Smart Cities: Fashionable and Profitable

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov, PhD
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikulichev, PhD

Smart City

“Smart city” today is a fashionable and profitable tendency. The term “smart city” is usually applied to cities that are actively implementing numerous digital applications that allow local administration to govern more efficiently and cater to the needs of their citizens in the most rational way.

The basic concept implies real time data collection and processing in order to utilize the resources available in the most effective manner to save money, to act rationally, to provide better services to the population. An important factor is budget allocation. Today governments eagerly finance new ideas and implementation of new technologies.

There are many “smart city” concepts floating around already, some of them are quite futuristic and even improbable. However, the participants of numerous conferences and round tables on “smart city” concept eagerly talk of impressive achievements and tremendous future potential but are unwilling to admit the inevitable problems inherent to digital technology.

Let’s develop the topic logically. The term “smart city” was introduced fairly recently and does not have a clear cut definition so far. However many experts agree that the main source for managing “smart cities” is the data collected from the population. Even at this first stage we are confronted with a tremendous problem of “open data” handling.

The cities collect and record enormous amount of data. Several large Russian cities are collecting data from “smart” energy and water meters, from automated monitoring systems, automated traffic control networks and aggregated CCTV camera networks.

The data centers have learned to use real time computer analysis and behavioral and traffic modeling methods. The number of IoT devices continues to grow exponentially. The accumulated Big Data needs to be processed and managed properly. Otherwise there is a real danger of data used improperly. In Russia not too long ago restricted car owners data bases were openly traded in the market. In the USA obscure companies like Cambridge Analytics leaked personal data of tens of millions users and thus affected the results of “free” elections in Europe and USA.

Digital cities are definitely getting more and more experienced in improving their functions due to continuous data processing and service upgrades. The integrated sensors collect information from citizens via electronic interfaces. The analysis of data collected allows streamline services and avoid low efficiency practices.

Among the main components of the “modern smart city” the experts usually name video and photo monitoring, on intelligent traffic systems, unified emergency services (like, 112 in Russia and Western Europe and 911 in the USA), the immediate response and control centers, the growing IoT networks and 5G communication networks.

IoT open and flexible smart city solutionsIoT open and flexible smart city solutions

The elements of “smart city” are appearing more and more often everywhere around the globe. Various city structures and service centers are implementing digital technologies and automation to facilitate life in the city to its citizens. Digital services are easier to handle and control. City administrations eagerly transfer some of their functions to private subcontractors who are better equipped to provide efficient and fast services. However there are still no examples of a really “smart city” where digital services would be comprehensive and available to everyone.

Talking of “smart city” problems journalists usually focus on populist topics of total surveillance or omniscient cameras that strip citizens of any privacy etc. But other aspects are even more important. The growing number of digital “smart city” devices inevitably breeds the risk of their vulnerability.

Linked into wide networks, the smart devices (cameras, sensors, screens, meters etc.) are practically defenseless to hackers and pranksters. As a result, these gigantic networks numbering tens and hundreds of thousand devices maybe turned into sources of potential threat, so called bot networks. There are dozens of examples of such threats and real incidents. Russian cities should be seriously worried. In 2017 the number of DDoS attacks on the targets of Russian business and infrastructure nearly tripled.

New efficient and cost-effective solutions are necessary to protect “smart cities”. Some Russian companies, like “NAO-Pro”, started marketing state-of-the-art solutions capable to protect data collection and transfer, prevent unauthorized access to infrastructural resources, thwarting attacks by pranksters or unfriendly agencies masking their activities under the guise of teenage hackers. New data safety approaches are essential in large cities, such as Moscow that is currently ranks fifth among world largest cities (after Singapore, London, Shanghai and New York) by the level of regulatory, technological and infrastructural readiness to implementing futuristic digital approaches and technologies.