straightforward answer to that question is that the cables are already in place. They’re ubiquitous in urban environments, running for miles and miles underground, stretching from the centre to the outskirts, and carry information across vast distances and at high speed. As a result, enhancing fibre optic networks to support smart city systems is more cost-efficient than new infrastructure. The cables are also simple, reliable and durable.
This is significant because, as cities are transformed by smart technology, there will be a pressing need to connect cities to low-density areas and rural regions. Because fibre optic cables are already being used to carry telecommunications and internet connectivity to these areas, it makes sense for them to help bridge the gap when it comes to the new digital services that smart cities will inevitably usher in. With better digital connections to city centres, citizens in rural and village areas will benefit from an equality of service.
And with technology solutions such as distributed acoustic sensing (DAS), fibre optic networks can be augmented to do more than just carry information through a cable. DAS converts fibre optics cables into state-of-the-art acoustic sensors – innately ‘listening’ to the activities around them. Such use of sensors will be vital to developing new digitalised services and protecting utilities. With DAS, authorities will be able to do everything from increasing security around key facilities to detecting leaks in water and sewage pipes, to making traffic management more efficient.
To build and install separate remote sensing technology would require a huge amount of planning, construction, development and capital expenditure. But with technologies such as DAS, all of that extra expenditure can be avoided by effectively layering new capabilities on the existing fibre optic networks.
By using DAS in combination with other smart city infrastructure and data sources, local authorities will be able to optimise efficiency across a range of services and utilities.
In order to move forward with smart cities, and take advantage of the opportunities they present, governments need to be adopting technologies such as DAS, uniting the data and assets they already have in place and accessing the real-time insights they need to make their cities truly smart.