Tuesday 10 July 2018 3:00 pm

Connecting London: Wifi holds the key to urban sustainability

What comes to mind when you think about sustainability?

Curbing pollution? Prohibiting industrial waste? Filtering plastic from the ocean? A 5p tax on plastic bags?

It might be all or none of the above – but it’s unlikely to be wireless internet networks. Yet, if implemented properly, network technology will play a significant role in launching a sustainable revolution in cities and urban areas around the world.

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Let me explain. More people than ever before are migrating to cities. According to the UN, almost 70 per cent of the global population will live in urban centres by 2050.

This poses something of a challenge for official planners and city authorities. As urban populations continue to grow, citizens need a set of measures to protect their safety, their environment, and their ability to travel to and be productive at work.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that transportation alone is responsible for 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Worse, despite an increase in the number of electrically-powered and hybrid vehicles, the organisation notes that 95 per cent of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels.

While it might not seem an obvious solution, wifi networks can be used to develop sustainable urban centres and solve the issue of congestion. By offering a vision for urban areas that includes universal connectivity, with sophisticated security networks in addition to traffic management systems, cities can become sustainable in every sense of the word.

In the Polish city of Rzeszow, my team at CBNL has done just that, working with the EU’s Broadband Competency Offices to prototype one of the continent’s first smart cities.

We have designed and deployed a Metropolitan Telecommunication Network (MTN) for Rzeszow, a citywide umbrella network comprising over 500 free wifi hotspots with over 1,000 CCTV cameras, that connects every administrative facility and educational building within the city.

By deploying the network, our engineers took the city from just over 15 per cent wifi coverage to almost 80 per cent by the end of 2017 – and that’s not even the most impressive figure. That honour goes to an Intelligent Transport System that operates within the MTN to connect traffic lights, information displays, and vehicle weight control points to a single network.

By using the network, the city has seen a reduction in average travel time of over six minutes, and a further 26 per cent reduction in vehicle stopping times across Rzeszow. As a result, the MTN means that cars spend less time on the road, less time idling engines, and less time flooding the streets with harmful emissions.

Consider taking this technology and applying the same concept to cities across the globe. That’s what the EU’s Digital Single Market initiative, to which the Rzeszow project belongs, is all about. The UK’s cities could learn from this example, harnessing network technology to transform urban areas across the country.

Fortunately, London is already heading in the right direction. The mayor of London’s newly unveiled Smart City Roadmap is a welcome signal of intent to transform the capital.

Initiatives like these reflect the growing consensus that in order to maintain its position as a global economic and cultural hub, London must build infrastructure that accommodates modern-day living. This means developing universal connectivity through public wifi, providing sophisticated security networks, and of course maintaining an intelligent transport system.

The technologies are out there for London’s planners and policymakers to create an urban centre fit for the future. Simply put: as Europe’s leading technology hub, the city has the right people, skills, and capital to transform itself into a sustainability champion – providing it has the desire to do so.

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