MWC19, historic Barcelona, and the future of smart cities

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What are we looking forward to at MWC19? Let’s start by looking backward…

Barcelona’s Eixample district was the architectural brainchild of Ildefons Cerdà. Its grid-like structure and wide avenues were conceived in the mid-19th century as an antidote to the overcrowding, congested thoroughfares, and poor sanitation which plagued its medieval centre. Cerdà based his design on the results of a study examining the living conditions of Barcelona’s inhabitants, with the aim of constructing a sustainable, navigable environment which improved quality of life and had wide-reaching, and long-lasting, socio-economic benefits.

This approach to urban planning was revolutionary, and one we’ll experience in the flesh this month, as the GeoSpock team return to Spain’s cultural capital to attend Mobile World Congress (MWC19). Cerdà may no longer be around, but his vision prevails in urban planning today. In fact, thanks to the huge (and continuously growing) volumes of data now available, we can augment his vision and create beautiful, beneficial, smart cities in the future.

Innovation in the city

Some of these ideas will be on show at MWC19 as part of government-backed regional exhibits, as well as across a dedicated Innovation City pavilion. In addition to seeing smart city technology in action in Barcelona, we’re hoping to hear about the initiatives the GSMA has driven over the past 12 months to move the mobile industry closer to achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainability Goals. With the Goals pledging to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,’ smart city technologies are set to play a major role in supporting the UN’s vision.

Connected societies equal empowered communities, with people and policy-makers better placed to tackle challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. How can we connect these societies? Well, the approach isn’t too dissimilar to that pioneered by Cerdà. The architect conducted a study, gathered information, and used this to inform and map a new urban environment. The same approach needs to be taken today by stakeholders involved in designing and delivering smart cities – including local authorities, service providers, contractors, architects, application and technology developers, and operators. Data must be collected, organised, indexed, analysed and visualised.

Mapping the Everything

Instead of existing in siloes, and being held by each individual stakeholder, data must be collated, shared, and compared. This will then allow for problems to be identified, and for solutions to be created. Demographic and health-related data on a city’s inhabitants, for instance, could be mapped and compared to locations of relevant services in a given area, as well as insight into public transport. This could then be used to highlight denser population areas of vulnerable or elderly citizens, and ensure that pharmacies and hospitals are easily accessible via public transport networks. And, if not, that this problem is addressed and a solution found.

The same could apply to the use of crime and lighting data – identifying potential links between low-level or no street lighting and a higher incidence of crime, and addressing this by introducing new, smart lighting in high-risk areas.

Putting data first

Of course, the level of data at the fingertips of smart city planners today vastly outweighs that available to Cerdà. The IoT – and IoE (Internet of Everything) involves petabyte-scale data volumes, including many sets which can be gathered and analysed in real time. Attendees and exhibitors at MWC19 should be constantly aware of this fact. It’s no use individual groups each having their individual data – as impressive as this may look in terms of futuristic IoT use cases on MWC stands. Instead, siloed data sets must be brought together and contextualised. Dots must be joined, and connections made.

Yes, smart city innovation on government pavilions will be great to see, and yes, GSMA updates on Sustainability Goals will be inspiring to hear. But to realise and add substance to these plans, smart city stakeholders must take a data-first approach to planning – Cerdà’s Eixample is a great one to follow!

Attending MWC19 Barcelona? Visit us in Hall 7, Stand 7A11, to find out how operators, governments and businesses can leverage advanced, extreme scale data insights to launch smart city solutions and unlock a host of socio-economic benefits.