Join the dots: How Wifi creates a big picture for smart cities

22 April 2014 | Carlos Gómez Vendrell

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Carlos Gómez Vendrell

Blog Author | Gowex We2; CEO


There was a time when infrastructure for towns and cities meant roads and railways. Back then, the town planners were thinking only about the transport of people, and not about the transfer of data.

There was a time when infrastructure for towns and cities meant roads and railways. Back then, the town planners were thinking only about the transport of people, and not about the transfer of data.

Smart city planners now recognise the importance of public telecommunications infrastructure. I believe a Smart City is one that aims to improve the quality of life of its citizens through technology and to use that technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its services.

When we were children, we used to create pictures by joining the dots in our drawing books. What looked like a random series of dots connected together to create a big picture. For a Smart City, connecting the public and private Wifi dots holds the key to creating the big picture of city-wide networks of freely-available, easy-to-access, high-speed, high-capacity data connectivity.

A Wifi network backed by the city authority or development corporation can also serve as a public service network – advising people across a number of hotspots of a transport problem in their area. Maybe a nearby metro station is closed and the Wifi network can broadcast that fact to people using the service in the vicinity.

“What about the cost?” I hear you asking. Surely building this infrastructure and providing the necessary backhaul costs money? Maybe, but in the big cities there is already somewhere in region of 30 times the capacity on existing Wifi hotspots that there is on cellular networks. The secret for the city planners is to incentivise the owners of those hotspots to work together. The benefit for the owners is the chance to be part of something bigger and market to a city audience.

And as well as providing a better, smarter city network for its citizens and commuters, think of the tourist benefits as well. Arriving in New York? Download the official NYC Wifi app and get a host of special offers and tourist tips, as well as unlimited Wifi access across the City.

Mobile network operators and standalone Wifi network service providers are not cut out of the loop here either.

As an MNO, I will happily join the City network – it helps to offload my traffic and speed up my overall macro network. It is not a substitute for building the macro coverage, but it helps my network efficiency and improves my customer service. And as a specialist Wifi company, why wouldn’t I offer up my service to be part of the network? If I have a business model that monetises my service through advertising and sponsorship, then the more traffic I handle, the more revenues I can generate.

Harnessing the power and availability of Wifi to create free-to-access, citywide data networks offering the potential for public service, social and commercial applications to provide value and deliver revenues is a big vision. It is also a big opportunity, and the cities that see the big picture will be the first ones to join the Wifi dots.