There is a perception of 5G as alien. Let’s face that!

There are quite few cities in the EU Digital Cities Challenge initiative, which are either 5G test-beds or are involved on specific 5G-enabled application projects. Those are not large cities, but small and medium-sized ones such as L’Aquila in Italy, Patras in Greece, Sunderland in the UK and others.

At L’Aquila, as it appears in the other cities, the work done on digital transformation for the city has been strongly influenced by being a 5G test-bed city. And, after one year of work on designing a digital transformation strategy that takes into consideration 5G, it seems that the major challenges for making 5G a fundamental part of the city strategy are not technological. Instead, the key challenges are related to the social perception of technologies, public sector digital capabilities and the business system of the cities. Consequently, the 5G community needs to reflect on four main issues in relation to the development of 5G in cities.

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Source: PCmag.com

5G is unknown to citizens

The knowledge about what 5G can do for the quality of life in the city and which benefits can bring for the city economy is very poor. 5G is then seen as a piece of science-fiction technology in the hands of few people able to understand it. That brings considerations on the investment in 5G such as “we could spend the money spent on 5G on real city problems such as improving urban mobility”, without knowing that one of the major 5G applications in the city is to improve urban mobility!

5G is seen as a threat

Because of the previous point, 5G is perceived as a way of wasting resources of the city and the citizens. The attitude towards 5G becomes then very negative or, at least, strongly sceptical. The view, then, that 5G is a mean for various threats to the citizens’ life just exacerbates the sentiment against the technology. There are two common threats associated to the development of 5G:

  1. Security threat. The pieces of news about links between Chinese 5G manufacturers and national cybersecurity threats are common in the media. The official positions of various governments on the matter validate that threat in the eyes of the citizens.
  2. Health threat. During 2018, various publications have raised the issue of electromagnetic radiation on wildlife and human health. On the 20th of December 2018, the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) of the European Commission highlights the potential risk on its Statement on emerging health and environmental issues (2018) claiming that “the expansion of broadband with shorter wavelength radiofrequency radiation highlights the concern that health and safety issues remain unknown.” (https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/scientific_committees/scheer/docs/scheer_s_002.pdf)

The role of the public sector in 5G in cities is not clear

Local authorities, particularly the ones running small-sized cities, do not have the resources and the experience to have a proactive role in 5G test-beds. They strongly rely on collaboration with other bodies, particularly universities. But, even with that, they struggle to design future policies around transformative technologies such as 5G. At the basis of that, there is the lack of a governance for digital policies that can guide the city along a digital transformation trajectory. The Digital Cities Challenge initiative is trying to encourage the creation of that governance.

The role of local SMEs in 5G test-beds is not strong

The consortia behind the 5G test-beds are made of important organisations – universities, mobile network operators, telco operators, software companies – To the city, they appear like giants able to look at the horizon, but with difficulties of looking down. And down, there are several local SMEs that could benefit of the magnificent work of the giant, but the giant struggles to engage them. Local SMEs are not sufficiently involved in the development of 5G in cities. The result is a frustrated local business system that needs to innovate and can do that grabbing the 5G test-bed opportunity, but that opportunity is too far to reach.

Let’s engage with those sentiments about 5G

To sum up, 5G is seen as a top-down idea brought to cities. It is an exogenous entity difficult to understand because no-one is really trying to explain it. At L’Aquila, and for sure in other cities, there are various ideas to change that perception. Various city stakeholders are working on three 5G-enabled applications to show case them to citizens and SMEs. There is also the intention of creating a “5G city lab” open to citizens and SMEs for understanding, playing and experimenting with 5G. The reason of those initiatives is to increase the level of knowledge about 5G in the community showing the potential of the technology and openly discuss the challenges that the technology can pose. Perhaps, those are small answers from a small city, but they are an invite to the entire technology community to engage with critical perceptions of 5G, perceptions that can affect the development of the technology.

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Teaching the IoT at Schools – Ideas for Preparing Children for Connected and Intelligent Environments

In 2013, I had a little 5 years old eager to learn. We used to read a lot of books together. And, we still do, but the electronic devices were more exciting than daddy! Therefore, I explored ways of creating an engagement between him and the electronic devices. And, at that point, I decided to participate to the crowdfunding campaign for Kano Computer (https://kano.me/uk) on Kickstarter.

Kano arrived. This very nicely designed box with all these bits inside to build your own computer and start coding and playing was in front of us. I was excited, my son a bit less. I guess the old software developer in me was coming back, but for my son the all story required some intellectual effort that, perhaps, was not there yet. I did not force him, but slowly the interest came.

My interest in engaging kids with technology remained. The school my kids attend has also fed that interest. The activities in their science and tech lab are very diverse. Coding is an important activity, but also trying to play with devices, particularly wearable devices, is entering the lab and attracting the enthusiasm of the kids. Therefore, inspired by that, I have run a little research on what is out there for teaching the Internet of Things in primary and secondary schools. Here, I share some insights.

Initial ideas of taking IoT at School

Systematic way of bringing the Internet of Things at school started to appear during the period 2013-2015. Two projects happened during that period that deserves attention.

  • Project Distance in the UK, promoted by Innovate UK, brought together ScienceScope, a specialist in introducing technology in schools, with other stakeholders such as University of Birmingham, UCL, Xively, Intel and others. The project involved 8 schools in the UK. Each school was equipped with the following components: an environmental logging box containing various oxides, a weather station, a generic logger, and various sensors. Dataloggers were developed to upload data form the sensors to the cloud to an IoT platform designed for the purpose, the Distance Exploratory. These resources were used for teaching and learning activities. Sciencescope is continuing to engage with other schools worldwide using the same model.
  • Project IoT-Desir in Sardinia, Italy, used a similar approach to Project Distance. A consortium of player worked with 14 secondary schools involving 200 students and 25 teachers to work on problem solving using IoT technologies, primarily using Arduino

Today ideas for teaching IoT in schools

Arduino and Raspberry PI have become very common IoT educational tools. Arduino has a dedicated educational team (https://www.arduino.cc/en/main/education). The team provides teaching kits from middle school classes until university classes. Other IoT companies have faced the challenge of attracting students in the IoT space. The experience of the “IoT Spartans Challenge” run in 2017 by Libelium and supported by companies such as Bosch is a good example to mention. However, educating school children at what their world will be remains a challenge. That challenge requires an effort from the IoT community, and that effort has not been seen yet. But there are projects and organisations that work in that direction. Five ideas used today are shown in the picture below.

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Conclusions – The IoT community should be at the centre of teaching IoT in schools

Starting from different angles, the projects briefly discussed in the picture introduce the kids to the concepts behind the IoT and to how a world made of connected and intelligent objects could look like. But there is much more to explore. For example, the use and the role of data in a connected world. And, with that, all the implications related to security and privacy.

The IoT is vast from a technological point of view and its impact in economic sectors and different levels of society is tremendous. It is important to prepare the future generation to that. The IoT community should increase its effort in educating the youth for enabling them to understand the world the IoT and other technologies are shaping.

 

 

A Community of Cities is Flourishing From the EU Digital Cities Challenge Initiative

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The Digital Cities Challenge Academy at Algeciras was full of surprise, interesting and exciting. The Town Hall of the land of Paco de Lucia showed all the warm of the people of Algeciras through their fantastic hospitality and the overwhelming flamengo in a perfect night. And if the flamengo night relaxed the souls, the two days conference was intense, rich of content, and providing insights on how to develop digital transformation strategies, but also collaboration among cities.

In fact, the Academy, above all, reinforced the feeling that those 40+ cities are increasingly becoming community. They do not just share experience, but they are looking to work together on projects that can benefit their citizens and businesses. This community could be felt in various key moments of the event.

  1. The European Commission provided an excellent overview of the financial opportunities there are for smart cities and communities. Various programs were illustrated and all of them called for collaboration. The reaction of the cities was immediate: looking for common themes to address them together through those financial initiatives.
  2. During the Peer Review meetings, cities become clearly aware of common challenges and common opportunities. But, it was also clear how cities with certain expertise could support others. Cities were also convinced that problems could be solved together.
  3. The session on digital transformation in Andalusia showed a region that brings cities and towns together on digital technologies. The presence of the decision makers from Andalusia – several mayors and councillors – was strong and showed to the other cities how essential is the political commitment for the digital transformation.
  4. The session on agri-food was a call on working together to tackle the need of food for an increasing population and on how cities could be part of this challenge.
  5. Finally, there was also a political call to the city. The representative of the City of Gelsenkircken invited the city to join forces to show to the youth how European cities together work and can achieve results. This should be done before the European election. It was a call for Europe to a group that has shared several times preoccupation about the increasing anti-EU attitudes in European countries.

The Digital Cities Challenge project has made an impact on each city. Each of them is finalising a digital transformation strategy, that, if supported politically and operationally, could drive economic growth in cities. But, the initiative has also created a community of cities. Those cities believe that the community is able to address issues that they could not tackle on their own. This community needs to be magnified and nourished. It is the example that the idea of Europe works successfully for the benefits of citizens and local organisations.

The rise of 5G between opportunities and unknowns – Summary of “5G Italia” First Session at IOTHINGS 2018

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Saverio Romeo, Lead Expert at Digital Cities Challenge Digitalaq, chaired a lively session on 5G at IOTHINGS 2018 in Rome, last 22nd of November. The objective of the session was to discuss the state of the 5G trials in Italy, with attention on those happening in small and medium sized cities, the applications 5G can enable, and how the move from the trials to commercial deployments should happen. The panellists, listed below, represent prestigious organisations directly involved in 5G trials and in the development of 5G.

Francesco Barletta, Head of ICT & Innovation, Wind Tre

Pasquale Camelia, Business Unit Manager, Net Reply

Marco Cardelli, Vice Direttore Generale, SPEE

Fabio Graziosi, Professore, Università degli Studi dell’Aquila

Andrea Fratini, Network Engineer & 5G MiSE Project Manager, Open Fiber

Jia Yunpeng, Chief Marketing Officer, ZTE Western Europe

Giuseppe Ribaudo, Marketing and Communications, Sirti Digital Solutions

 

Terms such as “business models”, “ecosystems”, “network slicing”, “network neutrality”, “investments out of frequency auctions” were used very often during the discussion. But they also represent the areas in which there is more uncertainty. However, that uncertainty is also seen as a territory of opportunities to explore. Besides this overall sentiment, the following points summarise the 2 hours discussion.

1)      The panellists showed consensus in believing that 5G represents a change of paradigm in telecommunications infrastructures. 5G is not only about enhancing bandwidth, but it is about moving from “a best effort” approach to connectivity towards a “quality of service” approach. In the history of telecommunications, this truly represents an important change.

2)      Despite that, the audience has showed some scepticism. The issue of demand is worth to be mentioned. The issue revolves around the idea that the 5G community is pushing the demand. Currently, 5G is not needed, probably. I would add to that an extreme pressure at political level on 5G. Governments are seeing 5G as a competitive asset for enabling emerging technologies. Being at the forefront of 5G means having the infrastructure necessary for being at the forefront of innovation in the technology sectors and not only those.

3)      Because of those forces, 5G development is here to stay. But the panellists agreed that we cannot have 5G without having fiber optics. The two technologies together represent the connectivity infrastructure of the future.

4)      That infrastructure could enable several applications, but those that seem readier to embrace it are: automotive and AR/VR applications.

5)      But it is not clear, yet which business models will work. There was a consensus that it will not be about adapting existing business models via 5G, but, 5G will enable new business models. That statement is followed by concepts such as ecosystem and network slicing.

6)      Network slicing should enable dedicated services, perhaps, new dedicated connectivity providers. It also appeared that the role of the regulator in designing the future and the impact of network slicing is important. The regulator should also clarify the relationship between network slicing and network neutrality.

7)      Regarding ecosystems, the consensus is that 5G can only happen if there are strong partnerships between players with different capabilities. This can be seen in the current 5G trials. Ecosystems can enable the move from trials to commercial deployments.

8)      It was also highlighted that those ecosystems should be designed around applications, and, in the case of cities, around the local needs.

9)      Finally, some words were spent regarding the governance of 5G, particularly in city contexts. If 5G could enable municipalities to run networks dedicated to specific services, several municipalities, at the same time, are not culturally ready for that task. Therefore, we are moving from the “physical city digital divide” to the “cultural city digital divide” in which on one side we have cities, generally large ones, able to adopt technologies because they have embedded a digital framework in their policy making and administrative structures. On the other side, we will have cities, generally small and medium-sized ones, unable to cope with new technologies. Therefore, for cities, the most important factor is not technology, but a digital cultural framework.  

To sum up the session with a message, we could say that 5G appears to be a promise land, but its landscape is foggy and the route to go there still uncertain

The European Digital Space needs Local Digital Champions

Next week the participants of the Digital Cities Challenge Project will meet up on the Aegean Sea in Thessaloniki to discuss the work done so far, but, particularly, to move from the strategy development phase towards the implementation and monitoring phase. That turning point is also a moment of reflection for all the participants. There are quite few unknows to face, some good lessons to learn for other cities wanting to be part of the same journey, but, also some phenomenal stories to tell. Here, I will put aside the lessons and the unknowns and tell a story. The story is not specifically about an individual, a company or a piece of technology. But, it is about the unknown world of digital champions living in the periphery of Europe. Those are people that for one reason or another have resisted the temptation of the large city deciding to be innovative professionals of digital technologies in their own place.

At L’Aquila, I have met quite few of those. They are not easy to spot. They are shadowed by big organisations that, so often, do not have the ability and the will to look down and spot them. They develop their own software platform. They have 3-4 patents registered at the US patent office. They have done Industry 4.0 applications before we started hyping about Industry 4.0. They are tiny intelligent dwarfs walking in a land of giants unable to see them. The giants cannot really bother to look down and see what they are almost stepping on. And this is not just the case of L’Aquila. At Avellino in the South of Italy, for another project, I met a software company of 10 people developing cutting-edge mobile applications and immersive experience. A couple of years ago, they opened an office in London because the majority of their clients were London-based. Their clients are very well known brands, but, they are still dwarfs where they are coming from. But, despite that they resist because “this is my place”. And then, I went to Galati in Eastern Romania, almost at the delta of the Danube. I found there another two guys running a software company of 30 local and young developers doing blockchain, running a software cluster, running an IoT marketplace, working with Chinese and Japanese companies. “Yes, we would love to open an office in London, but, here is and will be our base.”

L’Aquila, Avellino, Galati and many other rural and peripheral areas of Europe live in the contemporary times because of these tireless professionals. They link their places to the time we are living. Those are the champions that the European Commission should look for, celebrate and support. Those are the ones that will develop that digital culture necessary for a project like Digital Cities Challenges to really be successful. Those are people at the forefront of thinking, the ones that can drag and drive the city towards the adoption and the use of digital technologies.

Do not bother with the giants, find the digital dwarfs in the European periphery. Those are the ones that will really shape an ubiquitous and pervasive European digital space.

 

#DigitalAQ brings #DigitalCitiesChallenge at #iCities2018

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We have chosen #DigitalAQ for promoting the experience of L’Aquila with Digital Cities Challenge (digitallytransformyouregion.eu) on Twitter. Digital Cities Challenge project is ambitious and innovative for a city like L’Aquila, which is thinking about a resilient and dynamic future.

The Digital Cities Challenge journey for L’Aquila started in February. Since then, various city stakeholders have been involved in a number of events and brainstorming sessions on which digital transformation strategy should be designed for the city taking into account the existing potential, but, also the gaps and weak points. The Municipality and the University of L’Aquila have worked hard to implement the proposed strategy development framework that should become common practice in the planning activities of the city.

The project is ending the first phase, an assessment and elaboration phase, to enter the implementation and monitoring phase. City stakeholders will be heavily involved in the next phase. And, the team also believes that expanding the sphere of collaboration is very important for the project and the city. That is the reason of a strong collaboration with iCities 2018 conference (http://icities2018.disim.univaq.it/), the most important Italian conference on ICT for smart cities and communities held this year in L’Aquila. DigitalAQ team will talk about their experience, gather comments, absorb ideas. DigitalAQ thanks Prof.Henry Muccini, Chair of iCities 2018, for his infinite patience and for giving us the opportunity to engage with the very prestigious audience of iCities 2018.

The Next Course for #DigitalCitiesChallenge Cities? Monitoring, Monitoring, Monitoring!

In my last post on the last Digital Cities Challenge Academy in Brussels, I highlighted the relevancy of governance structures for digital transformation strategy emphasising that we have in front of us a clear “digital governance divide”. There is another evidence of that divide called digital transformation strategy monitoring metrics. There are two levels of monitoring. There is the level close to the technology. A city deploys a smart parking solution. That solution produces data. The data has two main uses. The first one is to enable service creation. The second one is to monitor the solution in order to assess patterns, behaviour and enable prediction of events. If we do not do monitoring, we have plenty of data floating in the void and we are just wasting money! There is then the strategic level of monitoring: creating a measurement framework that enables the monitoring of the strategy implementation. That is crucial for assessing directions and for creating the culture of an evidence-based policy making process. The Digital Cities Challenge proposes such as a framework. It is a fantastic invitation to local authorities to think politically and operationally with data and data analysis in their hands. But, the municipalities I saw in Brussels are moving at different speeds. Sometimes, the paradox is that we are asking municipalities to embrace open data models, when, clearly, basic indicators that could assess the digital maturity of the city either do not exist, or they are hidden in some very dark cave. In the latter, the key of the cave is lost or the cave is just pitch black. And so the next course for European municipalities, particularly small-medium sized ones, is about monitoring, and monitoring, and monitoring! Please, let’s not tell them that Barcelona, London, Amsterdam, Milan and other big cities are doing it. It will just increase their frustration and their distance between you and them. And, the  European Single Digital Space will become increasingly fragmented and full of pitch black caves!