How European standards are helping smart cities

14th May 2018

By Luis Jorge Romero, Director General, The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)

Smart city standards and horizontal thinking

As cities grow ever larger, much of the physical infrastructure needs to be subject to well-defined safety and compliance standards, from the resistance of building structures to the height of pavements and access ramps. However, when it comes to the digital technologies that support the expansion of city services, what level of ICT standards should we expect to be present in the tender documents and in the solutions implemented?

Smart city thinking exploits the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, from the ubiquitous connectivity of our built environment and everyday objects which form an Internet of Things (IoT) enabled by networks such as 4G and 5G, to the automation of even more complex tasks using artificial intelligence.

Many city administrations are now preparing to take advantage of these innovative and highly-disruptive technologies. A smart city approach requires truly horizontal thinking, looking beyond sector silos to re-imagine both existing and future systems, create new processes and interactions, and migrate towards new forms of digitised service delivery. With an integrated plan, the same layers of ICT infrastructure can be shared among multiple services, which were previously managed–expensively–in separate vertical systems. This is one of the main sources of improved integration and reduced costs in a horizontal design for smart cities.

Smart city vision begins with visionary leadership

A smart city implementation involves transforming such thoughts and ideas into actions, and that requires visionary leadership with understanding and complete buy-in from the city’s top management. City leaders are now approaching this journey with citizens at the top of their agenda. Many early implementations of smart city services struggled in part because citizens were not consulted before the project was rolled out. More recent smart city deployments have been increasingly successful as citizen engagement becomes integral to the project design, development and deployment cycles. Smart cities have benefited greatly by harnessing the collective intelligence of their citizens and recognising their preferences and priorities.

Smarter cities collaborate and accelerate

By working together, cities are now able to develop a stronger voice in directing their own business models, developing and clearly documenting their city priorities and requirements together. The supplier community also benefits from reduced entry risk in having a jointly-developed set of a city’s needs and a more rapid deployment at scale of emerging technologies across multiple cities.

Whereas smart city deployment in the past has typically taken the form of a number of bespoke projects to resolve one or, at best, two use cases, it is now feasible with newly-emerging technologies to get replicable standards-based implementations. This transformation enables large numbers of cities to benefit from economies of scale. These include the simplification of technology choices and the benefits of collaborative procurement across several city services and indeed allowing multiple cities to engage jointly with their strategic suppliers. The use of global open standards-based solutions will help accelerate the deployment of smart cities by further simplifying the technology choices in these complex systems, ensuring the scalability as well as reducing the risk of investment.

Why work with ETSI?

Within ETSI, we have several groups working on technologies that are highly relevant to a connected city. These range from the mobile communication systems such as LTE or 5G defined in 3GPP, to the service layer platform for the IoT developed in oneM2M, as well as groups working on intelligent transport systems, cyber security, data security and privacy, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and edge computing.

Today’s challenge lies in attracting city representatives to contribute to these standards groups. To assist with this, ETSI has created an Industry Specification Group (ISG) whose focus is to identify the needs of cities and which therefore calls for leadership from city representatives.

Introducing ETSI ISG CDP

ETSI’s new initiative called ‘City Digital Profile’ is a community of common interest where cities are expected to set its agenda. The current focus is to look at the use and benefits of emergent and leading-edge technology streams. The mission of the group is to develop a standards-based roadmap including the description of the technology that can be used by city leaders to address their respective cities’ needs.

The City Digital Profile seeks to inform and advise cities about the rapid developments in citywide infrastructure and technology platforms, so that the city leaders are fully aware of the innovative technologies and the benefits they can derive from them.

We invite all cities to join ETSI in this journey. Our Profile offers open workshops alongside the technical meetings, as well as dedicated themes and tutorials in several major industry conferences. For more information and to join us, please contact

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