How AT&T is transforming Dallas into a smart city

This article originally appeared on CIO by Gary Eastwood.

Urban developers have bandied the term “smart city” around for some time, and now residents in Dallas’s West End district are seeing those words become reality with the launch of a “living lab” on March 27. Residents may soon notice kiosks containing information for travelers, street lights which brighten up when there are more people, and other technological changes caused with smart devices and the internet of things (IoT).
These efforts in Dallas have been led by the Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA), a coalition of organizations and individuals committed towards building the city of the future. But the DIA’s efforts in the West End are supported by AT&T, who noted in a press release celebrating the living lab’s launch that “AT&T has worked with the DIA and the City of Dallas to bring together some of the largest and most innovative IoT solution providers in the world.” AT&T is working with eight other cities including Miami, Atlanta, and Chicago in order to promote smart cities solutions and tap into a growing market.

The benefits of the smart city

You may have heard of IoT, and how interconnected devices in a home could work together to improve peoples’ lives. If that can work in a home, then perhaps it could work on a citywide basis.

This is the idea behind the smart city, and cities which have nothing to do with AT&T’s plans have already made initial efforts to communicate with its citizens via smart devices. For example, Louisville, Kentucky, has launched an IFTTT channel, which can connect citizens’ smart devices to public air quality data.

Dallas and AT&T want to dream bigger than that. The living lab in the West End is merely phase one of the plan to turn all of Dallas into a smart city, as planners want to test things out on a small scale first. This plan includes making Wi-Fi freely available no matter where you go, smart lights which dim when no one is nearby, and smart parking to inform drivers of open spots. As DIA observes, technology and the smart city will “accelerate sustainable economic growth, resource efficiency, and importantly, improves the quality of life in the city for its citizens.”

What AT&T hopes to gain

More suspicious individuals may wonder why AT&T is going so far to promote smart cities, and AT&T certainly has plenty to gain by these efforts. The smart city market could be worth $1.5 trillion by 2020. By partnering with other cities, AT&T is making the first forays into this new market and hoping to gain a first step.

But AT&T is not the only company looking to develop smart cities. Panasonic is working together with Denver to create its own smart city lab near Denver International Airport, and other companies like IBM and Verizon are developing smart city technologies as well.

It should be noted that these companies are not necessarily competitors, but rather can fulfill different roles in building a smart city. Some companies will outright sell smart devices and dating apps. Others, like IBM, will play a consulting and monitoring role. And wireless networks companies like Verizon and AT&T will manage the data produced by smart devices.

Data or surveillance?

Everyone will thus benefit from the smart city, but the wireless network companies could be the biggest winners as data is the linchpin through which the smart city will thrive. Smart traffic lights which help manage the flow of traffic need data about the overall traffic system, smart water conservation efforts need specific data about individual water usage, and so on.

But as more data is collected, citizens should be concerned about protecting their privacy. Some security experts have cautioned citizens to not adapt IoT in their homes willy-nilly and seriously consider whether they need an additional device which could be a security risk. But choosing to go off the grid is much harder for individual citizens if it is a city-wide effort, which means that cities have to try much harder to protect their data.

The DIA did list privacy and security as their first two concerns when it comes to guiding principles for a smart city, but actions matter more than words. The DIA, the City of Dallas, and AT&T will have to set strict rules on who can access that data and what can be collected.

But despite these security concerns, smart cities overall are a net good as they can produce a more efficient city that can better respond to the needs of its citizens. AT&T is making the first steps by promoting new technologies in the Dallas West End district and other cities, but the smart city project is far too big for any one corporation or local government to handle. Only by working together and promoting technology can organizations promote better, smarter future.

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