The new life of cities – and those who live and work in them


Phil Skipper, Head of Strategy and Business Development at Vodafone Business IoT, looks forward to greener, more easily mobile urban living.

In 2018, the United Nations predicted 68% of the world’s population would live in urban areas by the year 2050.

As the density of cities increases, so does congestion, the demand for services and the need for efficient mobility. These issues need to be addressed in an increasingly stringent environmental and sustainable way.

The past year has shown how flexibility and resilience of city systems have become essential, and how unexpected new ways of living and working may change a city landscape.

For example, the commercial property market is under huge pressure as businesses re-evaluate working patterns, and organisations and workers seek a more flexible approach. Cities and property owners are already reassessing how best to market and operate their estates, looking at ways to reinvigorate the “commute economy”, so vital to many commercial districts. 

Underneath these changes is an desire to build back cities in a greener and more sustainable way. This creates opportunities to improve the quality of city life and accelerate a green economy.

A year of reinvention

Much happened in the past year to stimulate this green transition; governments incentivised more sustainable initiatives in their recovery funds, automakers have fast-forwarded electrification plans and transport authorities are starting to structure services around public and shared mobility. in different time scales and funding mechanisms. Living in a modern, safe and efficient urban environment depends on structuring this ecosystem efficiently.
Considering cities as living, breathing, interdependent ecosystems rather than a conglomerate of individual assets can help city planners and policy makers deal with disruptive changes like the remote working revolution while delivering on the higher expectations regarding sustainability and quality of life.

Connected cities

IoT gives cities the potential to generate the data they need to measure, implement and optimise operations. Whether this is measuring air quality or traffic movement, planning health services, waste collection, public transport, energy consumption or food waste, IoT provides insights to enable cities to use their resources to best effect, to act fast and even learn to predict and prepare for the future.

IoT combined with applications’ platforms allow people, infrastructure, policy makers and service providers to converge and create new, more sustainable, data-driven economic models.
For instance, Vodafone is working with the Sevilla’s municipal government to monitor a range of services across our Smart Cities Platform. The platform integrates a number of data sources and provides analytical capabilities to identify greater efficiency and higher quality services, with the transparency necessary for public bodies.

Connected mobility

The shift towards electrified and shared mobility is at the heart of future cities. This shift could improve access to services, reduce emissions and congestion, and combine different modes of platforms into single, joined-up journeys, eliminating stopovers and bringing the benefits of personal travel to public transport.

It’s estimated that the average European car is parked 92% of the time: old mobility models are unsuitable and increasingly uneconomic for today’s consumers. The COVID-19 pandemic has led many to consider alternative transport such as carshare, electric scooter and bicycles.

To meet the demands of citizens, they need to book and pay for access to services on the street easily and on-demand – whether it’s a bus ticket, car rental or scooter hire.

The omnipresent smartphone and mobile networks make this possible. The addition of IoT means assets like cars can be located, booked, unlocked, guided, monitored and returned to service. This provides -end-to-end journeys and gives owners the visibility they need to operate and maintain fleets.

Others businesses will benefit from these ecosystems of connected services: IoT will enable them to offer employees shared transport options to reach a specific destination in an automated and environmentally friendly way.

Tomorrow’s cities

Cities’ built environment is a persistent barrier to change, but tomorrow’s cities will be a connected ecosystem where IoT and data enable currently fragmented municipal services to be coordinated in an unprecedented way.

New services will be integrated into the fabric of the city. Retrofitted buildings and renewal will create smarter sustainable properties and mobility plus key products and services will be optimised, lessening demands on infrastructure and allowing cities to scale.

Whether this is through an NB-IoT network keeping street lighting in check or a route optimisation ensuring taxis and delivery vans take the least congested road to get to their destination, IoT is helping create the cities of tomorrow around the world.

Over the next few years, 5G will transform how we can deliver city services – autonomous vehicles will be the most visible example, but it has the potential to revolutionise other healthcare, industry and even entertainment, among other things, and give citizens faster access to them via their mobile phones.

By bringing together the power of the urban ecosystem, cities can become more accessible, flexible and easy to navigate, raising their competitiveness, attracting talent and business while operating in a complex hybrid-work environment.