The next couple of years are likely to see huge changes in how we connect to networks, driven by the introduction of new wired and wireless technologies that promise to offer exponentially faster speed, reduced latency and much better reliability.
While technologies such as full fibre broadband and 5G cellular networks will pick up a lot of attention regarding what they can offer consumers, there is another area that is set to hugely benefit from these innovations in the coming years, and that is smart cities.
The next generation of cities will be built on devices such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that will demand fast, reliable connectivity in order to deliver the insight needed to improve our lives by optimising energy usage, making traffic less congested, and providing better public services.
One analysis by Grand View Research suggests that by 2025, smart cities will be a $2.5 trillion (£1.91 trillion) industry. But this won't be possible unless the infrastructure networks needed to support it are in place.
Powering the networks of the future
In a recent piece for IT Pro Portal, Jan Honig, Director of Smart Cities Business Development, EMEA at CommScope, highlighted the importance of full fibre and 5G in making this a reality.
Fibre networks will be needed to not only transfer data to and from the next generation of sensors, but also deliver the power needed to keep them up and running.
Meanwhile, when it comes to wireless connectivity, he explained 5G will be critical, and the added speed it promises will be only a small part of this.
He said: "Not only is 5G set to bring faster speeds, but it will also lead to much denser small cell deployments due to distance limitations with mmWave technology and ultra-low latency applications at the network edge."
If this is harnessed effectively, he forecast that this connectivity technology will help develop many innovative new solutions that we may not even be able to imagine today.
Mr Honig highlighted, for example, the critical role that 4G and fibre played in the development of consumer services such as Netflix and Uber, which would not have been possible without fast, reliable connectivity to ensure users could access the services they wanted. With the much greater capabilities of FTTP and 5G, who knows what the next generation of tech firms could offer?
Rethinking how networks are deployed
However, in order to be successful, new approaches are needed in how these innovations are planned and deployed. With applications for smart cities ranging from monitoring utility connections to hooking up more intelligent traffic lights, there will be a huge amount of infrastructure work to do. This means traditional solutions, which build specific, siloed networks for each requirement, will no longer be an option.
Instead, local authorities will have to take a longer-term view of how they build the necessary supporting infrastructure to avoid the need for costly and tsiloeime-consuming upgrades a few years down the line.
For example, Mr Honig highlighted the case of one city that installed basic security cameras on light poles, but did so without installing the fibre connectivity that was necessary for the addition of new capabilities such as facial recognition technology, which requires higher bandwidth than the city had planned for. As a result, it now needs to upgrade its light pole connectivity network again to keep up with new technology, which is both painful and costly.
"City planners are now educating themselves about future possibilities, consulting with IoT vendors and network connectivity vendors, and working to develop a plan for the long term," Mr Honig noted.
He highlighted the work being done in places such as York and Stockholm, which are building high-speed fibre networks in and around their cities that have enough bandwidth to support new IoT devices and applications well into the future.
"Overall, data connectivity is becoming the Fourth Utility in cities - it’s a must-have to do business, and cities are recognising this," he continued. "Connectivity in homes and businesses is a competitive advantage for cities, and they are rushing to implement it."