Internet of Things and smart cities: Seven things you need to know

John Soldatos, member of the FAR-EDGE consortium wrote this article outlining seven things that must been know about the Internet-of-Things and smart cities world. This article was first published on website and is available here.


Since ancient times people have been living in cities, since this facilitated collaboration and economies of scale. In recent years urbanisation trends have been exploding, which is one of the major factors that has led city authorities and citizens to seek for new efficiencies in urban development. In this direction, the “smart city” urban development vision has been introduced: Smart cities invest in technology infrastructures and human capital in order to achieve sustainable development, economic growth and improved quality of life for their citizens.

From a technological viewpoint, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are an integral and important element of all smart city deployments. They provide Internet-based connectivity across various sensors and devices in the urban environment, while at the same time enabling the use of data and services from these devices in order to optimise the city’s operations and to provide human-centric services to citizens. For example, WiFi and 4G technologies are used for connectivity across computing infrastructures and devices, while sensor & IoT middleware technologies are used to interconnect different IoT platforms and devices in the city. At the same time, IoT analytics, including data processing, data mining, machine learning and BigData technologies over IoT streams are used to drive actuating functions and planning functions in the urban environment.

Overall, there is a two-way relationship between IoT and smart cities: The evolution of IoT technologies impacts smart cities and vice versa. In following paragraphs we outline seven things you need to know about this two way relationship, including both technical-technological and market-financial aspects.



Vertical IoT Applications and Lack of Application Interoperability in Smart Cities

Various IoT applications in vertical areas are already deployed in smart cities, including smart buildings, smart governance, smart education, smart security and safety, smart energy, smart transportation, smart healthcare, smart infrastructures and more. These applications have in most cases been developed and deployed independently of each other. Therefore, they tend to form non-interoperable disaggregated “islands”, which leads to data and services fragmentation. The lack of interoperability between there “silo” IoT applications is one of the most important challenges faced nowadays by smart cities. City stakeholders are increasingly seeking ways of integrating all IoT applications and datasets, while at the same time managing them from a single entry point i.e. an integrated control centre for smart city operations. The latter can greatly facilitate cities in meeting business objectives according to city-wide indicators (such as environmental performance targets), while at the same time implementing policies and adhering to regulations in an integrated way.



IoT Development Stages in Smart Cities

The development, deployment and operation of IoT applications in smart cities does not happen overnight. It is a continuous, gradual, long-term process, which comprises multiple stages including:

  • An initial stage of establishing IoT infrastructures in terms of sensors, networking, devices, middleware technologies and more. As part of this stage, the city is increasing its digital maturity and readiness for IoT deployments.
  • A subsequent stage of implementing and deploying vertical applications in areas such as energy, transport, healthcare and urban mobility. Based on these applications the city qualifies for a smart city.
  • A final stage where existing applications become interoperable and integrated in order to enable management of all city operations from an integrated control centre. This stage signals the evolution of the city to an interoperable and integrated smart city.



IoT and Open Data for Smart Cities

Beyond sensors and networking infrastructures, IoT deployments in cities take advantage of open datasets. The latter are used in conjunction with real-time data derived from IoT devices in order to empower decision making and optimization of city processes. The exploitation of open data has distinct benefits for the cities such as:

  • More open and transparent governance.
  • Increased engagement of citizens, who are provided with open access to data about their city.
  • Easier attraction and engagement of developers and innovators in smart city projects (i.e. projects using open datasets) as a means of increasing the city’s innovation capital.

Smart cities are increasingly implementing open data portals (such as the London Data Store), where they publish open datasets in order to make them available to citizens and innovators.



Engaging Citizens in the IoT Services for Smart Cities Lifecycle

Citizens’ Engagement is a key ingredient of every smart city’s strategy. There is a growing trend towards engaging citizens and other smart city stakeholders across all phases of the IoT services lifecycle, including design, development, deployment and operation. As part of this trend, IoT services development is increasingly based on co-creation approaches, which emphasize stakeholders’ collaboration for IoT services design and development in the scope of appropriately organized co-creation workshops. The latter workshops increase the chances of ending up with citizen-centric services, which fulfill real needs of the citizens and are appealing to them.



Smart Cities and IoT Standards

IoT deployments in smart cities need to be extensible and viable in the long term. To this end, smart cities make extensive use of IoT standards. The IoT standards used include:

  • Connectivity standards such as ZigBee, 3GPP, LoRa, oneM2M and IEEE (802.11) Wi-Fi, which provide the means for interconnecting devices and platforms in the urban environment in a scalable way.
  • Standards for Vertical IoT Applications, which are focused on providing support for specific (vertical) applications. For example, there are standards dedicated to smart home applications (e.g., UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) and KNX), to manufacturing and industrial applications (e.g., Open Platform Communications (OPC) and Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) standards), as well as standards dedication to urban transport and mobility (e.g., standards of the Open Automotive Alliance).

We are recently witnessing the emergence of standards dedicated to smart cities, including the ISO 37120:2014 (“Indicators for city services and quality of life”) which specifies indicators for quality of life in a smart cities context, as well as standards dedicated to IoT applications integration and interoperability standards (e.g.,



The Market of IoT for Smart Cities

Smart cities are one of the settings that will generate a large portion of IoT’s business value. According to McKinsey & Co, IoT will generate up to $11.1 trillion a year in economic value by 2025 and smart cities are expected to contribute up to $1.6 trillion out of it based on applications like public safety, healthcare, traffic control and resource management.



Financing IoT Infrastructures for Smart Cities: Public Private Partnerships

The development of IoT infrastructures for smart cities (e.g., sensors, broadband networks, IoT devices) requires very costly investments, which do not always have a positive ROI (Return-On-Investment). This is for example the case of infrastructures that are built to support projects of high social impact, yet marginal business relevance. Even in cases of projects with considerable ROI, the payback period can be quite long. As a result, the financing of smart city infrastructures and services is very challenging. In response to these challenges public authorities engage in partnerships with the private sector (i.e. public private partnerships) as a means of financing IoT infrastructures and projects for smart cities. There are several public private partnerships for smart cities, such as the LinkNYC initiative, which is establishing and providing super high-speed WiFi based connectivity all around New York City.


Overall, the scope of IoT deployments in smart cities is very broad. The seven points listed above provide a sound basis for understanding the affiliation between IoT and modern cities. Nevertheless, each of the above points could be certainly explored further and deserves a dedicated post.

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