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Smart cities and the internet of things (IoT) offer potential to realise huge benefits for society, but much more attention must be paid to the underlying networking and broadband infrastructure if the technology is to deliver on this promise.
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This was the verdict delivered during a morning of panel discussions and keynotes at IoT Tech Expo at London’s Kensington Olympia.
Speaking at the event, Labour MP and shadow digital economy minister Chi Onwurah – one of a growing number of politicians speaking out over superfast broadband – said it was all very well to talk about the IoT as a panacea for social inclusion, but while there were still millions of homes around the UK without access, either because they lacked the skills or the infrastructure, it was premature to do so.
“We need everyone online and able to access services and products digitally, because the full benefits of the internet of things cannot be realised if millions cannot have access,” she said.
Onwurah accused the government of failing to recognise infrastructure as a priority, and taking infrastructure to mean new roads and rail links while only paying lip-service to digital.
“I’m not just bashing the government because it’s my job, or because it’s easy or fun,” she said. “But if you [industry], who have more credibility than politicians, don’t speak up now, we’ll be having this debate about the internet of things in five years.
“Right now we have no framework or principles for addressing technology and the effect it has on our lives.”
John Davies, chief researcher of future business technology at BT, also spoke about the performance and availability of the underlying network to adoption of smart city technology, although he stopped short of openly criticising his own company’s roll-out.
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“Smart city technology has a role to play in socioeconomic challenges,” said Davies. “However, it has to be underpinned by other technologies. I think of digital inclusion, for example, and poor areas are nearly always the same areas with the lowest rates of broadband penetration.
“We need to put in place more underlying technologies and networks to enable smart city technologies to be employed more effectively.”
Paul Wilson, managing director of Bristol Is Open – one of the highest-profile smart city projects currently under way in the UK – said the networks underpinning the IoT needed to be technology agnostic, heterogeneous and software-defined.
“This elastic approach is addressing many of the architecturally-rigid constraints experienced in today’s commercially available networks,” he said. “As we bring our infrastructure live throughout 2016, we are looking forward to demonstrating new levels of connectivity that will be the hallmarks of the smart city of the future.”