Cities are the future, and future cities will be smart. Urbanisation is one of the continuing trends of the twenty first century. In 1800, just 2% of the world’s population was urbanised. In 2008, that figure passed 50%. If current growth trends continue, 65-75% of the world’s population will live in urban centres by 2050. Almost all of this 15-25% projected growth will take place in the developing world.

The cities being built to accommodate urban growth will be technologically focussed. A ‘smart city’ is a developed, urban area where technology is implemented to make networks, services and systems more efficient across key areas such as the economy, mobility, environment, utilities, community services and government. There is a growing recognition that smarter approaches are required to improve the efficiency of public service delivery, the sustainability of urban development, and the general quality of life in our cities.

The concept of a smart city gathered pace in 2008 amidst the global economic crisis, and countries such as South Korea, the UAE and China began investing heavily in smart city development. This is quite understandable given the pace of urbanisation in the developing world. Shanghai, for example, has been growing at a rate of approximately 10% a year over the past 20 years, and is now home to over 24 million people – nearly double what it was back in 1987.

Most cities, not just those in China, will face the same future challenge of keeping the city functioning at a time of higher population growth, particularly when people are living longer. Smart technology will therefore be required to address some of the issues associated with higher population density. By using technology, the intention is to make cities liveable and ‘future-proof’ so they are equipped to respond and adapt to new challenges. This will involve connecting information technology to physical objects such as meters, sensors and control systems to improve how cities are managed and operated.

For example, in the event of fire or flood, disparate systems can be used to communicate and share information. Sensors and social media can alert managers, who can then arrange for workers to resolve the problem, divert traffic and issue public updates through social media. Further developments will also be seen in traffic monitoring and management, telehealth, digital participation systems, water consumption monitoring systems, smart grids and energy networks.

Further growth opportunities also exist through smarter approaches to transport management, technology and energy. Smart cities will allow urban areas to be managed more effectively whilst raising the economic prospects and quality of life of those living within them.

By 2025, the world’s top 600 cities will generate 60% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. The UK, France and other European countries are well placed to take advantage of smart city developments. Opportunities in the area of smart cities are estimated to be worth in the region of $400bn pa. These include opportunities in transport, energy, healthcare, water, and waste. The UK has already set itself the ambitious target of securing a 10% share of this market. Other European countries are also expected to capitalise on their expertise in this area.

Innovative products and services are currently being tested at scale, based on transformative digital technologies. These products will enable the UK, France and other European countries to develop highly innovative new products and services by accelerating deployment at scale. City scale projects (enabled by new technologies such as 5G) will improve productivity bringing benefits to citizens and businesses. This area has much potential. By working together, we can make smart cities a reality.