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The Smart City Defined: Utopian Plans Meet Deployment and Long-Term Vision

It is symbolic that Nokia and Verizon concluded our series of 5G Roadshows this year in Philadelphia, the first “Smart City “planned by William Penn as a utopian urban ideal, designed to lure settlers with a new life in Pennsylvania colony.  “What is a Smart City?” This is the question I ask at the beginning of any presentation I give – whether to a large conference audience or a small meeting group. The responses I receive usually contain uber technical information, comedic leanings, a few outright brilliant responses, and some head scratching. The one thing that is uniquely distinctive about the answers is that each is unique. It’s become clear that there is not a single definition that fits the “What is a Smart City?” question.

Smart Cities Go Back to Ancient Times

The concept of a Smart City is not new, but it has evolved since people began organizing themselves and their communities into structured municipalities. Early examples of a Smart City would include the complex city grids found at the ancient Harrappa and Mohenja-daro historic sites in Pakistan, the Roman drainage and sewage systems, and the very first British traffic wardens who began their routes nearly 60 years ago. These are all examples of "smart" city solutions from different eras in time.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised at the variety of responses to my question: a Smart City means different things to different people based on who they are and where and when they live. However, the central premise behind the Smart City phenomenon has remained the same. Its goal is to improve the lives of its citizens – efficiently and economically.

Smart Cities Today: Still about Infrastructure, All about Connectivity

When talking about Smart Cities today, we need to look at both near-term and long-term challenges and opportunities.  

  1. Near term will include the deployment of point solutions such as smart lighting, smart first response implementation, smart waste management, smart traffic, and smart parking
  2. Long term must be planning and inclusion intensive to overcome various community centric challenges such as – digital divide, governance, safety, city planning, etc

The truth is that the utopian smart city blueprint is in fact a combination of both near term and long-term actions.


The core infrastructure systems of a city – namely transportation, government services and education – determine our quality of life. In the U.S., point solutions are being deployed simply because they are the low-hanging fruit. We often assume ubiquitous connectivity, but that is often far from reality. Connectivity is the central building block of the Smart City vision of today; without connectivity we can't get data that fuels the Smart City engine.

We’re working to solve this ubiquitous connectivity challenge. While 5G will revolutionize how we connect and facilitate previously impossible use cases, connectivity is far more than just 5G. We are surmounting the challenges of today and tomorrow through a multi-faceted approach that combines Wi-Fi, LTE/4G, 5G private networks, mmWave, and other connectivity options based on individual verticals, applications, and network drivers.


This is my first blog in a Smart City series, and I hope it helps to answer for you “What is a Smart City.” Connectivity is truly at the heart of a Smart City today and tomorrow. In my next blog, I’ll share details on the importance of a “citizen-centric” Smart City, and I’ll discuss a City of Sacramento case study and implementation blueprint. Stay tuned.  

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Rohit Bhanot

About Rohit Bhanot

Rohit heads up Nokia’s Public Sector practice in North America with specific focus on Smart Cities, Public Sector & Enterprise. Rohit is the co-chair of the CTIA Smart Cities working group and head of the Smart Utilities practice and was recently inducted into the founding fellowship of the World Innovation Organization (WIO). He is very passionate about innovative disruption and socioeconomics. 

Tweet me at @RohitBhanot

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