Intel, Qualcomm execs see role as technology providers in smart cities

BARCELONA, Spain--Intel and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) executives said the chipset giants have a role to play in enabling smart cities as both technology solution providers and advisers as municipalities connect more of their infrastructure and services.

Smart cities are key part of the Internet of Things and are likely to become more prominent and complex as time goes on. According to the United Nations, 54 percent of the world's population currently lives in urban areas, a figure that is expected to grow to 66 percent by 2050.

For wireless and technology companies, smart cities present a growth opportunity. A July 2014 report from Navigant Research found that worldwide revenue from smart city technology will grow from $8.8 billion in 2014 to $27.5 billion in 2023.

The push into smart cities is bringing together city governments and wireless carriers, network vendors, chipset providers, and all manner of device makers and municipal infrastructure providers. Intel and Qualcomm see themselves as technology enablers and collaborators in public-private partnerships.

Rose Schooler, vice president of Intel's Internet of Things group, said that the challenge for wireless and technology companies like Intel is that there are numerous use cases for smart city technologies, including improving air and water quality, optimizing pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and improving infrastructure to be connected or display advertising. "The challenge that we're seeing right now is creating a repeatable approach to these smart city efforts," she said last week at the Mobile World Congress conference. "It's not obvious how that is going to occur yet."

Schooler said Intel is often asked to be a technology adviser on questions such as how best to deploy network gateways for smart city infrastructure. She said that Intel has been approached about projects in the United States, Europe, India and elsewhere. Intel's role is to connect city governments to other technology partners. "People realize that not one [single company] is going to implement the sensor all the way into the analytics into the data center," she said.

Qualcomm CTO Matt Grob said last week at MWC that there are many resources that a city manages, including property, parking, roads, electricity and utilities, that all can benefit from monitoring, control and better planning to ensure the resources are deployed efficiently. He noted that it could be something as mundane as trash containers that, once they become connected, can let a city monitor know which days of the week to run trash trucks.

"There are some interesting startups in the space. And they are all built on the fact that you can put low-cost connectivity on ordinary devices," Grob said. "Our role is we want to promote all of that. We want to reach out to the vendors of those products and help provide them modules or connect them with the OEMs. We want to work with the city governments to get the infrastructure."

Grob's comments echo those of Kiva Allgood, senior director of global market development at Qualcomm, who spoke to FierceWireless in January. Allgood leads Qualcomm's smart city efforts and said the company is focused on educating cities on technologies such as remote monitoring, environmental sensors and small cells as they set up contracts for smart city deployments. Qualcomm works with cities to discuss different uses cases and then points them in some cases to its existing partners, such as engineering firm CH2M Hill. Some of those deployments include Qualcomm chips and infrastructure directly or indirectly lead to increased wireless demand that benefits Qualcomm.

Yet Allgood noted that technology issues are actually less of an issue to work through than bureaucratic zoning and regulatory ones when it comes to smart cities. Allgood said it's critical to get one city official or department to conduct technology procurement in order to make swift decisions.

Allgood said cities that want to lead on smart city deployments will need leaders willing to take risks and try new solutions and disrupt the way the transportation and utility departments have operated for 30 years. City officials should also realize they cannot do everything at once. "If you end up with very large, expensive projects that take 15 years to execute and no one really feels the impact, what's the benefit?"

Schooler said some smart city deployments that are public-private partnerships will be made with an eye toward a financial return, and some will be more geared toward social responsibility. Some will combine both.

Schooler added that city officials and technology companies need to get residents involved with smart city rollouts in order for them to work.

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