The Beacon

Wi-Fi and the Rise of Smart Cities

October 30, 2015 by Kevin Robinson, Wi-Fi Alliance

This article originally ran in TMCnet

Smart cities like Songdo in South Korea are being built from the ground up to embrace smart devices and constant connectivity. These smart cities connect everything – buildings, lights, meters, and streets – to the Internet through the power of Wi-Fi.

Songdo isn’t alone. Established cities like New York City and London are also making their move into the future by implementing public-private partnerships to extend the range, accessibility, and speed of Wi-Fi for their millions of residents. For example, New York’s LinkNYC initiative will replace old phone booths with 500 free gigabyte Wi-Fi kiosks, providing New York residents with a charging station, a touchscreen interface, and the ability to call anywhere in the U.S. for free. The citywide retrofit is setting the stage for a new brand of future smart city that will be powered by a universally accessible Wi-Fi network. Additionally, the trend is picking up speed as shown by recent investments by Google’s (News - Alert) Sidewalk Labs.

In New York, Songdo, and cities all over the world, it’s an unstoppable development. Wi-Fi connectivity and new smart technology is everywhere, changing how we communicate. As Wi-Fi adoption continues to permeate everything from gadgets to buildings, we are in store for a riveting time of innovation. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening today and what’s needed to make the future smart city possible.

Pervasive Connectivity and Designing the Future

Wi-Fi is the default medium for connectivity today. It carries about half of all Internet traffic and 10 times more traffic than cellular. It will be a crucial factor in upcoming developments, especially as cities, sporting areas, and businesses increasingly leverage connectivity for engagement, computing, entertainment, and smart devices.

But until now, the problem with ushering in the new era of smart cities has been creating ubiquitous, all-encompassing connectivity that is accessible and reliable. Urban settings have always presented unique challenges, with hundreds of personal networks competing to connect to the broader Internet and each other. That’s not to mention the density of population, devices, and structures found in a city. Fortunately, the issue will not last long as advancements in Wi-Fi begin to account for the specific needs of tomorrow’s cities.

Most recognize Wi-Fi as a way to connect to the Internet and advancements in Wi-Fi CERTIFIED technology have kept true to this promise. But these same advancements have also expanded Wi-Fi to replace the wires and cables for audio and video applications. Wi-Fi means users get an optimal connected experience irrespective of device or location. For instance, old building designs that depended on fixed lines and copper cables (remember the intercoms and conventional home phones of the past) are being replaced by completely wireless developments.

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED technology has evolved to accommodate all sorts of functions, from multimedia entertainment to Wi-Fi calling. For example, connectivity provided through the emerging Wi-Fi frequencies below 1gHz is being developed to extend the range and reach of signals through more materials, and is particularly well-suited for applications with low data payloads – think sensors and home control devices like thermostats. This is ideal for smart home devices and appliances that don’t require a constant speed connection and are located in harder to reach places, like kitchens or garages. At the other end, 60gHz transfers data at fast rates sensitive to physical obstructions. This is a great option for replacing the cabling within rooms for everything from home entertainment systems to home computer networks that require low latency, high bandwidth connectivity but are not segmented across a structure. In between the two, there are 2.4 and 5gHz bands, which are most common today for multimedia and Internet connectivity.  

Future Problems or Opportunity?

But concerns do exist for those cities planning to take advantage of Wi-Fi. The problem of bandwidth availability could impact the connectivity of the 4.5 billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices in use everyday. But it’s not an insurmountable problem, and is only a small hindrance on Wi-Fi’s road to enable the smart cities and homes of tomorrow. The connected city will need a conduit for connectivity, and, despite the unpredictable factors that will continue to influence wireless broadband’s availability and limitations, Wi-Fi will be there to provide the seamless connected experience of the future via an expanding array of bands across the wireless spectrum.

Moreover, cities and businesses are overcoming the challenge of a limited wireless web by overhauling infrastructure through steps like widespread fiber deployments and ubiquitous access points to connect to the web despite location or device.

The statements and opinions by each Wi-Fi Alliance member and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions or views of Wi-Fi Alliance or any other member. Wi-Fi Alliance is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by any member in posting to or commenting on this blog. Concerns should be directed to info@wi-fi.org.

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Kevin Robinson

Wi-Fi Alliance

Vice President, Marketing

Kevin Robinson is Vice President of Marketing for Wi-Fi Alliance, where he oversees branding, communications, market development, program marketing, and public relations for the organization. In addition, Kevin is responsible for driving the development of Wi-Fi Alliance corporate strategy.

Kevin speaks worldwide about Wi-Fi's impact on applications, devices, and users. He is charged with promoting the technology and the Wi-Fi Alliance collaboration forum worldwide, and is one of its leading ambassadors, working with Wi-Fi Alliance's 600+ member companies.

Before joining Wi-Fi Alliance in 2008, Kevin enjoyed working with early stage technology startups on business strategy consulting and technology market research. Kevin is a veteran of the United States Army, where he served as a Captain in the Infantry. Kevin holds a BS in Computer Science from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA with a specialization in Entrepreneurship from The University of Texas at Austin. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.