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Blog - Why accessing urban assets matters for 5G and smart cities business models

Whether it’s automated vehicles, 3D city simulations or smart meters, many of the new technologies being deployed in our cities share a common goal of rapidly layering in a new digital capability to legacy infrastructure, be it roads, shops, council services or people’s homes.

Yet our cities today have evolved over thousands of years as technological, economic and social trends have shaped them. For long established cities this has created a byzantine structure of ownership and management. From the right to buy programme transferring singular local authority owned estates into thousands of separate privately held homes through to trend towards the privatisation of public space in glitzy new developments the ownership of assets and services grows ever more complex.

The next wave of digital transformation of cities, enabled by 5G, AI and the convergence of emerging technologies, in many cases, hinges on securing access rights to existing digital and physical assets such as data and buildings. Access rights are required for not just for a small-scale time-limited experiment but for the long-term and at city-scale to sustain the new business models and procurement practice required to drive commercialisation. At the same time digital technology is reshaping the very nature of property rights and the value of physical assets. This combination of factors is driving new settlements between citizens and the public and private sector across a range of verticals.

A guaranteed way to learn about the raft of challenges highly innovative companies face gaining access to 3rd party owned digital and physical assets (such as street furniture or sensor data) is to go out and try and do it in the real world. To manage this process in a more structured way, substantial government funding has been directed towards the development of city-based demonstrators and test beds as a tool to drive commercialisation. Test beds enable innovation by being open to a wide range of users from the outset – with a culture both unafraid of failure and alert to solutions which could be deliverable at scale.

For many use cases, the key proving value and sustaining investor interest through commercialisation is to run trials at city scale with large cohorts of users generating enough data required to prove cost savings and other societal benefits, reach economies of scale and develop viable business models.

At Future Cities Catapult we support UK companies access and grow new markets for urban innovation products and services. Over the past year the Future Cities Catapult has led a research programme (funded by Innovate UK) which has, for the first time, reviewed best practice and assembled a new playbook that will enable far larger, multi-use open access testbeds to come forward in cities: Hyper Connected and Data Rich Cities.

The Hyper Connected and Data Rich city research programme will be publishing 3 reports:

  • City-Based Technology Demonstrators and Test Beds: A Global Review of Best Practice and Lessons Learned.
  • Playbook for city scale open access test beds for 5G and smart city use cases – setting the agenda for project sponsors embarking on new schemes.
  • A guidance note for businesses to help them work with regulators on cross sector innovation projects.

City-Based Technology Demonstrators and Test Beds:  A Global Review of Best Practice and Lessons Learned

In a global first, Future Cities Catapult have assembled a comprehensive list of the leading city-based test beds for 5G and smart cities spanning 6 use cases themes. This research has taken a systematic approach to analysing best practices and lessons learned, capturing value from public and private investment to inform the next generation of projects.

The test beds and demonstrators we spoke to fell into the following market verticals: city services, smart utilities, smart healthcare, connected and autonomous vehicles, last mile supply chain and logistics, and next-generation connectivity and data.

Using this research as a base, we selected a subset of demonstrators and test beds and conducted 40 in-depth interviews with representatives and industry experts to uncover challenges, lessons learned and best practice.

In summary, this report aims to:

  • Provide a view of the global smart city demonstrator landscape
  • Identify trends with regards to aims, scale, funding sources, use-cases and locations of demonstrators
  • Analyse common challenges experienced by demonstrators across a range of market verticals
  • Discover and share what lessons have been learned during the planning, delivery and management phases of previous demonstrators
  • Highlight innovative ways in which demonstrators have overcome the challenges they have experienced

It is hoped that this piece of research will help future demonstrators overcome challenges encountered by those before them and deliver an acceleration to commercialisation for highly innovative UK businesses.

Playbook for city scale deployments of 5G and advanced urban services use cases

The second publication from the Hyper Connected City programme is a playbook for asset owners in cities to roll out their own open access test beds for 5G and smart city technologies.

The playbook will set the agenda for cities and asset owners who want to take leadership positions in urban innovation, opening their assets in a managed way at scale, allowing highly innovative businesses to come and help solve city challenges.

For the first time, the playbook brings together a range of practical new tools and methods into once place to equip practitioners and city leaders in the development if innovation cities. It will cover programme design, privacy and ethics, local authority and public sector roles, governance and access to assets sustainable business models.

The playbook will be published in April 2018.

Regulators and Cross Sector Innovation

The final report from the series seeks to address some of the policy and regulatory challenges that need to be considered when the public sector, regulators and commercial organisations work together to innovate with new technology and business models straddling sectors and regulators.

It is clear that UK is now in a position to exploit new technologies such as 5G and AI to assist with a number of public policy challenges.  However, in order for hyper-connected cities to thrive, we need to establish new governance and commercial models, new ethical approaches and new data security regimes.

The stakes are high as momentum builds and business cases become viable. This report sets out some key considerations for business entering this space seeking to engage with policy makers and regulators.

Regulators and Cross Sector Innovation will be published in April 2018

Fin Kelly is the Project and City Finance Lead at Future Cities Catapult. 

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