The importance of telecommunications
Telecommunications is used in two ways:
1. To connect to devices people use indirectly – such as sensors and switches. By 2020 there could be upwards of 50 billion devices and sensors connected in M2M (machine to machine) applications.
2. To connect to devices people use directly. Today that means computers, tablets and smartphones. Soon it may also mean smart watches and smart “glasses” (see nearby photos).
In both ways, telecommunications plays a pivotal role in the daily pulse of a city:
- Banks rely on it to process transactions
- Online retailers use it to receive and acknowledge orders
- Cloud computing data centers require it to communicate with thousands or even millions of computers
- Emergency responders need it to receive and act upon life-saving alerts
- Parents rely on it to stay in touch with their children
- Families use it to get access to movies, television and the Internet
The list of ways telecommunications factors into daily life could go on and on, of course. Telecommunications is a necessity for prosperity in the modern economy. And a necessity for the digital lifestyle increasingly demanded by citizens. (In a 2011 Reuters survey, for instance, 61% of Americans said it would be easier to live without air travel than without the Internet.)
Our reliance on telecommunications will only increase as more people are connected to the Internet each day, and as we invent new uses – from tablets, to video streaming, to video phone calls. Council member Qualcomm – a world leader in 3G, 4G and next-generation wireless technologies – estimates that the world will soon demand 1,000 times more mobile data traffic than consumed in 2012.
Dependencies in telecommunications
As cities contemplate improvements in telecommunications services, they will need to plan them with an understanding of the dependencies on two resources: power and the radiofrequency (RF) spectrum. The power requirement is self-explanatory. The RF spectrum requirement is on the radar now for very few cities, but it will emerge as an important issue. RF spectrum is an always-local and limited natural resource that smart cities increasingly depend on and will ultimately need to manage. RF transmissions – from cell phones, WiFi, WiMax, positioning systems, Bluetooth, etc. – interact with the environment. Understanding RF – and an open standard for encoding RF spectrum data – will be important as it becomes necessary for cities to optimize their use of this resource.