Connected cities to cause data explosion, but standards still lacking


This article is part of our special report Mobile and Broadband.

SPECIAL REPORT / By 2018, mobile operators will take more revenue globally from pure data than from their traditional voice services as the world moves towards hyper-connected cities, industry analysts predict. But technological standards remain scarce, EURACTIV reports from the the GSMA conference in Barcelona.

A new industry report, published yesterday (25 February) at the Global Mobile Congress in Barcelona, predicts that mobile services will revolutionise people’s lives over the next five years.

The mobile data explosion is being driven by a surge in demand for connected devices and machine-to-machine communications in health, education, energy metering, and carbon emissions, according to the report by GSMA, the global mobile operators association, and developed in collaboration with consultants PwC.

The GSMA is showcasing examples of the mobile services at a dedicated Connected City exhibit at Mobile World Congress this week.

Educational robots and medical tracking devices

Innovations include features such as robots which teach children languages through stories using video images of themselves, and domestic features such as remote lockable doors and automated pet-feeding machines.

Health remedies could save €305 billion in healthcare costs in countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the report.

One Barcelona exhibit demonstrated how diabetics could monitor their blood sugar levels through a digital device loosely attached to the skin.

Costs of treating diabetics can be high because their blood sugar levels are hard to predict. A real-time monitor would create a fixed data stream that could curtail unnecessary medical attention.

According to the report, by 2018 data such as this will account for $559 billion of total mobile revenue, relegating voice to second place for the first time, since it is forecast by the report to earn the mobile companies $547 billion by then.

Developing world to reap benefits from connectivity

This increase in mobile operator data revenues is a global trend across both developed and emerging markets, the report said. In 2012, Japan became the first country where data revenues exceeded voice revenues, due largely to the availability of advanced mobile broadband networks and a higher adoption of the latest smartphones, tablets and connected devices.

This year, Argentina’s data revenues will exceed voice revenues, attaining this milestone ahead of the United States and Britain, which will reach this point in 2014. Kenya will experience this shift in 2016, with other emerging economies expected to follow as mobile broadband continues to thrive, the report says.

Its findings suggest an explosion of broadband connectivity will have a profound effect on the world’s developing regions.

“In the fight against malaria, TB, HIV and perinatal conditions, greater use of mobile connectivity could save more than one million lives in sub-Saharan Africa between now and 2017,” it said.

Standardisation remains a problem

There are doubts, however, about the extent to which such ‘connected cities’ will truly consist of inter-communicating devices, rather than new but isolated services.

A senior mobile strategy executive told EURACTIV that “the applications are currently extremely fragmented, because there is no clear standardisation method.”

“There are several standards bodies that are starting to work on smart city standards, but this work is at a very early stage, such as identifying use cases, and identifying exact requirements for interoperability,” said Svetlana Grant, director of smart cites with GSMA’s Connected Living Programme.

Last July the European Commission announced a €365-million-a-year innovation partnership scheme aimed at boosting the development of ‘smart’ technologies in cities.

This year, €365 million was earmarked for the development of urban technology.

Examples of projects include silent electric city buses that use digital technology, satellite technology aimed at improving traffic flow, a smartphone application for reserving alternative fuel rental vehicles, and fast-charging mechanisms for electric vehicles.

The EU launched a Smart Cities and Communities Initiative in 2011. In the first year (2012), €81 million was earmarked for the initiative, covering only transport and energy.

From 2013, the budget was increased to €365 million, covering ICT as well as transport and energy.

Pooling sources together, the EU executive said, will mean using synergies across these areas. 

  • Feb. 25-March 1: GSMA Mobile World Congress, Barcelona

European Commission

EU supported smart cities projects


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