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World Cities Day 2021: Laying the foundations for smart and sustainable communities

by Andrew McGrath

04 November 2021

This blog is part of our series for World Cities Day 2021 — sharing perspectives from major centres around the world on how connected infrastructure is making cities smarter, more resilient, and more sustainable.

Climate resilience is one of the most important issues of our time, and communications networks can play a key role in making communities more adaptable, responsive and robust. Connectivity provides a citywide backbone for smart applications that make life better for citizens and help reduce communities’ environmental footprints. To realise this potential, cities need three things: ubiquitous network coverage, a long-term vision and the right partnership approach.

Connectivity is a path to helping cities adapt to climate change

The past several years have shown just how real climate risks are for communities all over the globe. We’ve seen massive floods, crippling heatwaves and devastating fires. Around 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of a coast, a growing hazard as sea levels continue to rise. As conditions worsen, climate migration will increase, and for the most part that will drive more people into cities, intensifying the need for more sustainable public services.

Smart community applications are one way to expand services effectively and build urban resilience. Intelligent public transport, energy-efficient buildings, and applications such as environmental and pollution monitoring can help cities grow sustainably. To take advantage of these opportunities, everything must be networked. Efforts need to be undertaken to connect disjointed islands of connectivity, automate manual network switching and solve awkward Wi-Fi handoffs.

Deploying coverage everywhere

Truly ubiquitous coverage means getting into even the toughest and traditionally underserved ‘not spots’ that have deterred mobile network operators due to cost, complexity or an insufficiently compelling business case. At BAI Communications, we’ve developed deep expertise in these types of deployments, particularly in underground transport networks that have been notoriously hard to connect.

Above ground, citywide coverage requires strategic use of existing vertical assets such as streetlights, bus stops and traffic lights to create a mesh that leaves no spot unconnected. It must also extend seamlessly into buildings and public spaces via fibre, small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS).

As cities wrestle with the question of how to enable this kind of comprehensive connectivity, many are seeing the benefit of neutral hosting, whereby a single provider designs, builds and operates the infrastructure, and the full range of MNOs, government departments and other parties use it to deliver services to citizens and businesses. It’s cost-effective, streamlined and much simpler than having multiple parallel networks rolled out. This model is well established in North America and gaining traction around the world.

Taking the long view

Bringing smart communities to life demands a long-term perspective and vision as well as an openness to adapt over time. The focus should be on building a platform capable of supporting any number of different applications, even ones that haven’t been imagined yet, rather than deploying any one solution. This is not unlike the internet, which has grown into a literal web of networked capabilities for a vast range of applications that no one would have anticipated when it was first being built.

Cities, governments and municipalities are accustomed to thinking long-term with most urban planning dealing in timescales of decades. Today, those long-term visions are being driven by a passionate commitment to create better spaces for citizens to live, work and thrive sustainably.

Building smart communities through partnerships

Given the scale of the smart city undertaking, it’s no surprise that partnership is critical to success. Collaboration is essential amongst governments at all levels, network companies, enterprises, industry, public-sector agencies and more.

At BAI, we’ve seen how effective these partnerships can be. Working with transport authorities in major cities worldwide, we’ve deployed robust infrastructure to keep people connected on the move. We’re connecting the London Underground in a way that will provide the backbone for citywide wireless and fixed coverage. Our wireless network in the New York City subway system is used by thousands of people every day. The same is true of the transport network we’ve helped build in Hong Kong. And most recently we announced that we will be providing the 5G infrastructure to connect the city of Sunderland and help them become the most advanced smart city in the UK.

Enabling unconstrained innovation

With the three ingredients of ubiquitous coverage, long-term planning and solid partnerships, cities will be well-positioned to become smarter, more sustainable and more resilient to climate change. 5G will enable even more powerful applications thanks to expanded network capacity and reduced latency, opening the door to possibilities we haven’t even thought of yet. At the end of the day, that’s the ultimate goal: to build a network that doesn’t constrain innovation.

Andrew McGrath

Group Chief Commercial Officer, BAI Communications

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