Opinion

Mobile Communities Get Smart

Leaders in U.S. communities large and small are embracing the modern mandate to “get smart.” New and emerging mobile broadband applications—running on ever more powerful 4G and ultimately 5G wireless networks—offer enormous opportunities to improve public services, lower costs and build communities that are more economically and environmentally sustainable for local residents and businesses. From safer communities to more efficient transit systems, community-wide, wireless-enabled innovation holds the potential to transform our communities and our lives. So the stakes are high for the success of these locally led efforts.

I recently moderated a panel at the National League of Cities’ City Summit, at which community leaders discussed building smarter, mobile cities. Future-focused panels are always inspiring, and this panel was no different. We discussed how communities of all sizes can lead the smart revolution, real-world strategies already underway and resources are available to help.

These topics also are the subject of a Mobile Future report released at the summit, Get Smart: The Ground-Up Revolution to Connect and Transform American CommunitiesIt addresses the critical need to create environments that support investment in wireless infrastructure, and next generation technologies like 5G, to maximize the impact of smart communities. Particularly salient among the considerations the report recommends:

  • Unify the Strategy. Start by unifying your community—public, private and nonprofit—around shared goals that harness mobile broadband technologies to grow the local economy, enhance digital inclusion, increase access to educational and other opportunities, and improve public services.
  • Speed the Infrastructure. Find ways to encourage ever more vibrant wireless networks that provide the coverage, capacity and quality a smart city needs to flourish. This means examining local policies to remove barriers to infrastructure investment by enabling things like access to rights of way, tower-siting and a speedy permitting review process.
  • Free the Data. Communities can take advantage of the growing open data movement to make more municipal data available through “app challenges” and other engagement to harness smart data streams to improve government services.
  • Encourage Entrepreneurs. Wireless services can be a vital engine for economic growth. By supporting local incubators and/or maker spaces, community leaders can help speed development of a local ecosystem of smart, connected entrepreneurs.

The report also highlights communities of all size who are leading by example today.

  • Los Angeles is partnering with Google to use the traffic navigation app Waze to aggregate traffic and accident data to improve commutes of the city’s more than 1.3 million drivers.
  • Boston partnered with Verizon to deploy a state-of-the-art fiber optic network platform, which helps measure bicycle traffic, improve the flow of public transit and enhance safety.
  • Kansas City is working with Verizon subsidiary Sensity to ensure safe operation of its light-rail system, manage street parking and gather data on pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
  • In Centreville, Ga., the police department piloted a CopTrax Smart Glasses that serve as body cameras that automatically upload video to the cloud via officers’ smartphones.
  • In Charlotte, N.C., more than 60 downtown high-rise buildings have installed meters and public kiosks to track and illustrate energy costs and consumption levels.
  • Atlanta and the nonprofit Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organization are working with Ericsson to deploy waterproof sensors that report real-time water quality information, and
  • The San Francisco Bay area is home to a pilot program by Sierra Wireless and AT&T aimed at facilitating LTE network connectivity by demonstrating lower costs for network components, improved coverage in hard-to-reach places and longer battery life for IoT devices, setting the stage for the next wave of smart city applications enabled by 5G.

This is just a snapshot of the kinds of innovative community efforts taking place across the country as part of this ground-up revolution. Thanks to a rising tide of local leadership—and rich collaboration across the public, private and nonprofit sectors—the connected future of communities is fast arriving.

Combine this with the fact that infrastructure also is shaping up to be a top priority across party lines in Washington, and our nation has a potentially historic opportunity for next-generation infrastructure that is smarter, more efficient and more nimble in its service to all of our citizens. It’s a smart idea. It will take all of us working together. And, it’s worth it. The potential benefits to communities across the country—if we succeed in marrying smart technologies to smart policies and smart resources—is virtually limitless.

 

Diane Smith is a board adviser to Mobile Future. She is an attorney, entrepreneur and author who has worked on the launch of competitive long distance, mobile and IPTV industries.

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