Cisco Systems is the latest company to join India as it works towards developing its 100 smart cities as outlined by its Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This ambitious goal was put in place to accommodate for the rapid growth in urbanization.
The company is currently working with state governments to digitally transform 14 cities, and CEO Chuck Robbins says this is just the beginning. “I wish to take this number to 100 in the next five-seven years in line with the government’s ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives. We are working closely with our partners in India as they have the skills and capabilities to make this happen.”
The involvement in India’s smart cities initiative is in line with Cisco’s interest in expanding into the fast developing world of connected devices and infrastructure. Currently, there are almost 23 billion connected devices around the globe. The industry forecasts the number to grow to 50 billion by 2020. Cisco is already pursuing a strategy that involves the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity and cloud computing. The company has launched its manufacturing operations in Pune and announced that it would build Nagpur as a Smart City with its next-gen solutions.
Large scale investment in India’s smart plans
The Modi government’s vision of creating 100 smart cities will require an investment of over US$150 billion over the next few years. Much of this (US$120 billion) will be provided by the private sector, according to Deloitte.
The government has already launched two programmes with an initial outlay of of US$7.513 billion for “Smart Cities Mission” and the “Atal Mission for Rejuvenation of Urban Transformation (AMRUT)” for the upgrading of 500 existing cities.
The government has already pinpointed a few cities to be developed into smart cities and these include the likes of Bhubaneswar which is at the top of the list followed by Pune, Jaipur, Surat, Kochi, Ahmedabad, Jabalpur, Vishakapatnam, Sholapur, Davangere, Indore, New Delhi, Coimbatore, Kakinada, Belagavi, Udaipur, Guwahati, Chennai, Ludhiana and Bhopal.
While several cities have made incremental investments in smart solutions, the challenge is to replicate these on a large scale according to Deloitte’s India senior director PN Sudarshan.
The connected smart city
According to Deloitte, service providers and over the top content providers will invest heavily in city-wide Wi-Fi networks which will form the basis for smart city services. As smart solutions depend on ICT, service providers will play a major role in smart cities. Says Sudarshan, “Service providers will participate in (and lead in many cases) consortiums for responding to RFPs for smart/digital solutions for various cities and state governments.”
Reliance Jio is likely to roll out WiFi services across over 50 cities and Bharti and Vodafone are deploying Wi-Fi through a joint venture company called FireFly. Facebook is working with BSNL to deploy WiFi in 100 areas in rural India while Google announced a partnership with the country’s railways to provide hotspots in 400 railways stations.
“Over the next 10-15 years, these cities will emerge as key technology, economic and social hubs for the country. We believe that service providers that expect to be serious players in smart cities will take a centre-forward position in leading consortiums in the development of smart cities,” says Sudarshan.
ICT-the new normal for India’s cities
While there may be many dimensions to consider when defining a smart city, smart city refers to a meticulously planned city that relies on IT as an enabler to solve many of its problems. This involves the use of sensors to smart grids and data analytics all of which enable city infrastructure and services to meet city problems and citizen demands efficiently and reliably.
According to Anil Menon - President Smart+Connected Communities and Deputy Chief Globalisation Officer, Cisco, many are skeptical about this taking off in India especially since basic amenities and infrastructure like water supply, sanitation, sewage, waste disposal and traffic management are a challenge in many of India’s existing cities. However, he says this skepticism misses the point: “While there is a tendency to focus the entire discussion about smart cities around technology like sensors, cameras and software, these are important only because they allow for faster and better use of data to manage scarce resources and improve execution. What was once a visionary notion is now the new normal - information and communications technology (ICT) is as essential as the three utilities: water, telco and electricity.Technology infrastructure has to be built keeping in mind the holistic services-oriented approach to revitalize an existing city or designing a green field city.”
He adds that in order to attain a better understanding and planning of the current level of deployed resources and gaps in the deployment in these cities versus the required level of resources, rigorous data analyses on current investments to identify ways of improving resource utilization is paramount. “This is why open data and analytics become the fundamental pillar for any smart city.”
In a decade, over 50 billion devices will be connected through machine-to-machine communication and The Internet of Everything (IoE) will be a $1.5 trillion-a-year business globally. There will be another $2 trillion annually in new services and within this market, the global urban services segment is estimated to be around $2 trillion in revenues and savings over the next decade. Says Menon: “I believe that the "Make in India" initiative and the Smart Cities intiative should be converged with cities becoming living labs for hardware, software and urban services developed and made in the country, thereby creating a base for exports.”
He says that India’s cities should embrace technologies that will help local governments and civic bodies secure revenues, explore investment partnerships, make organizational changes that eliminate overlapping roles and manage expenses.
He concludes: “There is tremendous potential in India to build an effective ecosystem to enable our burgeoning urban areas to become smart by using digital technology. This in turn will create employment opportunities and contribute to economic growth through innovation. Our cities are fast becoming the defining units of human habitation. How smartly we build, manage and operate our cities will be the single biggest determinant of our people's future. We owe it to our future generations to make our cities smart through the use of technology.”