Navigant Research Blog

Smart Cities Week Highlights the Market’s Transition from Technology to People

— October 6, 2016

CarsharingA key theme reiterated at Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC was the recent evolution of the smart cities market to focus prospective projects more on people and how they would be affected by new technology, rather than the technology itself. As stated in one of my previous blogs, one of the keys to Columbus, Ohio winning the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Smart City Challenge and beating out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver was the city’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options.

Keynote speakers at the conference also discussed the White House’s recent announcement that it will be providing an additional $80 million for smart city projects in response to the enormous interest that the DOT Smart City Challenge received. The majority of the new funding is expected to go toward the National Science Foundation.

Transportation and Economic Opportunity

Transportation as a connection to social inclusion was another key focus area of Smart Cities Week. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “We have an opportunity … This is the first time in the history of our nation that we have a chance to build a transportation ecosystem that isn’t weighed down by exclusions, but is built on inclusion.” Again using Columbus as an example, the city is developing an app that would enable residents to pay for a multitude of transportation options (i.e., public transit, ride-hailing, and carsharing) through universal fare cards, with kiosks being set up in poorer communities to allow residents without smartphones or bank accounts to still have access to mobility services. Connecting to the socioeconomic challenges of cities is an important element in gaining citizen support for smart city programs.

City Infrastructure Under Transformation

As cities around the world continue to reach a boiling point in terms of traffic congestion and a lack of parking availability, smart city solutions have the potential to completely transform city infrastructure, improving quality of life and increasing the efficiency of cities. Low-cost autonomous ride-hailing programs could remove much of the need for excessive personal vehicles on the road and alleviate ubiquitous on-street parking. New spaces for walking and bicycling would be opened up, transforming the city into a more inclusive space, with low-cost transportation options for all residents.


LPWA Networks and 5G Emerging as Key Technologies for Unlocking Smart Cities

— September 1, 2016

SmartCityA number of different networking technologies are underpinning the emergence of smart city systems. Two emerging and overlapping developments in communications are likely to have a wide impact on smart cities: low-power networks and the move toward 5G networks.

Low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks are set to play an increasingly important role in expanding the possibilities for the Internet of Things (IoT) in cities. LPWA networks enable thousands of small battery-powered devices to operate for long periods of time (around 10 years on a standard battery); benefit from low-cost modems (less than $5); and offer cheap connectivity (a service cost of a few dollars per year), long-range access, and deep penetration.

LPWA networks offer the prospect of sensors and other intelligent devices being able to connect instantly into a communications network at a cost of a few dollars a year and with no additional investment needed. These networks are suitable for applications where high bandwidth and low latency are less important. Equally important, they allow for low-cost piloting and easy scaling of innovative applications. A supplier developing a smart city solution, for example, could quickly demonstrate the benefits of an application for air quality monitoring or smart parking.

Some Drawbacks 

Note, though, that LPWA networks are not suited to applications requiring high bandwidth such as video streaming or low-latency applications requiring a real-time response. Moreover, they are not suited for the continuous tracking of moving objects. LPWA networks are largely complementary to existing network technologies; however, they do present a challenge to radio frequency (RF) mesh technologies for some applications. These networks may offer a cheaper approach to applications such as smart street lighting and smart parking. Silver Spring Networks, for example, has offered its Milli 5 solution to directly address this challenge, providing a lower-cost, wide-coverage communications module for its mesh network.

Compared to 5G communications networks, the amount of data that can be transmitted through LPWA is also far lower. Generally expected to be commercially available around 2020, 5G networks will have a major impact on connectivity for a wide range of smart city applications. There are signs however, that 5G may be deployed sooner than 2020. In September 2015, Verizon announced it was working with a range of partners, including Qualcomm, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, and Alcatel-Lucent, to make 5G available sooner.

While there are several different technology options for connecting cities of the future, LPWA and 5G appear to be the front-runners—for now, at least. For more information on smart city communications trends, see Navigant Research’s Smart Cities report.


Two and Four-Wheel EV Sharing Programs Growing Rapidly

— August 8, 2016

E-BikeConsumers around the world are increasingly searching for new products and services that will enable improved mobility in and around city centers. A key challenge for cities in the 21st century is how larger numbers of people can be incentivized to move away from personal cars for motorized transportation and toward cleaner mobility devices and services.

Shared EV programs reduce vehicle emissions and noise while simultaneously improving mobility in cities—something personal EV ownership cannot achieve on its own. As the EV industry continues to evolve and help address some of these concerns, vendors are experimenting with shared EV programs that utilize an array of vehicle types.

Increasing Interest from Automakers

In early August, BMW announced that it will be expanding its ReachNow carsharing program to cover Portland, Oregon after successfully deploying the service in Seattle, Washington in early 2016. The service attracted more than 13,000 members within its first month of operation. BMW temporarily matched Car2Go’s per-minute prices and eliminated its membership fee for increased competitiveness. The automaker uses a mix of vehicles for the program that includes MINI Coopers and the all-electric BMW i3.

Additionally, Nissan is collaborating with San Francisco-based electric scooter-share company Scoot Networks to deploy a fleet of 10 mobility concept cars (the Renault Twizy) in the Bay Area. Beginning August 2, new market entrant Green Commuter is launching a carshare and vanpool fleet in Los Angeles using entirely all-electric Tesla Model X SUVs.

E-PTWs Continue Broad Implementation

In the electric power two-wheel vehicle (e-PTW) market, Bosch is launching an electric scooter (e-scooter) sharing program in Berlin, Germany. The company is using 200 e-scooters from Taiwanese-based company Gogoro, which implemented a battery swapping network business model for its e-scooter deployment in Taipei. The battery swapping model from Gogoro is being adapted to be more of a traditional carshare model in Germany. E-scooter sharing services are expanding quickly across Europe, with iconic cities such as Paris, France and Barcelona, Spain having already implemented similar programs.

Globally, an increasing number of bicycle sharing programs have also been turning toward electric-powered technology as of late. Most recently, it was announced that the largest electric bicycle (e-bike) share program in North America (roughly 200 e-bikes) will be implemented in Baltimore, Maryland in the fall of 2016.

Whether it’s on two wheels or four, the plethora of new on-demand mobility programs sprouting up across the globe indicates that transportation is moving toward a future that is both shared and electric. Vendors looking to capitalize on this rapidly evolving business will need to offer high levels of vehicle accessibility, affordable hourly usage rates, and differentiating product options. For more information on electric mobility devices and their impact on cities, look out for Navigant Research’s upcoming Electric Mobility in Smart Cities report.


Realistic Goals, Measurable Outcomes Lead to Columbus Smart City Challenge Win

— July 21, 2016

Bangkok SkylineOhio won its first major victory of the year when LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the state’s first major sports title in over 50 years. Soon after, the City of Columbus, Ohio was officially announced as the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Smart City Challenge. The city is set to receive a total of $140 million, with combined contributions from the DOT ($40 million), Seattle-based company Vulcan ($10 million), and a group of local businesses called the Columbus Partnership ($90 million).

One of the keys to Columbus winning the competition and beating out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver was the city’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options. The city has proposed numerous solutions in this area. A few of the key proposals were:

  • An autonomous vehicle program that would transport residents from the Linden neighborhood—which has 3 times more unemployment compared to the city average—to a nearby employment center.
  • The creation of transit cards for low-income populations to use for ride-hailing or carsharing services, with or without having smartphones or bank accounts.
  • The building of smart corridors through wireless technology, which enables a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system that is more safe and efficient for high numbers of users (it’s important note that Columbus is also the largest city in the United States to not offer rail service).

Several of these transport initiatives are also expected to be integrated with improved access to healthcare services to help address the high infant mortality rates in many of Columbus’ poorer neighborhoods.

Other components of Columbus’ transport plan include an increase in electric vehicle (EV) charging stations throughout the city, enhancing smart grid technology by using EVs as distributed energy storage devices, expanding the municipal EV fleet, and securing 50 of the city’s CEOs to personally commit to buying and driving EVs, as well as installing charging stations for their employees.

Additional Funding Sources Also Crucial

While a focus on increasing poor neighborhood access to reliable and affordable transportation options was vital to the final awarding of the Smart City Challenge competition to Columbus, the $90 million pledged by the Columbus Partnership (if the city was to be selected) also played a major role. Financing the development of smart city projects continues to be the most significant challenge in the market, as outlined in Navigant Research’s recently published Smart Cities report. The guaranteed added investment by the Columbus Partnership made the city a highly realistic option for successful implementation and more likely to achieve the outcomes that were highlighted in its final proposal.


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