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


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


We have chosen #DigitalAQ for promoting the experience of L’Aquila with Digital Cities Challenge ( 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 (, 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!

European Cities Need a Digital Transformation Governance Design Support Programme


The Vision and Ambition Academy of the EU-funded Digital Cities Challenges project saw the gathering of almost 40 municipalities from all over Europe with different geographic characteristics, socio-economic features, and different levels of adoption of digital technologies in their business communities, among their citizens, and in their administration practices. There were many interesting themes, but, there was an overarching concept that was of great interest for many of those municipalities: the governance of digital transformation policies. That represents the necessary backbone of any digital transformation strategy, the necessary structure that enables digital transformation. The cities gathered at the event showed different levels of maturity in relation to the governance. Unfortunately, the gap is quite wide among them  moving from cities in their very early stage of understanding the need of a digital transformation governance structure to cities with a formal structure with a digital paradigm flowing all along the various departments of the municipality. There were cities with a formal and open structure, open towards other stakeholders of the city, inclusive in the decision making process, with a clear enabling strategy in place in terms of objectives and steps and resources needed to achieve those objectives. Among those “mature” cities, different models of governance were proposed. There were examples that really impressed the participants of the event. However, the “digital transformation governance divide” between cities was evident and something to be worried about. The European single digital space can really be single if that divide is bridged. Municipalities unware of their digital transformation mission affect that space and citizens and organizations’ opportunities living in that space. Other forms of digital divide are strongly affected by the “digital transformation governance divide.” But, developing a digital transformation governance is not an easy task. It requires a “digital framework” and a “digital frame of mind”. Building those requires a plan and the patience, the perseverance and the political will of pursuing that plan. The “mature” cities can help mentoring the others through a specific “support programme”. That “support programme” should come with a set of guidelines and best practices on designing, building, and sustaining a digital transformation governance structure. The Digital Cities Challenge project could design that programme creating a working group on the topic leveraging the various cities and experts part of the Digital Cities Challenge community.

The Foundation For Public Code for Open and Creative Smart Cities And Communities


The digital transformation of cities and communities can be successful if the process is open to citizens and organizations’ contributions. That can be enabled through open model of innovation and engagement. Those are largely based on open data model, but, also open and inclusive coding is becoming important for openness and inclusivity. The Foundation For Public Code, coming from the very notable open experience of smart city in Amsterdam, has been established for nourishing and diffusing public code practices and experiences. We have discussed public code and the Foundation with one of his founder, Boris van Hoytema.

Saverio Romeo: What is Foundation For Public Code?

Boris van Hoytema: The Foundation For Public Code is meant to provide support and advocate for those that develop Public Code, software and policy for the future that is built to be inclusive, usable, adaptive, open and sustainable.

The advent of computers in government leads to the digitisation of policy. Where code for cities used to be written down and executed by humans, we’re seeing that code gets executed by machines more and more. In a world where more and more of the burden to solve the big issues are moving to cities this automation means that public institutions are able to provide significantly better services to their citizens and solve a lot of the tougher issues like climate change response and privacy in the digital age, whilst also introducing a new set of challenges.

We need to build our digital governments with the same loving care as we apply now to policy making without losing out on the agility necessary for the digital adaptation. Developing for businesses is fundamentally different than developing for public institutions. By sharing the components we use to build our solutions we can develop and fix issues more quickly whilst driving down public costs as well.

Saverio Romeo: Which objectives does the Foundation have?

Boris van Hoytema: The mission of the Foundation For Public Code is to create a viable future for cities and civic operating systems that are highly participatory and drive societal engagement. A public digital infrastructure that is inclusive, usable, adaptive, open and sustainable.

First of we are working currently to make policy and technology people aware of the concept and importance of Public Code. Our aim with the Foundation For Public Code is to provide an ‘ecosystem level’ partner for the development of Public Code codebases, codebases that are both policy and source code.Right now we see this as being a third party ‘codebase stewardship‘ partner that can provide a place for (co)development whilst continuously enforcing the standards necessary for the development of Public Code and helping every new piece of code contribute to an international ecosystem. We see this a bit like the Linux Foundation, OW2 or Apache, but for Public Code codebases. In this we’re trying to offer a service that will make any development team better while also helping them make more replicable code.

Saverio Romeo: What is the project Smart Cities? Public Code! about?

Boris van Hoytema: We recognise that cities are going through the transformation that comes with automation. The ‘Smart Cities? Public Code!’ project is meant to build the discourse around Public Code as part of the Smart City conversation. It aims to connect the notion of ‘code is code’ to this transformation, find out what technological and institutional change is necessary and create practical tools for those in the thick of this transformation to communicate and develop.
Furthermore, we’re hoping to connect to a network of partners we can work with in order to usher in a new era for inclusive and effective governments. If you want to connect or contribute, you can find out more about the project at

Saverio Romeo: How can organisation (and which type) be part of the Foundation for Public Code?

Boris van Hoytema: First of all, we invite everyone that has an opinion or mission to partake in the formulation of and discussions around what the Foundation For Public Code should be, we’re treating it as an Open Source project, and thus we have a CONTRIBUTING page that sketches out what you could do. This is still new for us so it is all a bit scary, but we would love all kinds of contributions.

Next to that is solving our challenges. The main challenge we face now with Codebase Stewardship is providing stability. Ideally, codebases that are in the care of the Foundation For Public Code are guaranteed to have some level of stewardship for an extended period of time. This needs to be paid for. We’re currently trying to figure out how to make that work and are looking for partners in this process.
I would ask organisations that want to support the Foundation For Public Code to partake in the formational discussions and solving our challenges, perhaps even by allocating some time for people that can contribute on their budgets to help.
Next to that, we’re looking at building a ‘membership’ like structure, however, we’re still in the process of defining what that might mean and what the impacts of different structures can have on the long-term sustainability of our projects and the public interest.

#DigitalCitiesChallenge for L’Aquila because Innovation Can Happen also in the Periphery

The exploration of a digital transformation strategy for L’Aquila continues with the support of the EU Digital Cities Challenge initiative. Tomorrow, there will be a seminar for discussing the ambition a city like L’Aquila can have when looking at digital technologies as an enabler of innovation and economic growth. It is a very difficult question to answer for a small-sized city located 1 hour and half by car from a large city like Rome. That difficulty also depends on a cultural factor. The concepts of innovation and periphery are not necessarily linked to each other. Innovation is seen as a dynamic, hectic, disruptive and creative concept. The periphery is seen as a static, status quo enabler concept. Despite endless debates on the decentralisation of the innovation process, innovation strongly remains a matter for large cities and great urban areas. They are the engine of innovation and economic growth. The periphery is where that engine comes and rest during the weekend! There are exceptions to this, but, generally, this difference is part of our view of innovation, cities, and periphery. That view is so strong that when debating where the economic future of a city like L’Aquila stands, the response immediately goes to tourism. Tourism 4.0 for smart city to rest! But, there are few warriors out there not giving up on this binary vision. L’Aquila is trying to see more in the use of digital technologies. Tourism is important, but, there could be more. The question is not much about what that more is, but how to enable a cultural shift in the city and design, manage and monitor a digital transformation strategy that can have a wider impact in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship. Tomorrow, we will discuss this. We will discuss how to make innovation while the smart city comes to ski on the slopes of Gran Sasso!L'Aquila Logo