Smart cities set to change the way business and citizens interact

WiFi, IoT, personalised services - smart cities are providing businesses with opportunities to grow and flourish.

There is quite a buzz among businesses when it comes to smart cities and the push by governments around the world to digitally transform themselves. Considering that spending on smart city projects is expected to increase from $14.85 billion globally in 2015 to approximately $35 billion by 2020, there are certainly opportunities to be taken.

Even though the likes of artificial intelligence, connected devices and e-services have been attracting a lot of attention, fundamental to any smart city is the connectivity on offer. Many analysts argue that providing citizens with reliable, fast, and free WiFi services must be the cornerstone of digitally transforming a smart city.

With the cost of mobile data still high in Africa (not to mention how data packages keep expiring), to truly empower people on the continent with access to information, connectivity needs to be viewed as a basic human right. Of course, this does not mean local governments should provide uncapped wireless access. Instead, it should be about giving people the means to access digital services.

An example of a city leading the charge when it comes to digital innovation is Tel Aviv. Having won the World’s Smartest City award in 2014, it is focused on delivering services to residents that improve their lives. Its DigitTel Residents Club is a personalised interest location-based communication network that provides people with information centred their likes and dislikes.

For example, a resident could receive information about traffic congestion on their way to work, or if they enjoy music, they might get discounted tickets to a neighbourhood concert.

Adding further impetus to such connectivity is the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) – i.e. any device that connects to the internet. Around the world, cities are becoming more connected, collecting data everywhere to help planners make smarter decisions and deliver new services.

Again, this points to the importance of having WiFi that can help address the economic and social inequality that we have seen in Africa thanks to the digital divide. Having WiFi access means all people can get on the internet, find information, and equip themselves with the skills they need to find jobs in the digital world.

Additionally, this connectivity will improve city infrastructure and make it possible for citizens to engage with their community, such as removing the roadblocks that complicate access to local services. Suddenly, people can develop revenue-generating applications that will transform the way African businesses in smart cities communicate with customers. And that, is true change in the connected world.