What A Smart City is All About


With the human population expected to grow from the current 7.9 billion to almost 10 billion by 2050, it is estimated that approximately 70% of the planet’s inhabitants will also be living in an urban setting.

To achieve the highest potential for humanity, smart cities strive to bring together government, commerce, society, and technology, enabling smart living and community engagement that enhance and support human existence. In this setting, smart systems that utilize our knowledge of science, technology, business models, and modern processes play a key role in tending to the vitality and viability of our world.

What are the Features of a Smart City?

It is imperative that future cities be sustainable, environmentally sound, affordable, and provide citizens a high quality of life, including such things as habitat planning, essential services, goods, employment, culture and recreation, and safety. 

Many municipalities are struggling with managing the transition to urbanization. Areas of focus include:

  • Understanding the benefits and downsides of technology
  • Helping to guide the appropriate uses of technology
  • Researching and developing practices that address citizen and community governance
  • Addressing the challenges of economic growth and use of natural resources
  • Creating roadmaps for resilient and secure infrastructure.

Today, every city should be choosing how to prioritize key progress areas, focusing on resolving the most important issues, fulfilling the most important objectives, and creating the best value proposition for its residents. The evolution of state and local government efficiencies and policy for citizens and civic priorities is moving into a bi-modal construct, blending traditional government operations and real-time digital democratic methods and approaches. While some cities, states, and countries recognize these core gaps in the transformation of society, many governments and civic leaders need input on how to organize and plan for the use of digital technologies and approaches in a pragmatic way, and with confidence.

Smart cities provide an opportunity to use the data that will be obtained from many sources, such as sensors, cameras, and other devices through open, flexible platforms, that can be utilized within a city’s infrastructure. 

The discovery from this data can increase operational efficiencies while reducing cost and the use of resources, leading to an optimal, more appealing safer and healthier city environment. Having this data in a reliable framework that is easily accessible, usable, complete, trusted and secure is paramount. 

Through ongoing processing and analysis, data can provide business intelligence, discovery, and insights, within practical data governance constraints, that can help drive increased growth, more engaged living, better business practices, and improved citizen health and ecological behavior.

IEEE Initiatives for Smart Cities

Given the complexity of the smart cities ecosystem, and the emphasis governments around the world are putting on this area, IEEE is committed to both a top-down and bottom-up approach. 

In the former, we work closely with governments and municipalities in understanding and deployment of these technologies, including policy, while, in the latter, we help drive the development of standards through industry and citizen participation. 

In this regard, IEEE through the IEEE Smart Cities Initiative has been engaging with municipalities around the world to understand the key issues, and to work with them in deployment of standards-based solutions and consensus building through the hosting of workshops, webinars, conferences, etc.

IEEE has organized local and regional events in targeted cities with international experts in the specific areas of focus. A fundamental undertaking of the IEEE Smart Cities Initiative, the IEEE Core Smart Cities program recognizes and helps cities that are establishing and investing both human and financial capital into smart city plans. Acceptance into the initiative requires an articulate, pragmatic plan for how the city can become smarter in how it is run, with the goal of improving its citizens’ quality of life. Selected cities receive strategic and practical advice from a team of IEEE experts to help conduct activities and further the well-being of its citizens in a sustainable environment.

Delivering against the real time digital democracy needs and timeline requires an acute understanding of how edge of the network to enterprise information flows occur—from citizens, to sensors, to critical infrastructure in and around the telecommunications conduits that exist in local and regional environments. 

To that end, IEEE works to show city, state and local government how to design, enable and benefit from digital infrastructure, modern telecommunication methods and techniques, as well as compute, storage and IO/Technologies to ensure any current or future investments are deemed to be productive and scalable, and demonstrate benefits to citizens, communities and governing officials.

Smart Cities Standards Development

IEEE Standards help enable smart city technologies for humanity

The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) is working to foster technology advancement and standards development in areas that balance an edge to enterprise technology reference architecture, helping to move the digital conversation forward in terms of confidence, budget investment ROI, and compliance with legal and privacy policies of state, local, and federal government practices.

For example, the project IEEE P1451-99™ Standard for Harmonization of Internet of Things (IoT) Devices and Systems is designed to help smart cities bridge devices using different protocols. It further provides a means for the owner of the devices to protect their personal information and access to their devices, thus ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of information. Many smart city use cases today are using smartphones and the owner’s information, where the devices are being compromised. This is a big concern that has slowed deployment, as it is necessary to protect the cities’ systems. This new effort will benefit the developers and researchers, including academia, working to provide IoT for smart cities.

Most current standardization activities are confined to very specific verticals and represent islands of disjointed and often redundant development. The architectural framework defined in the IEEE 2413-2019™ Standard for an Architectural Framework for the Internet of Things (IoT) promotes cross-domain interaction, aids system interoperability and functional compatibility, further fueling the growth of the IoT market. The adoption of a unified approach to the development of IoT systems will reduce industry fragmentation and create a critical mass of multi-stakeholder activities around the world.

IEEE 2413 defines an architectural framework for IoT, including descriptions of various IoT domains, definitions of IoT domain abstractions, and identification of commonalities between different IoT domains. This standard provides a reference model that defines relationships among various IoT verticals (e.g., transportation, healthcare, etc.) and common architecture elements. It also provides a blueprint for data abstraction and the quality “quadruple” trust that includes protection, security, privacy, and safety. The reference architecture covers the definition of basic architectural building blocks and their ability to be integrated into multi-tiered systems. The reference architecture also addresses how to document and mitigate architecture divergence.

A large-scale IoT deployment should be built on manageable, reliable, sustainable and trustworthy primitive deployments. The IEEE P1931.1™ Standard for an Architectural Framework for Real-time Onsite Operations Facilitation (ROOF) for the Internet of Things enables this with the philosophy of “act locally; think globally.” Smart cities provide this exact framework. IoT devices and systems generate continuous data that help build real-time context to understand the smart city scenario and to take actions in real time as required. The ROOF computing and networking addresses the challenges by providing reliable real-time context building and triggering actions as well as the computing needs for providing security and privacy for the constrained devices and the data. This standard helps in building generic gateway and aggregator functionalities, and plays a larger role in the development of IoT products for smart cities solutions that can be integrated horizontally, which will result in better and flexible IoT networks for smart cities use cases.

A few cities have taken the time to research the data domain foundations that run their respective civic responsibilities and citizen engagements. One of the areas of greatest promise, and of challenge for smart cities, is the management, gathering, processing, and analysis of ever-increasing streams of data. In many ways, it underpins what a smart city is about – reducing the complexity and wealth of information to fact- and knowledge-based effective decision-making and practice. Leveraging standards when and wherever possible will help with the evolution of smart cities, while keeping interoperability and cost in the forefront of the processes needed to achieve success.

The IEEE SA Foundational Technologies Practice is committed to smart cities standardization and offers a portfolio of standards and programs to address key aspects of the smart cities’ framework. View a full list of IEEE Standards and projects for smart cities.

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