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The Benefits of Smart Cities

The Benefits of Smart Cities

You don’t have to be a genius to understand the appeal of smart cities. As the IoT field continues to expand and innovate, the potential benefits and efficiencies gained do as well. One area specifically that has emerged from IoT innovation is what are referred to as ‘smart cities'.

 [A city is] smart when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT [Information and Communication Technologies]) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.” (source)

Loose translation – using modern day communication technologies to enhance traditional operations, or create new services, to make cities more efficient, cost-effective and safer. It is expected that by the year 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will live in urban locations, making the need for innovation and efficiency more apparent than ever to handle the excess population and make sure resources are appropriately allocated.

There are many practical, as well as economic, benefits seen in smart cities and smart technology, however, today we will focus on four main areas that have seen the most adoption and success in recent years.


At the forefront of every city’s concerns is ensuring the safety of the citizens that inhabit the city.  One expectation with the rapid acceleration in development of smart cities is an added ability to monitor its citizens using Closed Circuit Television Cameras, or CCTV cameras.

Now, CCTV itself isn’t exactly new, but the inclusion of new facial recognition technology that could either identify suspicious or dangerous individuals prior to crime occurring, or help to quickly identify individuals once the unlawful act is committed, has significantly increased their value. In addition to facial recognition capabilities, newer versions of CCTV cameras have also added features that allow them to monitor motion, have fire and smoke alarm capabilities, measure air quality, lock and unlock doors depending on perceived situations, and many more.

Other additions to security could include the addition of hotlines and panic buttons around the city that would allow law enforcement to respond more quickly to emergency scenarios.  Since the panic buttons would be in a permanent location law enforcement could then pinpoint an exact area to respond to and use smart technology to manipulate traffic patterns and allow them to arrive more quickly.  This lessened response time could lead to the effect of catastrophic events being minimized or even eliminated in some scenarios. 

Some Areas Already Using Smart Security:

  • Nairobi, Kenya: implemented new communication network that links 1,800 CCTV cameras to 195 police bureaus and 7,600 total officers.
  • Nanjing, China: implemented a large-scale surveillance format similar to Kenya’s before they hosted the 2013 Asian Youth Games, and have since expanded system to city-wide.
  • Shanghai, China: implemented similar surveillance system to Nairobi and Nanjing, and have since seen crime rates drop by nearly 30 percent and police response times dwindle down to an average of 3 minutes per incident.
  • Washington, D.C.: has begun using “gunshot sensors” produced by Shotspotter that alert authorities immediately to gunshots rather than having to be called.
  • Saudi Arabia: adopted a nationwide emergency SMS alert system that uses mobile GPS to alert individuals when they are in a dangerous area or near emergency scenarios.

Water/Waste Efficiency

A popular term when talking about smart cities is ‘smart water’ – and not the kind that comes in a bottle. Instead, smart water is “a water and wastewater infrastructure that ensures [water] and the energy used to transport it are managed effectively and efficiently.” 

Many of the current problems facing water and waste efficiency include water losses from unknown leaks and blockages, water over-usage based on the amount required to finish the desired task at hand, unidentified inadequate water quality, energy consumption needed to move water and waste, as well as many others.

One solution that a smart water system would include are smart water grids, or SWGs, that ensure the security of water quantity and the safety of consumption. SWGs allow professionals in the waste and water industry to more accurately monitor the quantity of water being transported to ensure that it is not over-allocated for what its eventual usage will be, while also testing the quality of the water to make sure it is safe to consume when it reaches its destination. 

Another solution is smart water meters that, unlike manual meters, have a heightened ability to detect low water flow in pipes and potential backflow, which can lead to issues with how the system is operating. 

Lastly, smart pumps and valves can assess environmental conditions and signals from sensors and adjust their rate of activity accordingly.  Variable speed pumps are able to take the data gained from sensors and either speed up or slow down depending on environmental conditions at the time.  Similarly, smart valves can adjust or block flow in water pipes depending on what is necessary.  This greatly diminishes the amount of water and energy wasted in each process and increases efficiency at the same time.

Real Uses of Smart Water Technologies:

  • Baltimore, Maryland: installed and automated 408k+ smart water meters to spot high consumption, leaks and theft while also allowing customers to view their own usage data.
  • The Netherlands: installed levee sensors and pump stations and combines that data with modeled weather events to predict and combat the effect of floods and droughts in the region.
  • Castellon, Spain: in the process of installing 30,000 smart water meters that have the capability to communicate with each other and adjust flow as necessary to remain efficient while requiring much less energy than normal meters to function.

Increased Awareness to Traffic/ Infrastructure Issues

A major benefit in many smart cities is the ability to monitor certain traffic patterns and common congestion points through sensors located inside of cars. The data gathered can be as simple as an area where drivers are commonly required to quickly brake while driving, signaling either large volumes of traffic, dangerous areas, or intersections that may need to be reshaped for the public good. Intersections that are accident-prone can be heavily monitored and adjusted to ease the flow of traffic.   The conditions could be as trivial as a driver not being able to see well around a corner, leaving them to make a split-second decision that could result in a collision.

In addition to being able to improve traffic patterns, smart technology can also be used to monitor deteriorating equipment, such as traffic lights and pedestrian signals, or detect the effect of traffic on environmental conditions.  One example of this comes from Las Vegas, Nevada and a bank of sensors installed around their intersections.  Sensors can take carbon dioxide content in the air and apparent traffic patterns to determine whether it is beneficial to make the light cycle shorter so that cars are not idling and generating exhaust unnecessarily.


A major aspect of any city is the ability to transport goods, services and people at an efficient rate.  Inefficient transportation, whether excess idling due to traffic or over-dependence on personal vehicles, increases harmful emissions and, as a result, many cities are looking to smart technology to optimize travel and provide alternative options for individuals.

One way to achieve this is through mobile apps giving time estimates for trains, buses, and other public transport options. The app should also include time estimates for each route taken and be available for alternate routes throughout the city to reflect current traffic patterns. This simple step could be a big difference maker in the choice of whether to take an individual means of transportation, or a public one. 

Another large trend is the increasing shift to electronic vehicles, or EVs. EVs eliminate emissions normally generated by gas-powered vehicles. Many states are creating ‘power strips,’ or large areas filled with charging stations for EVs, in major areas of their city to try to encourage more use of electronic vehicles. Another growing alternative is the ability to rent bicycles in major cities (often through mobile apps) rather than using emission-generating transportation at all. Both alternatives will cut down the air pollution caused by a city and benefit all in the long-run. 

What’s Next for Smart Cities?

Smart cities are just beginning to be recognized for their countless benefits and are the investment of the future to maximize efficiency, sustainability and improve life conditions for citizens inhabiting them.  As the world of inter-connectivity expands by the day, there is no choice but to embrace it and try to get ahead of the curve to ensure benefits seen worldwide can be seen in your local communities as well.  From smartphones, to smart water, to smart cities, the world is getting smarter, and its inhabitants need to keep up.

GlobalSign’s IoT team is now working with companies in the smart city marketplace, providing PKI-based solutions that will help management officials secure and optimize their connected infrastructure. We will be sharing this and other IoT stories in the coming days.

About the Author

Ian is putting his writing skills to work and dipping his toes into the cybersecurity world during his summer internship here at GlobalSign. Please give him a warm welcome and wish him luck with learning all the acronyms!

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