No more than a handful of American cities enjoy a substantial deployment of Internet-of-Things technology and connectivity to truly qualify as a "smart city."
To some analysts, Boston is already on that short list. The US Chamber of Commerce recently ranked Boston as the No. 1 American city most "ready to capitalize on... a digital economy" and sixth in terms of Smart Cities technology enablement.
And now, thanks to Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Boston is about to get "wikkid smahter."
On April 12, Verizon and the City of Boston jointly announced that the telecom giant will begin a major fiber-optic platform deployment throughout Boston. The $300 million investment will reportedly replace old copper wire with fiber-optic cable throughout the city. The fiber cable will connect Verizon's network to equipment to be installed on utility poles and street lights that will boost Bostonians' wireless connectivity.
"We know that Boston is off to a great start and positioned for a greater leadership role in the future; building a fiber-centric technology platform can help drive Bostonís economic growth and propel the city into the future," Donna Cupelo, Region President Verizon New England, told Telco Transformation in an email interview. "We believe this investment will help create new opportunities for residents and businesses, improve quality of life, attract and retain college grads, support the entire innovation community, and build stronger neighborhoods and communities."
Cupelo's boasts are well-founded based on the fact that this project entails much more than laying out fiber-optic cable. As part of the fiber rollout, Verizon will work with the City of Boston to use this technology to enable extensive Smart Cities endeavors.
One of the key components of Verizon's plans for Boston involves Vision Zero, which is a municipal initiative committed to reducing the number of traffic collisions. The goal is to eliminate all fatal or serious traffic crashes in the city by 2030. Verizon's fiber installations will enable what may become one of Vision Zero's centerpieces: a trial of Smart Cities technology along Massachusetts Avenue, which is one of the busiest and most congested streets in Boston, and a priority corridor under the Vision Zero initiative.
"The city and Verizon will experiment with sensors and advanced traffic signal control technology to increase safety, measure bicycle traffic, improve public transit vehicle flow, and decrease congestion," said Cupelo.
The measuring of bicycle traffic is a particularly big deal here in Boston -- where drivers have been at odds for years with an increasingly large and vocal contingent of bicyclists, each segment criticizing the other. Public transit congestion, too, has been a hot topic for Bostonians since last year's record-setting winter, when complete breakdowns were par for the course, prompting reform legislation. It remains so now while a major expansion project is underway for the city's Green Line.
Accordingly, Vision Zero and its priority corridors are far from the be-all and end-all of Verizon's efforts to make Boston a "smarter" city. Indeed, one of the important points of the Verizon/Boston announcement is the fact that the "trial" is not limited to Vision Zero or any other single Smart Cities project in Boston.
"Future Smart Cities applications will address other key services, including environmental sensors, energy efficiency, and city lighting management," said Cupelo. Additionally, Verizon will use a nearby laboratory to explore new ways to leverage the technologies that the telco is deploying.
"We will use our Innovation Labs located in Waltham as a high-tech sandbox to develop and test next generation wireless technology and partner with other companies to develop new ideas, applications and technologies," Cupelo said. "We believe the combination of our Innovation Labs and the new fiber-centric network can help create a powerful launching pad for new ideas and technologies."
To be sure, Verizon -- accused by some as being late to the game with fiber deployment (in Boston notably) while competitors such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Google Fiber Inc. have reportedly been more aggressive -- is perhaps taking on one of its greatest IoT-enabled Smart Cities endeavors yet. Already building on its Smart Cities successes in Charleston, S.C. (reportedly enabling faster communications services among city personnel while providing more efficient data-management and analytics), and Charlotte, N.C. (where Verizon's Smart Cities partnership with Duke Energy saved the city $10 million in energy savings in two years), Verizon will be able to apply the innovations it creates and fosters -- and the lessons it learns -- in other upcoming IoT projects and Smart Cities partnerships.
Perhaps more importantly, at least where the everyday impact on Bostonians as a whole is concerned, Verizon is attempting to stay ahead of the curve for the increasing data consumption in Boston. Between substantial enterprise growth (to say nothing of industrial behemoth General Electric's recent decision to relocate of its headquarters to Boston) and the looming halcyon period of the Big Video age, Verizon's fiber rollout in Boston will be a necessity for the city's insatiable data demands.
"I donít have a crystal ball, but all signs point to future Bostonians consuming and producing more content, leveraging more interconnected devices and data, and that their content and data demands will be even more bandwidth intensive," said Cupelo. "I canít tell you what Bostonians will necessarily be doing, but I can tell you they will be doing more of it, and our fiber platform will support it."
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer