Now the Focus becomes Smart Buildings
Cisco Systems recent announced it is stepping back from its effort to develop smart cities, The Wall Street Journal reports. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the company’s main business, providing network equipment, as well as minimized local governments’ ability to finance high concept projects like smart cities.
“We recently decided to stop sales and eventually support (for) the Cisco Kinetic for City product line to align our product investment to evolving market needs and customer requirements,” a company spokesman told The Wall Street Journal.
City planners and local governments have long had their sights set on the smart city concept that would feature self-driving vehicles, smart lighting and connected safety alarms to better protect residents. There were also thoughts of communications using 5G technology across cities that would allow for mass smart device adoption. Cisco’s push to enter the smart city fold was a four-year journey—it acquired Jasper Technologies in 2016 to increase its Internet of Things (IoT) expertise and launched Cisco Kinetic for Cities in 2017. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said, “there are lots of great opportunities” in smart cities in 2017 such as connected lighting.
Four years later, Cisco finds itself restricting and looking to cut $1 billion in expenses as well as staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The failure to launch smart cities doesn’t fall on Cisco alone—the pandemic hurt local authorities’ budgets, too. Those funds would have been necessary for any city that wanted to become, “smart.” Currently, 65% of U.S. cities are postponing or canceling any planned infrastructure projects, according to a June National League of Cities survey.
“Smart cities are a hard sell,” Christopher Reberger, a former director at Cisco who has analyzed the economics of smart cities. “The return on investment can be hard to quantify, and stitching together disparate smart city technologies can appear daunting. Even basic things like public Wi-Fi have been difficult.”
End of the beginning for smart cities?
There’s been a lot of talk about smart cities within commercial real estate and telecommunications circles, but that’s the stage where concept has languished for some time—talk. The push for smart cities has not been as strong as the discussions about it. There are a few reasons for that. The main one being that there are a lot of conflicting needs and wants when it comes smart city technology. There are some who want to see the connectivity for self-driving cars as the main priority, while others view security cameras or cell phone networks as more important.
Secondly, there’s the money issue. As previously mentioned, the technology needed to form a smart city is costly—on numerous fronts. It’s expensive for companies like Cisco to create and even if they can, municipalities have to find room in their budgets to pay for the equipment, have it installed and maintained. Until local governments can figure out what parts of their cities they want to be “smart” and find room in their budgets to do so, the idea of wide scale smart cities will continue to be more of a concept than a reality.
Instead of trying to make a whole city connected, telecom companies and municipalities should consider putting their focus on smart buildings. A lot of the same concepts are there, but less costly and more realistic of happening. The Internet of Things that could fuel a smart city could do a lot for a building—door locks, security cameras, thermostats, lighting and more could all be controlled over the Internet if the building’s wireless network is strong enough.
If there was ever a time for the smart building concept to be embraced, it’s now. People are beginning to return to their offices, but want to feel safe doing so as the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t fully subsided. Hands-free entryways, indoor air quality monitoring, and improved HVAC systems are all things that could be made possible in a smart building environment. Once the majority of an area’s buildings are smart, then maybe the city can follow suit.
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.