Smart city


1.1.    Megatrends

During the second half of the XXth century, the world population has massively moved to cities. A major milestone in mankind history was reached around 2005 when urban populations surpassed rural ones. The trend will extend in the next decades and it is anticipated that 70% of human beings will live in towns by 2050. Cities will have to cope with this growth while at the same time facing constrained budgets, depletion of natural resources (including fossil energy and water) and demand for high quality living space from citizens. Most of the solutions will rely on massive deployment of Information and Communication technologies and in particular wireless ones. Some moves in this direction are already visible in the current landscape with solutions for transportation, e-Governement and Machine-to-Machine communication. However the smart cities research domain should aim at leading the innovation effort in the worldwide technical community in order to identify, create and develop technologies to become a leader in some sub-segments of the domain within 5 years 


Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2012). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision, CD-ROM Edition. 


1.2 Urbanization and smart-cities: how will look the cities of the future?

In the metropolitan hubs of the near future, ubiquitous networked sensors will use massively machine-to-machine (M2M) technology to monitor everything from traffic flows and energy use to the movement of citizens and democratic organization. The data collected is then used to improve life for citizens, adapting the behavior of the city in real time to be at its most efficient. If, in the clever, IT-literate city of 2012, you can download a phone app that tells you the bus timetable, in the smart city of the future you'll know the real-time position of every bus and train and have the ability to alter routes based on live feedback and public need.

These transformations are happening already. In Rio de Janeiro, IBM has designed and installed an Operations Center that acts as a data hub for everything that happens in the city. The US$14 million installation monitors everything from traffic management and crime control to traffic flows and weather conditions – sending out warnings to the hillside favelas if there’s a risk of rain and landslides. 

No other city has a facility quite like the one in Rio, but many cities are catching up fast in connected areas.. Researcher MarketsandMarkets predicts that the market for smart city apps will grow by 14.2% by 2016 to reach a value of US$1 trillion. In China alone, dozens of its emerging megacities, including Taiyuan, Huizhou and Weihai, have just embarked on a state-sponsored five-year plan to adopt smart technologies. With its billion-strong population and high-density urban centers, China is under intense internal and external pressure to minimize pollution and maximize efficiency. The world is therefore watching closely to see what we can learn from China’s great experiment – and what the revenue-generating opportunities might be. 

Indeed, the exciting thing for cities is that this is not a passive market. By embracing smart solutions now, experimental urban centers are becoming leaders for the rest of the world to follow. 

Some of these can be found in Europe, with for example the Smart-Santander project (with over 14 000 sensors installed) and Sant Cugat in the Catalonia region of Spain. This town of 81,000 has designated an area of the city as a Smart Street that makes use of M2M technology. Here, networked sensors monitor everything from energy use in buildings to the level of moisture in park soil, so that sprinklers only come on when it's dry, rather than being controlled by a timer. More sensors are deployed in street side garbage bins, so refuse collection routes can be designed as efficiently as possible. 

It may seem odd that a small town in a notoriously cash-strapped country is experimenting with high-tech solutions such as these, but María Serrano Basterra, IT Director at Sant Cugat City Hall, says it's vital for the future.  “We believe that local government has to deal with the current management of the city, but also prepare for the future,” she says. “As local administrations are close to people, providing direct services to citizens, we are committed to carrying out necessary efforts to manage the city in an efficient, effective and sustainable way. So the smart city model is now an opportunity for bringing future quality of life to the city.” 

In the Smart Street, sensors have been installed in every parking bay. These relay information about free spaces back to a central hub that is then used to guide drivers to free spaces using street signs, smartphone apps and software for GPS units. But it's not just about making life more convenient. It can ease traffic flows and raise money for the city. According to Mischa Dohler, CTO of Worldsensing, which installed the network, a parking space is used, on average, for 40 minutes in every hour, but demand is often 200% to 300% of the total available spaces. If one can increase the amount of time that the spaces are in use by just two or three minutes per hour, the technology pays for itself in about eight months. 

Those above examples are just giving small hints of what could be daily life and reshaped business models in massive urbanized areas, where investment in new technology will not only generate benefits for end users but also pay-off for the local administrations. 

2.     A layered view of smart-cities and urbanization 

From the ICT perspective a  generic and layered view of smart-cities and related urbanization areas can be depicted by the following picture showing three basic domains described in more details just below, namely related to ICT infrastructure, City as platform, Smart-Applications.  


2.1.    ICT Infrastructure and challenges

2.1.1.     Network related aspects

Different communication technologies are being used in the framework of smart-city deployments. Low power wireless mesh technologies like ZigBee, IEEE 802.15.4 or 6LowPAN, cell technologies like GSM, GPRS or UMTS (with  4G/LTE starting to emerge) , wireless technologies like IEEE 802.11 or Bluetooth and wired technologies like Ethernet are the building blocks of the communications in current  deployments. 

Analyzing the outcomes of the experimentation on current Smart City deployments, aligned with the current state-of-the-art trends in research and business plans of the different companies, the following challenges  have been identified to be of interest in the area of network communication functionalities: 

  • Heterogeneity

One of the common issues found in large scale Smart-City deployments is the heterogeneity of the devices (sensors, actuators, M2Ms...) used. Though most of the functionalities and services provided from these devices are based on the same principle, due to different protocols and/or data structures used, the integration of the system is one of the main issues to be solved. Possible way to tackle this issue could be to develop/standardize common middleware, e.g. creating a new communication and data abstraction layer(s) capable of communicating with different devices with different protocols and to provide common data structures to be able to integrate the devices easily into the developed applications. 

  • Network routing

The challenge here is to design/standardize  new routing protocol(s) between machines (i.e. sensors, robots, etc.) with respect to the i) node mobility, ii) energy consumption and iii) the Quality of Experience (QoE) perceived by the end-user. It is worth noting that within the existing Smart Cities experiments, the offered services are user-centric and ensuring only required Quality of Service (QoS), which is not sufficient. To tackle the latter problem, the routing protocol will take into consideration the end-users’ satisfaction.

Moreover and in a long-term perspective, video or multimedia information will be the most common way to exchange information between end-devices, user platforms and remote servers. To optimize the forwarding of videos or multimedia information between machines and gateways, the routing protocols will have  to take into consideration the requirements in terms of QoS (e.g. delay, jitter, bit error rate, etc.) and also the perceived quality (QoE). 

  • Security aspects

The challenge is to create new tools and methods able to provide a high level of security and privacy for smart cities against cyber-attacks. An open question is to create adaptive and self-protective security solutions that can be used to secure systems and applications which are built on heterogeneous sensors and devices. The security features will need to incorporate techniques for Authentication and access control, intrusion detection (including weak-signal mining and processing), robust and secure system design, secure communication with strong resilience capabilities. Dynamic security policy based on the level of detected attacks on the infrastructure and the level of security demand of the running application need also to be put in place. This may also imply embodying self-learning and resilience capabilities. 

Methods for quantifying the security levels of security solutions, by means of security metrics, needs also to be specified. They will enable the systematization of security management for the involved city or technical operators. The security metrics will be defined for usage scenarios defined within the range of application deployed. Those metrics will be defined from two viewpoints, i.e., network functional improvement and device optimization.

2.1.2.     Device optimization for large urbanization

On top of the communication technologies and the services offered by large scale IoT deployments, such as Smart Cities, the physical device itself is a critical topic that shall be carefully addressed,  as inappropriate conceptions and topologies of the physical network might cause single point of failures or failure propagation (domino effect) .

Around the experimentation on different large scale smart-city projects, different critical aspects affecting the reliability of the devices have been identified, leading to some difficult challenges such as: 

  • Optimized Network management

The successful deployment of a wireless sensor network is a difficult task, littered with traps and pitfalls. Even a functional network does not guarantee gathering meaningful data. Although most theoretical aspects of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) have been well studied over the past few years (e.g., synchronization, routing, data-mining, etc.), real-world deployments still remain a challenging task. All too often, good WSN systems fail to provide expected results once deployed in the real world (e.g. seamless connectivity, low coverage, performance,..). Such failures may be either due to a completely non-working system or an inability to meaningfully exploit gathered data. New concepts such as ad-hoc networks with spontaneous connectivity remote bootstrapping of security or awareness discovery capabilities need to be investigated. 

  • Over the air programming (OTAP) and Multi-hop OTAP

Optimize secured Over-the-air programming (OTAP) and multi hop over the-air programming (MOTAP) mechanisms is mandatory for succeeding in the management of the kind of networks needed for smart-city supporting large urbanization constraints. In this sense, the use of advanced techniques extending emerging protocols such as network coding are at the heart of approaches to exploit. OTAP and MOTAP allows to change devices configuration (firmware, operational options...) of remote devices without direct contact to them. This feature is raising in importance due to the increase of large scale WSN deployments, where, in most of the cases, it is quite difficult to have direct access to the nodes that compose it.

Network performances are strongly dependent on the network topology. For this aim, new intelligent deployment algorithms need to be proposed  in order to take into consideration the quality of monitoring (detection and false alarms probabilities), as well as the  connectivity and lifetime of the network. In many cases ii is essential to collect back the status of an OTAP or a MOTAP operation. When dealing with very large number of devices, it is important to be able to carry back the operations status as efficiently as possible. Adavanced aggregating and analytics is requested in this area 

  • Optimized device enclosures

Packaging sensors for outdoor deployments is a difficult task, as it must protect electronic parts from humidity and dust while being unobtrusive at the same time. International Ingress Protection (IP) codes are used to specify the degree of environmental protection for electrical enclosures. IP67 is the typically required level for outdoor deployments since with any lesser degree of protection, electronics is being susceptible to corrosion and is exposed to humidity and atmospheric contaminants, leading to irreparable damages. In addition, solutions are needed to detect intrusion or physical attacks against the enclosure, in addition to the other levels of protection against e.g. .radiating effects or sensor probes. 

  • Use of Power Line Communications (PLC)

Wireless communication systems have some limitations that are some times difficult to be address.  Furthermore, it is also important to consider the heterogeneous environments and technologies that can cooperate in large urbanization projects. PLC is rising as a technology that can overcome the difficulties detected in wireless system, being a potential solution not only for high rate communications, but also for low rate (below 250 Kbps). The use of PLC in sensor networks and the relationship with wireless technologies lead the whole system to a more reliable solution and a better use of the constrained resources (including energy considerations). There is here probably a need for algorithms enabling to design heterogeneous networks combining PLC and other wired or wireless technologies in the context of smart-cities, taking in account urban criteria such as building or population densities, radiation effects, citizen acceptance and so on.


2.2.    City as a platform

With an increasing demand from citizens for transparency, efficiency, mobility and social services, all of this with constrained budgets, cities are starting to open their IT infrastructure and connect it to existing ecosystems. This is a definitive move which goes on in parallel with two additional technologies : big data and advanced analytics. 

2.2.1.     Open data

The process has started with Open Data initiatives where data sets from some cities services are made available to the general public. Beyond transparency and contribution to the public debate, these data can be exploited to create new services, discover trends, highlight needs and foster research that could not happened otherwise.

The second step of this open government process is to offer Open API to developers. Here it is possible to retrieve data but also to send some information or request. Open API are documented web services that allow programmers to interface directly with cities IT infrastructure without going through a human (like when going through a hotline) or a fixed interface (like filling a form on a web site). The goal is to offer the opportunity for third parties to develop applications on the top of city platform and create new services at better price for the benefit of the citizens. Some cities have even already launched their own app store. These Open APIs unleash a wide range of new services that would never have been considered by the city itself by lack of budget, creativity, insight, etc. Most of the applications are targeting mobile platforms (thus benefit from these platforms sensors and features like geolocalization) and need to be integrated in social networks. 

Open data is however raising some major challenges 

  • Security and privacy 

Except for some basic use cases, deployment of numerous value-added services will raise the challenges of security, privacy and payment along with the definition of an interoperable middleware for cities. This will be the case for city service operators, but also for the application developers which have to focus on their apps feature and not on the technical integration. Defining suitable security and privacy architectures together with relevant technical solutions and integrated with widely acceptable, fluid and world-accepted solutions will be so a prime importance for successful urbanization. Security and trust services need to be made available to cities by providing advanced TSM (Trusted Service Management) and Identify management infrastructure; similarly SDK and security libraries need to be made available to developers


  • Costs

City budgets are tighter than ever, but smart technologies have enormous potential to save money. Implementing them, however, is often beyond the financial, technical and human resources available to administrators. The good news is that individual volunteers and companies from the private sector are more than happy to make raw data useful, often at a fraction of the cost. The onus on authorities now is to open up information repositories for others to innovate with. 

Opening up data is expensive. Established computer systems for city administration generally aren't designed for sharing real-time information. Administrations have to establish priorities and start in the places where there's most demand. These are often transportation, education and crime statistics. Bus, train and taxi applications dominate the current implementations of open-data apps. 

The important point is that, with any new procurement of IT systems, the ability to share linked data has to be baked in from the start. The advantage for public-sector employees is that external apps will often make their own lives easier – in the UK, one of the biggest users of a website about government expenses is the government itself, because it's easier to use than internal systems.

2.2.2.     Big data and advanced analytics 

Numerous devices and applications will generate huge amount of heterogeneous data that will be used to better manage flows (be it people, vehicles, goods, water or electricity) in smart cities. The main challenges related to this data deluge in a large urbanization perspective are related to:

  • Data policies 

Here again, security and privacy aspects (e.g. related to localisation data) are at stake, but other concerns such as IP protection, liability, regulatory framework (especially in a cross-border perspective) will become prominent for successful large scale deployments. There is currently a lack of conceptual models, risk analysis/management methods and tools able to tackle with the full scale aspect of the problem

  • Technologies 

Besides the classical technical dimensions (computing power, storage, NoSQL data-bases,..) a major difficulty for smart-city deployment will be on best ways to cope with legacy infrastructure in order to be able to capture the full value of big data. In addition, new tools will be needed to be able to perform semantic extraction, visualization of data and connection with assisted/automated decision systems.


  • Business practices 

New business processes (including modeling and supporting tools) are needed to help the smart-city concept becoming pervasive. Among the key challenges are the definition of suitable business models for accessing data from heterogeneous sources, developing workflows and incentive to optimize value form big data, developing Citizen Relationship Management (schemes) compatible with massive urbanization. 

2.2.3.     Other generic technologies shaping the future of urbanization

The smart-city term can include a wide range of markets and technologies and it is possible to find as many definitions as actors in the domain. The following sub-domains are more often cited as part of smart cities: smart home, public safety, smart building, smart energy, tele-medicine, eGovernment, smart utilities, broadband communication everywhere, sensor networks, traffic management, tele-education, smart mobility. Besides the need for all of them to cope with the big-data/open-data paradigms, there is a set of common technologies that will encompass most application domains pertaining to urbanization.

  • Cloud computing: like most organizations, smart cities will move their applications into the cloud. Total cost of ownership and level of control will be of paramount importance here. In this respect, the availability of open Source Cloud Computing solutions and infrastructure meeting the requirement of large urbanization areas will be key
  • Appification: started with iphone and its appstore, opening devices and objects to third parties applications is now a mandatory step in order to provide a large panel of services with a product. Smart cities will be appified themselves as well as cars, bikes, buildings, etc. Basic enabling technologies and framework supporting this appification will so be needed in the future (with all the needed certification, security, privacy, performance and other requested attributes).
  • Mobile devices and social networks: as obvious as it sounds, if cities want to engage with their citizens they have to go where they are, and it’s not always easy for them to go mobile and connect to the social networks. Providing suitable SW frameworks for the ubiquitous interconnecting of social networks and smart-city platforms will be needed. This will probably push for the development of enhanced crowd sourcing technologies.
  • Open government: probably less a technological trend than a sociological one, but the smart cities will have to be transparent both on what they do and how they do it. This will include clear policies on open data and citizens’ privacy, clear user/citizen enrollment de-rollment procedures.
  • Green and environment aspects: If it would be a country, Internet would be already the fifth major energy consumer (before Russia and close to Japan) and ICT CO2 emission already represents 2,3 % of world-wide emissions (equivalent to 50 M cars or to the whole airline industry), growing at 4% on year on year basis. The smart-city ICT related aspects, leading to the potential interconnect of billions of devices by 2020 will ask a formidable challenge in designing energy aware and frugal ICT infrastructures. Initiatives such as GreenIT need to be pursued and even extended (e.g. next generation green mobile networks, highly adaptive mesh networks, virtual home and urban gateways, minimum energy access M2M or IoT architectures, massive MIMO architectures…)
    • Other issues: there is need to lay-out the foundations of the smart-city domain not only from a technical perspective but also at the light of all other aspects: social and societal concepts, demography, urbanism and city architecture, regulatory aspects,  civilian security, cultural change management, multi-risk and system of systems approach, governance and e-democracy. 


3.     Smart Applications

On the top of the layers described before, and with the support of the key generic technologies described, virtually all type of smart-applications can be deployed in a smart-city/large urbanization perspective. As a general consensus from city operators, two application domains seem however to emerge with a high-level of priority:


3.1.    Smart mobility

The demand for mobility is still increasing, but its nature has changed. A tipping point has been reach when some nations passed what is now called the “car peak” in the early 2000s. It refers to the decline of the number of kilometres travelled by person per year in a car and it has been observed in developed countries across Europe, Asia and even in the USA. It clearly shows that owning and driving a car is no longer the only desirable way to move especially in the constrained, polluted and congested spaces of towns.

As a result the demand has shifted to mobility as a service where users can benefit from seamless multimodal transportation which is cheaper and more reliable than personal cars. 

Basic technology bricks exist today such as contactless cards and M2M modules for some transportation modes, as well as some ticketing services based on mobile NFC technologies , but the need is clearly to break silos (e.g. for multimodal transportation systems) and provide on-demand mobility services. The challenge is to provide real-time information, to predict mobility demand and to offer personalized services to citizens and also providing seamless authentication and payment systems. This could be achieved using big data collected from all sorts of personal devices and connected objects. Another challenge is to retrofit the existing transportation modes (and in particular personal cars) in new smart transportation services. Connecting all vehicles and opening them to applications is a pre-requisite and some actors are well positioned to secure these execution platforms.


3.2.    Smart energy

With the depletion of tradition fossil energy sources and the global warming effect, there is no doubt that the energy world will completely change in the near future. The smart energy axis will be mainly focused on electricity, but many related concepts also apply to other type of utilities. Many countries are putting their effort on distributed and renewable electricity production. Two major renewable sources (wind and solar) are intermittent and unpredictable. Having distributed and intermittent production is completely changing the game of electricity distribution grid and will require major investments to upgrade it to a smart grid. In addition having a local production will also change the economic rules (by cutting the distribution costs) and will enable local electricity markets. 

The smart grid will have numerous components. A major one is Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) that includes smart-meters. In addition or as a generalization of smart-meters, energy management boxes will be able to manage distributed generation (like photovoltaic arrays), energy storage, demand-response, local electricity market (like direct electricity selling from landlord to tenant), etc.               

The challenges in the smart energy area include fraud prevention, privacy protection (as smart-meters allow obtaining very specific information about consumers’ private life) and critical infrastructure protection (shutting down the electricity in part of a country a viewed as a very serious thread by national authorities). 

These challenges open plenty of advanced research for developing the suitable technology and service development platforms to enable trust in the smart energy ecosystem and secure all billable events.


4 Boundary conditions

For the urbanization challenges becoming a reality two important boundary factors need to be taken into consideration:



Mass deployment of smart-city concept on national or international perspective will not be possible without widely accepted standards. While technology standards of course are in use or in development at the basic technology level, there are just in infancy at smart application level: one can nevertheless mention some initiatives such as the OneM2M (ETSI partnership) in the Smart-Mobility area (and possibly soon some W3C initiatives) or the European M/490 Smart Grid mandate (ETSI / CEN / Cenelec) in the smart-energy domain.  A much stronger effort should be dedicated in this area in the future. 

Digital divide

The ‘digital divide’ is an important risk for our societies between urban and rural areas but also between the different social categories in the cities themselves. Practically all concepts discussed in this paper can be also viewed from the “smart-landscape” perspective, with the main concern to offer to citizen living in remote areas similar types of services but with different delivery modes as to the ones living in urbanized areas. From this angle, the “ICT platform”, “City as a platform” and “smart domains” layers have to be customized according to the peculiarities of the environment. This should be for sure a very active subject for research in the future.


5     References 

[1] Road Map for the Digital City: Achieving New York City’s Digital Future: NYC report, 2010

[2] Innovation Insight: Smart City AlignsTechnology Innovation and Citizen Inclusion Gartner  
 report, 2012

[3] Open government, Collaboration, Transparency and Participation in Practice, O’Reilly, 2010

[4] GeSI “SMARTer 2020: The Role of ICT in Driving a Sustainable Future”, 2012

[|5] CelticPlus: TILAS project Project Description, 2012

Authors: J.P. Tual, P. Girard 


Currently, mankind is faced with diminishing natural resources and biodiversity, and severe climate changes. In order for the planet to sustain itself, there is a need to manage the use and exploitation of natural resources, reduce pollution & carbon emission and realise food security and efficient soil and water management.

ICT’s role in this trend is twofold. On the one hand, ICT can support more energy-efficient performance of other sectors across economy. E.g. ICT can help to increase the energy-efficiency of various products and services via better control, monitoring and planning (smart grids, smart buildings, manufacturing, transport). On the other hand, the ICT sector has always been a high energy consumption sector. To ensure sustainability within this sector, future ICT systems, services and products with optimal energy consumption need to be developed.

ICT will play a crucial role in the development of a sustainable society, not only because ICT has to act as enabler of efficient use of energy in productive economies but also because more efficient ICT technologies and methodologies have to be developed. The enabling role the ICT sector can play in society can be clearly seen in such examples as rendering buildings more energy efficient or improving the functioning of the electricity grid and managing water. Nevertheless, the European Commission is also aware that the sector itself is responsible for carbon emissions which are rapidly growing and should be kept to a minimum.

The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) ([1]) envisioned ICT-enabled benefits for EU society and the deployment of ICT is fixed as a critical element for delivering policy objectives supporting climate change, reducing energy consumption, improving transportation efficiency and mobility. This is derived from the 20-20-20 agenda commitment focused on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels and to improving energy efficiency by 20 %. Thus, development of the ICT sector will have a key role in the following years if it really wants to lead the change. Several challenges have to be addressed:

  • In a society where everything is, or will be connected (internet of things and internet of people), cost of powering these ICT infrastructures and solutions is not negligible and efforts have to be put in its measurement, monitoring and optimization. With this aim, standardisation initiatives and common frameworks for measuring, monitoring and assessing the energy consumption and environmental impact arising from the production, transport activities and other selling processes of ICT goods, projects and services, through networks, organisations, cities and countries are required.
  • A more efficient use of communication infrastructures: a large amount of energy is consumed by communication infrastructure distributing, processing and storing unnecessary data. New architectures to support local and distribute computation to provide consistent and reliable elaborated data based on business oriented data models are necessary in order to reduce this unnecessary flow and handling of data.
  • Sustainable energy distribution is a major challenge of today: management of bi-directional energy flows, stability of total power system, efficient distribution and use of energy, active and efficient demand management of energy including prediction and optimisation of storage and generation sources will be only realized by a massive utilization of ICT technologies.
  • A novel challenge consists on providing integrated smart services through the distribution networks owned by the utility companies and public authorities. These networks should become increasingly interoperable and accessible.

These challenges will only be addressed with the help of ICT; facilitating new citizen centred business models for an efficient use of time, energy and infrastructures and empowered by energy efficient ubiquitous communication, data processing and management technologies providing seamless connectivity and interoperability. In this context, the following topics become particularly relevant and will have to be tackled by these ICT technologies:

  • Real time information for operational aspects of infrastructures and urban spaces (power and water distribution networks, road networks, citizen mobility, etc.) is needed. This requires ubiquitous, bilateral communication and increasingly interoperable systems and components with data handling and transmission capabilities. The ICT sector needs to provide more ubiquitous connections and greater capacity and interoperability, enabling more complete, integrated, information availability based on information and business models, avoiding at the same time the distribution and broadcasting of unnecessary data. In addition, privacy and data security must be considered carefully in order to gain broad acceptance and trust in the ICT systems.
  • Related to the previous topic, there will be an increasing need to provide event driven services and mechanisms, including data mining and knowledge discovery, to process such events (CEP, complex event processing), sequences of them and streams of information generated in distributed and heterogeneous contexts. The objective is to create new value added services based on the behavioural patterns determined by the processing of the data.






[3]   Future ICT


Authors: Eloy Gonzalez Ortega

Projects related to the challenge Smart city