Tackling the UK’s urbanisation with smarter cities

06 November 2023

Smart city projects are advancing in leaps and bounds across the UK. But how are communications service providers helping support the growing drive for greener urban centres? We checked in with those in the know.

Making cities smarter

Smart cities hold the potential to change the world, improving everyday life as well as helping tackle the environmental impact of expanding urbanised centres. As sustainability concerns further embed themselves within society and technology adoption remains critical for economic growth, local authorities across the UK are looking to incorporate more smart technologies into their cities.

At their core, smart cities rely entirely upon the smooth running of communications networks.

Joanne Green

Joanne Green

“Communication service providers have a key role to play here, as the underlying digital infrastructure required to support the adoption of these technologies relies upon futureproof fibre connectivity with high capacity and low latency characteristics,” says Joanne Green, head of public sector, Neos Networks.

Indeed, smart cities depend on reliably connecting sensors, devices and people so that data can be securely collected, processed and shared in real-time for the benefit of its inhabitants, says Kunal Shukla, senior vice president of technology, Digital Barriers. “By providing reliable, secure, and high-speed connectivity, communication networks can help to improve the efficiency of city operations, make better decisions, and ultimately improve the quality of life for citizens.”

Hubert Da Costa

Hubert Da Costa

“Communications networks are the new foundational infrastructure for smart cities,” agrees Hubert Da Costa, CRO, Celerway. “Much like the boulevards and highways we built for our first urban centres, communications networks today are the backbone for knitting together technologies, businesses, and communities. They are the key to empowering smart cities to become places of increased business productivity, efficiency, customer satisfaction, closer human connections, and even improved mental well-being.”

Ilan Barda, CEO of Radiflow, believes that by integrating information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT), these networks facilitate seamless real-time data exchange, powering different aspects of smart cities including transportation, healthcare, utilities, and public safety.

“Communications networks enable continuous data collection from sensors, cameras, and IoT devices,” says Barda. “The data gathered is transmitted to central control centres. Analysing this data helps improve city services with better informed decisions. These networks also empower real-time monitoring and control of critical infrastructure, aiding efficient traffic management and swift emergency response.”

However, without upgrading ill-equipped legacy network infrastructure, smart city projects risk being unable to reach their full potential, warns Green. “As urban needs continue to develop and change, network infrastructure must be prepared to withstand new demands on the network and sustain into the future. For network infrastructure providers, this means working closely with local authorities to assist in the routing and planning of network upgrades and ensuring reliable connections are in place.”

Securing the smart city

Ensuring data security in an era of smart city technology adoption is of paramount importance for the protection of enterprise, government, and consumers alike. With the expanding volume of data generated, it is imperative to take a holistic approach that prioritises data privacy and security by design at all layers.

“A privacy impact assessment should be conducted for all smart city deployments that collect or process personal data,” says Shukla. “There should also be clear governance frameworks in place to ensure privacy and security are always front of mind in the design, development, and operation of smart city solutions.”
Having a policy that drives zero trust is vital, agrees Da Costa: “true end-to-end zero trust must be available wherever the business or end user is to minimise their exposure to cyber threats. With such data-rich environments and interconnectivity, this approach ensures both the protection of sensitive data and the protection of privacy for enterprises and individuals.”

“From a technology standpoint, the encryption of all data at rest and in transit, the implementation of strong protocols for authorisations, and authentication and the use of data anonymisation wherever feasible are just some of the protections that should be put in place,” adds Shukla.

Meanwhile, according to Barda, the key is full asset visibility with always-on detection engines, enabling complete management of the smart city’s OT cyber risk. That way, he says, you’ll be able to identify what might be threatening the network and can alert on suspicious behaviours while ignoring the countless conditions that are irrelevant.

“A stepping stone to achieving this level of visibility is finding a way to benchmark your security posture, helping to identify the key areas that need improvement. Also, the best ‘tried-and-tested’ disaster recovery procedures are necessary, too. These must be used in case of successful smart city attacks to minimise downtime,” says Barda. “The tighter the security the better.”

Despite all these measures, however, breaches can happen. “Having a well-defined incident response (IR) plan allows for prompt addressing of security issues and minimisation of their impact,” adds Barda.

The answer to urbanisation?

Statista reports that the UK’s population stands at some 67.6 million, and while growth rates are slowing, the population is expected to hit 74 million by 2060.

“Smart cities are the inevitable way forward to housing a growing UK population,” says Da Costa. “The challenge will be to achieve a balance that will retain the sense of village and town community that has been a staple for this country for so long. We require a happy medium whereby we address the critical requirements needed to drive security and safety to the UK population while also fostering the long-lived community spirit that people love.”
Like much of the rest of the world, rapidly expanding urbanisation is becoming a challenge in the UK.

“Smart cities are becoming a key way to mitigate the adverse effect of increasing urbanisation,” says Green. “By integrating technologies which manage carbon-emitting infrastructure and support urban planning, local authorities can adjust resource allocations for public services and better meet the needs of their constituents.”
As pressure continues to mount on public services, smart technologies that help to save time, labour and resources will be key to ensuring everyone can access the required services.

“Not only will smart solutions be critical in extending the longevity of UK infrastructure, but they will also be a key driving force behind meeting the ambitions set out in the government’s levelling-up plan,” adds Green. “By automating services and using data insights to highlight untapped revenue streams and areas where resources can be reduced, local authorities can reinvest resources into regeneration and future growth.”

Smart city projects can be critical drivers of economic growth, making a city more attractive for business, stimulating job creation and tax revenues.

“When implemented effectively, these projects create a self-powered productivity loop that can equalise a community, encouraging a more inclusive economy,” finishes Da Costa. “Ultimately, as more and more intelligence moves to the edge, smart cities will require a new level of edge connectivity capability that will benefit and empower everyone from every corner of society.”