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#Connectivity & IoT

Smart cities: powered by cellular connectivity

Technical Innovation
7 Mins.

Smart cities are reshaping the world as we know it. But behind these high-tech urban ecosystems lies an intricate network of interconnected devices powered by a similarly transformative technology – cellular connectivity.

Picture the scene. You are sitting in your connected car, navigating your way through the rush hour traffic on your way home from work. There has been an accident on your usual route home, but your car, equipped with advanced sensors and the latest connectivity technology, communicates with smart traffic systems, and seamlessly re-routes you based on real-time data, getting you home with minimal stress or time lost.

As you pull up to your apartment block, your parking assist system automatically activates and guides you into a narrow parking space without fuss. You walk through your front door and your smart home system, prompted by your wearable device, has already adjusted the lighting and temperature to your preference, and your favorite playlist duly starts playing on your home’s smart speaker system. As you sit back on your couch, your smartphone pings with a notification from your smart meter app congratulating you for your below-average water consumption.

This is not science fiction – just an ordinary day in a smart city.

Understanding smart cities

Smart city concepts have been evolving for more than a decade now. Increased urbanization – more than 55% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, with that percentage projected to grow to 68% by 20501 – and digitalization, as well as globalization and the urgency of climate change, have all been driving forces in turning the vision of smart cities from a future ideal to a present reality. But what exactly is a smart city?

There is no universally accepted definition. In 2012, urban strategist Boyd Cohen popularized a framework known as the Smart Cities Wheel to provide “clarity and consensus around what a smart city is and what the components of a smart city actually are.” The wheel helped define smart cities by splitting them into six categories: smart economy, smart living, smart government, smart people, smart environment, and smart mobility.

In essence, a smart city can broadly be understood as an urban environment that utilizes technology to improve the quality of life of its citizens, boost sustainability, enhance governance, provide digital services, and optimize resource management. These cities leverage interconnected sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and data analytics to collect and analyze real-time information, enabling intelligent decision-making and responsive services. By integrating digital technologies into various infrastructure systems, such as transportation, energy, and public services, smart cities aim to create more efficient, comfortable, and sustainable urban environments. All these data-centric services require secure network connectivity and trusted device identification. This is where SIM technology plays a central role.

A cyclist connects their smart watch to their smart bicycle

Smart cities in action

There’s no shortage of ways smart cities can make our lives easier, and many forward-thinking cities are already taking advantage of them.

Singapore, which has been pursuing its Smart Nation policy since 2014, has long since established itself as the benchmark for smart urban development. From introducing self-driving vehicles and high-speed public internet connections2, to the mass adoption of contactless payments and smart homes for the elderly3, Singapore is harnessing the power of technology to tackle a number of pressing issues like rapid urbanization, an aging population, and an increasing need to be more sustainable.

Other cities at the forefront of smart city development include London, which has the most 5G towers in Europe4, ensuring free Wi-Fi access in public buildings and city streets throughout the city, and Zurich, which is using sensors to adjust street lighting based on monitored traffic levels – enabling energy savings of up to 70%.5

These examples underscore the transformative potential of smart cities, providing a blueprint for how urban centers worldwide can leverage technology to meet the evolving needs of their citizens while promoting sustainable development.

Though the promise of smart cities is exciting, they are not without risks. The increasing connectivity and reliance on data have caused valid cybersecurity concerns. Breaches could lead to service disruptions or, worse, the misuse of sensitive personal data.

Privacy is a major concern in the age of smart cities. As more devices collect and share data, protecting individuals’ privacy becomes even more important. It’s essential that smart cities are built upon secure and reliable technology that can uphold data privacy while making the seamless operation of smart city networks possible.

Cellular connectivity plays a central role not only in enabling the sophisticated network of interconnected devices, sensors, and data platforms within the smart city ecosystem, but also in keeping it secure.

Cellular connectivity: the backbone of smart city infrastructure

Cellular connectivity has evolved significantly over the years, transitioning from traditional SIM cards to embedded SIM (eSIM) and, today, integrated SIM (iSIM) solutions. Each advancement in cellular technology has been instrumental in supporting the growing connectivity needs of smart cities. Today’s 5G technology, for instance, supports high-speed data transmission and low-latency communication, both critical for the efficient functioning of IoT networks in smart cities.

A woman uses her smartphone
“It’s not the data alone that makes our cities smart – but the sustainable decisions made possible by the trusted data of IoT devices. Connected through our secure iSIM technology and managed via our IoT Suite, this synergy creates confidence in shaping the smart cities of tomorrow.“
Bernd Müller
Global Vice President, Head of Technology & Strategy at G+D

Unlike Wi-Fi or other local wireless networks, cellular networks allow for a more streamlined management of large groups of IoT devices and sensors within a city. Centralized management not only facilitates scalability and digitalization, but also bolsters security by enabling the unique identification, data signing, and encryption of IoT devices using iSIM/eSIM. The longer signal range and carrier-grade infrastructure provide additional security benefits.

Cellular networks also offer wider coverage and interoperability, enabling a vast number of IoT devices spread across the city to communicate and exchange data, thus eliminating the need for repeaters or intermediary network hubs in close proximity. The adaptability of devices via remote SIM provisioning (RSP) will also play a crucial role as IoT deployments become increasingly mobile and scaled.

Finally, cellular connectivity presents significant advantages in terms of cost. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, though free at the point of use, require manual management and installation, which results in notable operational costs. The switch to cellular connectivity in powering smart cities therefore represents not only a technological but also a cost-effective choice.

The iSIM is “the latest development in SIM technology”. Unlike its predecessors, the iSIM combines a tamper-resistant element (TRE) with a baseband chipset within a system-on-chip (SoC) to create a single, comprehensive connectivity module for IoT devices. This advanced technology carries immense potential, especially for the IoT industry, due to its small footprint and low power requirements. Moreover, the isolated, tamper-resistant hardware ensures it is as secure as other high-end SIM solutions.

Its unique characteristics enable a variety of smart city applications in narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) devices that have long life cycles and are used in low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN). The iSIM’s low power consumption and small size are perfect for embedding it into these devices, which are often battery powered and designed for long-term use.

The resulting real-time transfer of data facilitates better resource management across a number of use cases. For example, utility companies can remotely monitor smart meters in homes to ensure energy efficiency, while smart street lighting could help minimize power consumption and light pollution in cities. Another powerful use case is the deployment of city-wide sensors, which can provide valuable data on environmental factors such as air quality and noise levels, thus empowering us to take steps to reduce pollution.

Case study: empowering smart water meters with the integrated SIM

The integrated SIM (iSIM) was especially designed for use in low-power IoT devices like smart water meters. Smart water meters have become a fixed feature of smart homes in recent years, helping households optimize water consumption.

In 2020, LG U+ fitted their latest smart water meter with the iSIM – the first commercial device of its kind to do so. This iSIM, which was incorporated onto Sony’s ALT1250 chipset, boosted the smart water meter’s performance in a number of ways:

  • Energy efficiency: thanks to optimized power consumption, the device’s service life was extended beyond 10 years.
  • Compact design: the iSIM eliminated the need for an embedded or pluggable SIM, resulting in a smaller device footprint.
  • Enhanced security: the iSIM provided isolated tamper-resistant hardware, ensuring the safety of user data.
  • Efficiency and sustainability: the device required fewer materials, simplifying supply chain processes and reducing plastic waste.
  • Seamless connectivity: out-of-the-box connectivity facilitated fully digital data transmission.

The success of this use case highlights the iSIM’s potential to revolutionize the IoT technology market and demonstrates its readiness for mass deployment across diverse IoT applications.

While iSIM represents the newest iteration in SIM technology, it does not render the eSIM’s role in the smart city ecosystem obsolete. On the contrary, eSIM and iSIM serve different purposes, and both play crucial roles in enabling smart cities to thrive. Both offer a high degree of flexibility in terms of connectivity via RSP technology.

For broadband IoT (BB-IoT) applications, eSIMs are ideal, allowing devices to maintain reliable, uninterrupted connectivity even when roaming across different network zones. 

A common example is connected vehicles, which are essential components of smart transportation systems and which have become widely adopted in the last decade. Connectivity based on eSIM technology enables these vehicles to communicate with traffic infrastructure and other vehicles in real time, enhancing traffic management and road safety, as well as paving the way toward a future of self-driving vehicles.

Another notable use case for the eSIM is in smartphones. In 2022, Apple released the iPhone 14 in the US as an eSIM-only device.

As a global leader in trusted connectivity solutions, G+D is at the forefront of these technological developments. In addition to eSIM and iSIM, G+D also enables the evolution of smart cities with platforms like IoT Suite. An all-in-one platform, it simplifies the management of devices throughout the ecosystem, helping businesses effectively manage and scale their IoT deployments.

IoT Suite at a glance

G+D’s IoT Suite lays the foundations for success by giving IoT businesses complete control over their connectivity.

  • All-in-one platform for managing IoT deployments with in-depth analytics
  • Streamlined operations and simplified device monitoring
  • Efficient management of devices, data usage, and multi-carrier cellular connectivity.
  • Complete control over connectivity for IoT businesses

In a rapidly urbanizing world, smart cities offer a solution for a more sustainable, efficient, and comfortable future. However, this future cannot be realized without cellular technology powering the connectivity of the millions of interconnected IoT devices within these smart cities. With that comes a great responsibility to ensure the safety of personal data, above all else. In order to realize the true potential of smart cities in the future, it is critical that all stakeholders stay abreast of the latest technological and security challenges that emerge.

Key takeaways

  • Smart cities have the potential to revolutionize the way we live, creating more efficient, comfortable, and sustainable urban environments.
  • Cellular technologies – specifically iSIM and eSIM – play a crucial role in enabling and securing the network of interconnected devices within smart city ecosystem.
  • G+D’s IoT Suite helps IoT businesses manage and scale their IoT deployments within a single, easy-to-use platform.





Published: 23/10/2023

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