By Bradley Bekker, Evotel General Manager

The idea of Smart Cities is wonderful and it will address a lot of South African citizens’ issues with the government’s service delivery failures if done and implemented correctly and properly. However, who takes responsibility for creating smart cities? Is it a government led initiative or a citizen and private sector led initiative? Who takes the leadership role in making it a reality?

At first glance smart cities seems to be the responsibility of the government with the goals of a smart city accepted as being to improve municipal policy efficiency, the reduction of waste and inconvenience for residents and to improve the socio-economic well-being of residents.

Doubt and trust

In the South African landscape, however, there is a lot of doubt whether the government and powers that be can manage the establishment and maintenance of smart cities, as they struggle to manage basic service delivery to citizens. Just think of the lack of electricity, water, and sanitation provision, as well as the maintenance of road infrastructure (read potholes) and the trust of our government to fix these problems alone.

The key to running a smart city – based on the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Everything (IoE) – is connectivity and power. Power is key to keep all the various devices up an running and connected to the smart city network to effectively share data quickly to efficiently run the smart city. With the current Eskom debacle and load shedding problems together with inefficient and non-existent government ICT systems and data analytics capabilities, it does not seem possible. To imagine a functional local smart city within the next 30 to 40 years is a stretch and is definitely not possible within the government’s expected 25 years, as planned for the “Lanseria” smart city.

PPPs a must

From a Fibre Network Operator (FNO) perspective, Evotel is confident that there is the capability in South Africa to provide the network infrastructure that will be needed to carry the data involved with the running of a smart city. However, what needs to be addressed in this case would be who will be responsible for the cost of implementing and maintaining the network infrastructure. Will this be another service provided by the government to only be recovered from already under-serviced citizens and through an additional tax of some kind or will it be through some kind of newly propagated and promulgated Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative?

In my opinion, within the South African environment, the establishment of smart cities would have to be a joint effort between the government and the private sector on completely new terms and agreements. A lot of work will still have to be done in terms of defining the terms of these new PPPs and the policies that will govern the initiatives to ensure that smart cities become a reality in South Africa.

The South African Government is aware that the framework concerning PPPs need to be updated and we will hopefully see positive changes as per the National Treasury’s 2022 Budget Review (Microsoft Word – Annexure E_100222 (treasury.gov.za) regarding its 2019 PPP framework review that has now been completed.

More than just government service delivery

The benefits for citizens of a smart city, however, reach much further than that of efficient government service delivery in terms of smart public safety and security, smart education and schooling, smart forestry and environmental affairs or smart public transport solutions. People in smart cities will also benefit from other commercial activities offered by the private sector, some of which are already available across various cities and smaller towns and without the smart city defined network infrastructure. Such as: Ride-hailing services, like Uber, Bolt and Lyft, as well as online shopping and delivery services by many retailers (Takealot, Checkers’ Sixty60, Woolworths’ Woolies Dash, etc.)

Taking it a step further and closer to the smart city idea, from a safety and security perspective, your internet connected CCTV cameras and home security system will be able to relay data to your security provider and possibly the police in real-time for immediate action to be taken. With added data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities the security system could be able to determine various other aspects relating to a possible crime or incident. For instance, it could track the movement of people or objects and identify specific directions suspects are moving in or escape routes they might follow.

Combined with relevant Big Data the system could determine a possible escape route and allow capturing the suspect before escaping completely. In future Big Data, AI and Analytics could possibly even help in determining the severity of an incident. Depending on the analysis, for instance, if shots were fired, somebody is hurt and how severe the injuries are, the system could automatically make certain decisions and initiate certain actions. It could for instance automatically inform the closest hospital or ambulance and necessary policing services to respond to the scene immediately depending on the outcome of the analysis of all the data.

From a consumer perspective in a smart city environment, your fridge will be able to do your shopping itself. If you have a smart connected fridge, your fridge will determine when you require fresh milk or if any of your regular grocery items have run out and automatically place an order with your chosen supermarket and have it delivered to your house. With analytics built in, your fridge will even search the internet and order from the supermarket that is offering the best deal at that moment.

There is a whole new world that is possible with the establishment of smart cities but both the government and the private sector need to be involved to make these smart cities a reality. I also won’t hold my breath for how long it will actually take to see a fully-fledged and effective South African smart city that serves the government and commercial needs equally to see the light. I do know that the fibre network can be ready soon!