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Three building blocks to realising smart communities

by Brendan O’Reilly, Group COO

This blog was first written for Total Telecom in October 2022 – the company name has been changed as BAI Communications rebranded in June 2023.

Imagine you are driving to an important meeting. You receive an alert on your smartphone about an incident ahead and are prompted to take an alternate route to avoid it. Traffic light sensors connected to a centralised traffic management platform automatically adjust traffic lights to ease congestion and manage traffic flow. As you approach your destination you are alerted of occupancy levels of nearby parking stations and directed to the one with the most availability. Despite the unexpected detour, you arrive with time to spare.   

This is just one example of smart community applications in action. Imagine what the impact could be if we rollout more technologies to create truly connected communities.   

As the appetite for smart applications grows, our Smart communities report 2022,’The building blocks of smarter, more connected communities’ observes that network infrastructure remains a critical challenge for organisations today. If not addressed, urban centres risk losing talent and investors, as well as economic competitiveness.   

So, how can we overcome these challenges to achieve smart communities? 

Understand the barriers holding us back

According to our research, inadequate foundational network infrastructure, as cited by 89% of respondents, poor awareness of potential partners, with 87% rating it as a challenge, and insufficient funding are three key barriers preventing businesses from investing in smart communities.  

The consensus is that improved connectivity infrastructure is useful for solving a range of business challenges, however, this does not always translate into necessary network upgrades. Many businesses choose to continue using older generations of infrastructure, and then leapfrog multiple generations at once.  

This ‘wait and leap’ strategy puts them in a more difficult position later, having to maintain older networks and navigate cost and technology barriers when jumping ahead multiple generation upgrades.

New technologies are key to moving forward

While many organisations are putting off network upgrades, they understand the need to adopt new technologies. Specifically, respondents believe Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cells will help increase public connectivity across buildings, factories, and campuses; and 74% cite better speed and latency as the primary driver for improving their networks.  

Boldyn Network’s research highlights how the neutral host model offers significant benefits to organisations, with virtually all respondents believing shared infrastructure is relevant to meeting their connectivity objectives of servicing multiple networks, enabling coverage in areas with limited space and increasing coverage at lower costs.  

That said, bringing together all the technologies in an advanced ecosystem is a complex matter. We need to find ways to ensure a coordinated effort between various stakeholders to build connected and intelligent communities.

Shared infrastructure partners can take the lead

Neutral hosting partners can help bridge these gaps. By drawing on their expertise, they can bring together the right players to enable smart community transformations that enhance business outcomes, support local governments, and improve the lives of residents.   

For instance, in 2021 Boldyn Networks signed a 20-year strategic partnership with Sunderland City Council to design, build and operate a next-generation 5G network based on a neutral host model. The network is already supporting business growth and innovation – in smart manufacturing, for example, where Connected and Automated Logistics (CAL) is improving efficiency, competitiveness and increasing investment and export opportunities. Also, 5G is supporting advanced research around Internet of Things (IoT) and digital technologies at the University of Sunderland.   

While connected technology can enable a seamless journey from A to B for some, there is still legacy, network challenges to overcome to deliver widespread benefits to citizens around the world. Many are eager to move ahead with new technologies and solutions, but creating smart communities is a group effort. It requires continued private public partnerships with investments and contributions from local businesses, governments, and network infrastructure providers to enable truly transformational smart communities.