Finding the
future of IoT
in municipal

Author: Mark Stone

Smart cities sound like a thing of the future, but in many ways they're already here—and they're only getting smarter. In some municipalities, the Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling residents to connect with both each other and community services via smartphones and other mobile devices.

The future of IoT looks even more sophisticated as municipal governments begin leveraging community network data to improve infrastructure, transportation, public safety and overall quality of life.

The challenge for municipal governments is managing an increasing array of public services on behalf of a populace that expects more connected and more convenient solutions within their communities.

The future of IoT in municipal government

IoT is the technological backbone of smart cities, regardless of how simple or elaborate their interconnectivity may be. IoT-enabled devices use sensors to constantly collect data, which is then transmitted to a central platform for analysis. To thrive, IoT-connected cities demand modern networking connectivity like 5G so that the devices within the ecosystem can speak with each other quickly and efficiently.

Deployments of IoT in government sector applications are also ramping up with 4G LTE. New urban network platforms are being created through connected street lights. Modern urban energy systems are born with help from smart meters and smart grids. And perhaps the most significant development is in transportation and mobility, areas which continue to transform through digitization, electrification and automation.

Real-world examples of IoT in smart cities are practically endless. San Diego, for example, deployed a four-phase initiative to install smart stop lights that share data to reduce commuting time by almost 25%. According to the Los Angeles Times, a 2016 collaboration between the city of Los Angeles, Google and Caltech used IoT sensors and machine learning to identify and count the city's trees to support efforts in urban forestation. Not just the big metropolitan areas reap the benefits—the city of Beverly, Massachusetts, has partnered with Verizon in deploying 3,500 connected lights that leverage Verizon's Intelligent Lighting controls and cellular network.

As a component of public safety situational awareness, IoT can also be incredibly valuable in use cases that require a diverse set of devices. Think of a smart wall created by IoT devices, such as drones and ground sensors, that help security teams effectively manage secure areas.

IoT is also prominent in disaster preparedness and energy and water management.

The role of 5G

5G networks can play an integral role in enabling greater implementation of IoT. With its high bandwidth, fast download speeds and low latency, 5G is expected to be a cornerstone for thriving IoT applications.

IoT devices require a connection to the internet to function, but Wi-Fi is not always available, particularly in poorly defined areas. With some IoT deployments, like those in which speed and bandwidth requirements are low, 4G LTE is more than sufficient. But for some implementations, especially where safety is critical, being able to connect to 5G will be required.

5G networks are still being rolled out in cities across the country, and until it finds more mainstream adoption, the true potential for municipal governments cannot be realized. However, potential use cases are abundant.

A prime example of the convergence of 5G and IoT is traffic management and autonomous vehicle functionality. Today, cars are being built with high-resolution geographic information system mapping and GPS for precise location information. Add cameras, radar and lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors, and cars can quickly determine how other cars, bikes and pedestrians behave within their environment.

Taking traffic management a step further, smart intersections will be able to share traffic information with other vehicles, helping to make traffic patterns safer and more efficient.

Roads are not the only use case concerning public safety. With 5G, taking advantage of technologies like virtual reality (VR) can become more and more possible. One could someday imagine a firefighter outfitted with a 360-degree camera as they entered a building, receiving real-time directions from a colleague wearing a VR headset.

Challenges and solutions for municipal officials

The most significant challenge facing those responsible for an IoT initiative is the harsh reality that these projects often fall outside the scope of day-to-day work. Municipal officials are often forced to prioritize urgent crises over strategic improvements.

Compounding the issue, many municipalities lack the support to deploy IoT solutions. Whether it's due to a lack of political will or stakeholder support, meaningful IoT implementations continue to be delayed.

The two most common material hurdles are supporting infrastructure and budget limitations. Securing investment for smart city projects may be difficult for many municipalities.

However, ultimately, the biggest obstacle to overcome is demonstrating how these next-gen solutions can positively impact urban challenges.

The key to solving many of these issues is to create a culture of collaboration that takes all stakeholders into account. Municipalities should invest in building internal communications, nurturing a cohesive approach to IoT and smart city initiatives. After that, the groundwork has been set to begin collaborating with a range of other agencies and third parties and deliver better outcomes.

With safety and sustainability top of mind, municipal government leaders should aim to envision new ways IoT can make communities more environmentally sustainable, safe and equitable. Smart cities are estimated to deliver more than $20 trillion in additional economic benefits by 2026—and that puts government municipalities in a uniquely transformative position.

Learn more about how the future of IoT is helping smart cities and communities stay safe and secure.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.