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Smart Cities – Today’s Difference; Tomorrow’s Ideas

| January 21, 2012



Rob Parkes - Alcatel-Lucent

Author: Rob Parkes
Global Marketing Director – Internet of Things


As we immerse ourselves in the professional environment relating to Smart Cities, it is hard not to be impressed. Everywhere you look there are ground-breaking new services, ideas and technologies being discussed at conferences, forums and trade shows. In fact, a whole new series of events has sprung up to cater for the new appetite for technology and content companies to seek out the opportunities in this space – supporting innovation at its best.

However, one question remains unanswered. What advantages do the Citizens of these Smart Cities enjoy today, and what do they want? It sounds simple, but very little work, if any, has so far been done in examining these questions from the point of view of people who after all are the customers of this movement. How are their lives impacted by the Smart City today, and what are their hopes and needs for the future? And yes, there are already hundreds of thousands of Smart City Citizens in our Global societies, the pioneers of this new way of living. One estimate is that there are already more than 180 Smart Cities in existence today.

In the last few weeks, and to be continued in the coming months, Alcatel-Lucent has been conducting in-depth surveys into the needs, desires, aspirations and expectations of Smart City Citizens in respect to their own city. At this early stage in the project, only one city has been examined, and that is the amazing City of Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. To try to give a flavour of the achievements of this City, it is worth highlighting a few data points. Firstly, Chattanooga has the fastest broadband network in the United States, built by the power utility company EPB as part of a project conceived originally to implement Smart Grid and Smart Metering into every home. “Last year, Chattanooga became America’s first and only city to complete a community-wide network capable of delivering up to 1G bps Internet speeds to every home and business in EPB’s 600-square-mile service area,” said Robert Vrij, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s Americas Region. Beyond this, Chattanooga’s fiber-optic network has lead to the development of a high-speed Internet-connected management and control system, which controls capabilities such as IP surveillance cameras, street-light power management and a city-wide symmetrical WiFi grid.

How today’s solutions are making a difference to the lives of citizens

Chattanooga City CIO Mark Keil has plenty of anecdotes when it comes to making a difference today. With optical connectivity on every streetlamp, adding diverse sensors and devices has seen many benefits including enhanced security via IP surveillance cameras, to flood protection courtesy of rainfall sensors. Chattanooga has already seen tangible increases in city service quality, speed of response, and reduction in cost with these solutions. Movement sensors which allow the management of light (and hence power) levels in all types of neighbourhoods and events are among the  new solutions.

Cara Hicks, young mother and newly elected President of the Young Professionals Association has another view, and that is the impact of E-Learning on her 7 year old son. The quality of the solution has resulted in a big increase in the appetite and hence progress of her young student, and furthermore Cara can see huge benefits in the ongoing management of her children’s education via remote parent teacher conferences which allow her to deal with every parent’s challenge – balancing a career with the needs of her family. Her view is in fact that all public meetings should be streamed – PTA, City Council meetings, and so on, to allow maximum participation of the citizens in the management of their lives and their city.

Nick Coussoule from Blue Cross Shield of Tennessee which is an independent, not-for-profit, locally governed health insurance provider has yet another view. He has already seen the Smart City enable independent living for many of the City’s elderly or infirm under the Patient Centered Medical Home scheme. What better example could there be of the Smart City increasing the Quality of Life of the citizen? Aside from this, the scheme has lowered costs and shifted the focus to wellness improving health levels by removing noise from the health care system.

Dr. Jim Busch is a leading Diagnostic Radiologist with fellowships in Interventional Radiology and Radiology Informatics and CEO of Specialty Networks. He talks about the massive increases in efficiency he has made due to the Smart City

infrastructure, and the far-reaching implications of these benefits. Never mind the fact that he has seen a 40% increase in the productivity of the Radiology team, or that diagnostic accuracy is up. What is most compelling is that it is now possible to have the diagnosis from an MRI, CAT or CT scan delivered to the attending Doctor before the patient has even returned from the imaging department to the Emergency Room. And where is Dr Busch? At home. Or in the office. Or at another medical establishment. It simply doesn’t matter. Let’s consider a minute the implications for the patient – a process that would normally take 24 hours is complete in minutes, meaning that fast decisions can be made to discharge or admit for treatment. No dreadful, nail-biting delays on top of multiple journeys to the hospital, reducing stress (which in itself can improve outcomes) and releasing hospital resources for other patients.

But what about tomorrow?

One of the themes that has emerged so far is that of the unforeseen benefits of the Smart City. We have been talking for a while about the unimaginable improvements in our Quality of Life through the Internet of Things, and here we can see the beginning that from the human side. Happier students learn more, and faster. Relaxed patients get better quicker. Safer citizens produce more, and so on, and on top of this there have been some flashes of insight into what our Cities should be prepared to deliver in the future. Dr. Busch talks about the use of 2-way immersive communication not just for gaming, but for remote real time surgery by the specialist in that field, and with his achievements in the imaging field this could be just around the corner.

Disaster preparedness and recovery is another area expected to blossom with life saving implications.  Tim Walsh at SimCenter Enterprises shared a first glimpse of the commercialization of applications for public safety.  Advising residents where to seek safety in the event of chemical spills or other possible disasters is a real possibility with smartphone alerts from the plume analysis taking into account the wind conditions and specifics of the hazard.

One area that is also ripe for tomorrow and has been so far overlooked is the impact on the underprivileged.  Chattanooga Housing Authority welcomes the notion that entrepreneurs attracted to the city will bring ideas and applications to support social change dealing with safety, security, transportation, and education.

Chattanooga readily admits that they don’t have all the answers of what services and benefits are part of the future vision which is why they’ve launched the Gig Prize program (  This program is structured to match ideas with citizens and vertical industry needs to shape tomorrow’s most valued services.

Identifying the important trends

All of our respondents so far have talked about how the Smart City allows for the distribution of expertise, and hence the ability to deliver better quality services more efficiently. Dr Busch talks about the relative rarity of Diagnostic Radiologists with Ear, Nose and Throat specialization, and that patients with conditions in this area now have direct access to the specialist support that previously would have taken time to obtain. Nick from Blue Cross Shield talks about the serious skill shortage in Chattanooga in his field that he has been able to overcome to use multiple types of skills from remote areas.  Has 5 times more telecommuters now than 1 ½ yrs ago (850 telecommuters today), with one person providing specialist support even from Alaska.

All of these effects are having a positive effect on the economy of the City of Chattanooga, which is now becoming a magnet for start-ups, technology companies, and in fact any business that has high data transfer needs. For example it is no accident that Amazon has opened a major data centre in Chattanooga which takes advantage of the Smart City environment.

Smart Cities – a today story

Real differences are being made today in the lives of the lucky few pioneers who have access to advanced services delivered by their Smart City. As we move forward, let’s make sure that we as an industry don’t create a disconnected bubble of service innovation, and instead we tap into this incredible Smart City Citizen resource to understand the type of services we should be developing in the future, and work with these communities to develop them.

What does it really mean to be a smart city? Danna Bailey, VP of Corporate Communications at EPB captured it best when she said “a smart city is one that applies collaboration for the common good and takes advantage of all its assets.”  We’ve heard over and over the need for collaboration across citizens, NGOs, public, and private sectors.  It’s connecting these citizen needs with the innovators to create a better life that actually makes cities smarter.


Rob Parkes

Global Marketing Director – Internet of Things



“Research by Debbie Fisher of Alcatel-Lucent Market and Consumer Insight team and Erin Henry of Harvard School of Business.


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