Our world is increasingly an urban one--the United Nations projects that nearly 5 billion people will live in cities by the year 2030, due to both the expansion of mega-cities and the creation of new urban centers. Cisco wants to be the company that makes all those metropolises not just function, but flourish.
The company is peddling its knowledge and its services to city planners around the world, and last week it announced that it had picked up three important new customers. Developers in India, Ecuador, and Canada have asked Cisco to come up with master plans for fully wired communities. Presumably if the customers like the results they'll ask Cisco to put its plans into action.
It's important progress in a growing business sector: Cisco has estimated that smart cities offer a $13 billion market opportunity just in the next five years. "Last year we were explaining to communities and developers why smart communities were necessary, and why it’s important to build a 21st century city," Hardik Bhatt, director of Cisco's Smart+Connected Communities initiative, told me in an interview. "Now the discussion is moving into how to do it."
Cisco has a showcase in Songdo, a city we reported on last year that's rising in South Korea on land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea. The project is notable for both its bright green credentials--public transit, green space, and water conservation systems abound--and also for its sophisticated IT nervous system, courtesy of Cisco. Apartments throughout the city are being equipped with Cisco's TelePresence units for video conferencing, and the company is constructing a central control room that it says will allow government departments and utilities to leverage real-time information to improve city services, including public safety, traffic management, and energy conservation.
Even though Songdo isn't fully built-out yet, and it's still not clear if or when the most ambitious elements of the project will come to pass, Cisco is hoping to replicate that model around the world. "Songdo was the first customer deployment," says Marc Musgrove, a Cisco spokesman. "That model is migrating to places like Barcelona. We have a number of very interesting pilot projects there, like parking space management and how to route the buses more effectively. Barcelona is using the IT platform that we’re developing to give managers access to a pool of data."
Cisco's newly announced customers include the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Company, which is in charge of creating a vibrant urban landscape along the roughly 1400-kilometer train route that links Delhi and Mumbai. The developer expects to revamp some existing municipalities and build some new ones to reach a total of 24 cities; Cisco is now working on the IT master plan for the first two pilot cities, Dholera in the state of Gujarat and Shendra in Maharashtra.
Another new customer is the government of Guayaquil, the most populous city in Ecuador, which wants an IT plan that will allow it to upgrade health care, education, public safety, and e-government services. Finally, a developer in Toronto, Canada has asked Cisco for help with a new residential and commercial development in the north sector of the city.
Eliza Strickland is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum, where she covers AI, biomedical engineering, and other topics. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.