Smartphones have become the keys to the city, putting instant information about transit, traffic, health services, safety alerts, and community news into millions of hands, says a report from the global management consulting firm, McKinsey.
The Smart Cities: Digital Solutions For A More Livable Future report analyzes dozens of current applications and finds that cities could use them to improve some quality-of-life indicators by 10–30 percent. It also finds that even the most cutting-edge smart cities on the planet are still at the beginning of their journey.
By 2050, cities are projected to add another 2.5 billion people, with nearly 90 percent of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa.
Because many applications require that individuals transmit and receive data on the go, the report finds that smartphones are a critical component of a smart city.
There are now five billion mobile users worldwide, and smartphones account for the majority of subscriptions.
The number of global smartphone users has been projected to hit 6.1 billion by 2020, driven by continuing growth in developing economies.
Smartphones are more common in cities than national penetration rates suggest, but the digital divide still persists in both high- and low-income cities.
McKinsey found that while offline populations can still benefit from some smart city applications running in the background (such as intelligent signals that help the flow of traffic), they do not have access to the full range of smart city programs,” according to the report.
“This is a particular concern for aspiring smart cities in South Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”
A city with strong communication networks can quickly and securely transmit the data collected by smartphones and other sensors.
The report states that cities around the world are prioritizing faster fixed and mobile broadband speeds and decreased latency, which are needed to support ever-growing data usage by residents as well as the development of higher-bandwidth applications.
“At the same time, less bandwidth-intensive smart city applications can benefit from the rollout of low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), which allow broad deployment of sensors with much lower operating costs. Free Wi-Fi throughout a city is especially useful for visitors but also helps residents who do not have access to unlimited mobile data.”
In emergencies, people now stay glued to their smartphones.
The report noted that where cities once relied on the news media to inform communities in peril, they now supplement those efforts by using social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
“The flow of information runs two ways, with the public providing real-time digital updates that can help authorities assess damage and deploy resources,” the report explains.
It states that cities can crowdsource data gleaned from Twitter, Waze, or specially designed websites and mobile apps to piece together a picture of which evacuation routes are passable, where power is out, and whether specific shelters are full.
McKinsey found that smartphones are important; they act as mobile sensors as their owners move through the city with them, and phones generate location and other data, and they are the most common means for users to interact with applications.
“If a city is able to capitalize on its reputation for smartness, there may also be a risk that gentrification will push out some existing residents. But cities have to serve the entirety of their populations. The needs of marginalized groups and disadvantaged neighbourhoods should be on the agenda when cities choose which applications and programs to pursue,” McKinsey concluded.
“Initiatives to increase digital literacy and improve the penetration and affordability of internet access and smartphones are also important to ensuring access to the benefits of smart city solutions.”