Smart cities are not merely the product of technology and connectivity. They are the realization of a transformative vision for a better future, according to AT&T's Michael Zeto.
In part one of a Q&A with Telco Transformation -- edited for clarity and length -- Zeto, general manager and executive director of AT&T Smart Cities, explained why carriers are focused on smart cities now and why AT&T in particular is taking a lead role.
The smart city industry as a whole is at a critical pivot point. Smart cities are about much more than the enabling technologies since there needs to be buy-in from city mayors, utility companies, residents and businesses in each city. Service providers play a key role in integrating all of the various smart city entities into one ecosystem.
Telco Transformation: We hear a lot about advancement of smart cities, why has that become a focal point for telecom companies now?
Michael Zeto: It makes total sense for carriers to be in this space now. Smart cities are made up of smart devices that carry data back to the cloud for analytics. All those devices need to be connected, and the connections need to be secure and scalable.
AT&T is a large systems integrator. We do a very good job pulling ecosystems together, pulling together systems that add value to citizens and their cities. So it is a natural fit for us to be in the vertical area of IoT for smart cities. Cities do not have the resources to do what AT&T and its partners could do for the city.
From AT&T's perspective, it makes sense for us to take a lead role. We were the first carrier to set up a dedicated smart city business just over two years ago. We are really a pioneer in that space.
TT: If company culture is at the center of digital transformation, what would be the equivalent basis for the formation of smart cities?
MZ: Smart cities are driven by transformative movements from more than one direction. There are the citizens who want a safer, more livable and engaging environment. That is what they expect to get in return for their taxpayers dollars or for moving their businesses to that city. Then there is the drive for transformation within the city that is primarily led by forward-thinking mayors. They seek ways to use technology strategically to create value for the city's citizens and businesses. The mayors work with the CIOs who understand how to leverage technology to really drive value. Sometimes the CIOs pull the mayor along, and sometimes the mayor hires the CIO to move the city in direction that is more strategic.
There are other key entities that can influence the drive for smarter cities. They include the involvement of strong research universities. Georgia Tech, for example, plays a role in Atlanta's smart city movement.
Utilities can also play a role. For example, the utility that owns the lighting structure can offer to deploy and scale technology like LED lighting systems on behalf of the city in return for tariffs or fees. The utilities that service the cities, the cities themselves and the research universities have the ability to achieve real transformation for cities when they all work together.
TT: Why is 5G technology a prerequisite to enable smart city functions?
MZ: One reason is that the amount of data downloaded on devices is massive. As you download more and more data, your need for capacity increases, obviously. You get more capacity and higher speeds from 5G. The speed is important because consumers are very speed conscious when downloading something off a cellular network or WiFi. Businesses also have higher demand for capacity, as they are capturing and processing massive amounts of data. Also 5G allows for lower latency, which is essential for autonomous vehicle and drones.
TT: What role do drones play in smart cities?
MZ: Drones serve a number of safety functions in a smart city. As drones have capabilities that enable them to contribute to public safety, we can expect to see more drone usage from utilities, fire and police departments and from first responders.
Utilities can use drones to inspect their lines, which means that they do not have to have someone check something by climbing up a pole. Drones can go out in hazardous conditions to check on things without putting people at risk. For instance, during Hurricane Harvey, drones were sent out to inspect towers when high wind conditions made it too dangerous to send people out.
Drones have the ability to detect things that the human eye cannot by overlaying AI on their image capture. That enables the drone to be able to determine if there is a danger at an event like a fire or a riot. Without putting anyone into harm's way, the department can get the data it needs to figure out how best to respond to that event. That, along with dedicated broadband, can also help first responders get through quickly.
TT: How does broadband contribute to the efficiency first responders and improve safety?
MZ: If safety workers rely on commercial networks for communication, they are subject to delays in getting through and coordinating quickly. Giving first responders priority and preemptions on broadband is extremely important so that first responders maintain connectivity entirely though an event.
To that end, AT&T is taking on a major part in advancing the First Responder Network Authority under the name FirstNet. This is set out to be the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. AT&T was selected to build and manage the network and is also is also putting in a $40 billion investment over the life of the project, while the government is to put in $6.5 billion over the first five years. That will drive a lot of smart city use cases.
— Ariella Brown, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation