Smart City, Smart World: Five Trends From the IEEE International Communications Conference

The latest technologies will help make communities more energy efficient and interconnected

29 June 2015

Illustration: iStockphoto

From 8 to 12 June, I attended the IEEE International Communications Conference in London, which focused on the theme “Smart City, Smart World.” Packed with workshops, technical sessions, and panel discussions, the conference had nearly 3,000 attendees, the most in its history. Speakers and participants discussed the future of our cities and how they can be improved with the latest technologies and innovations. Here are five trends that experts believe are going to lead to smarter, more-efficient communities.

1. The Internet of Everything, made up of trillions of interconnected devices, will be the foundation on which smart cities will be built on.

Paul Jacobs, executive chairman of Qualcomm, presented his company’s vision of intelligently connected mobile ecosystems during his keynote along with a new technology platform the company built for device-to-device communications.

This platform and those like it are what will make the IoT possible, and ubiquitous. The hardware and software to design such devices require built-in cellular capacity. Systems like this from Qualcomm are more affordable, according to Jacobs, because there’s no need for additional processors, microcontrollers, or memory, making it possible to use them in more places.

2. Communications networks and the smart grid will be connected to deliver energy efficiency and sustainability.

In his keynote speech, IEEE Fellow H. Vincent Poor, dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, talked about the smart grid as an advanced cyberlayer that sits over the physical electricity grid used today, improving efficiency and lowering cost for consumers. The smart grid, Poor explained, enables the integration of both renewable energy sources and distributed storage into the main grid. New energy sources include wind power and wave energy from oceans; however, they are more likely to be at the edges of the modern energy distribution network rather than at its center. In today’s world, however, monitoring and controlling production, storage, and usage of energy are what’s essential to make the most of the smart grid and move the technology and its capabilities forward.

3. Millimeter-wave spectrum for mobile communications will allow for higher data rate capacity. (Or more mobile coverage.)

IEEE Fellow Alwyn Seeds, professor of optoelectronics at University College London, explained how incorporating photonic techniques could enable high-capacity wireless data transmission. This would occur at millimeter wave and terahertz frequencies. This is important because wireless access is restricted by limited spectrum availability. He explained how extending the high frequency of optical fiber transmission to wireless devices requires increased carrier frequencies over short distances with no obstacles. This means people can simply face a different direction where there is no obstacles to receive service, and the frequency can help ensure that people have a mobile connection during a mass emergency or in crowded spaces, such as a sporting event.

4. Massive multiple-input and multiple-output, known as MIMO, will be a means of delivering large amounts of data at high speeds to individual users.

Anyone who has tried to stream a video or send a high-resolution media file from a public space knows that wireless has not yet reached its potential. Lajos Hanzo, professor of physical sciences and engineering at the University of Southampton, in England, suggested a way to make it better. His solution: bio-inspired quantum-domain search algorithms, which can mitigate the complexities caused by the optimization of such large-scale wireless systems. This can help lead to the implementation of more advanced applications, such as augmented reality, in cities. Examples could include virtual guides that give residents information about the things they see around them as they look at them, such as the price of an item in a store window as they walk by, or what time the next bus will arrive.  

5. 5G will increase available bandwidth.

Fifth-generation (5G) technologies will mean greater capacity for information-sharing, and faster access to that information. This will allow people to make quicker and better decisions about things like which train to catch or what to do in an emergency. The network will make use of the millimeter-wave spectrum—a largely unexplored part of the electromagnetic spectrum that offers huge opportunities for unprecedented large bandwidths and data rates. In his presentation, IEEE Fellow Wen Tong, head of Huawei Wireless Research, headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., explained how emerging 5G wireless will have a huge impact in the coming year, and will transform how companies do business.

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