Empowering India’s urban future: The crucial role of IoT in smart city development

Phil Beecher

By Phil Beecher, CEO, Wi-SUN Alliance

With 482 million people residing in urban areas, the population in Indian cities has grown from 17.3% in 1950 to 35% in 2020. With more and more people migrating from rural areas to cities, urban areas are expected to house 40% of India’s population by 2030 and be responsible for 75% of the national GDP. Subject to the growing pressures of population density, smart technologies are integral to the successful functioning of India’s cities, now and in the future.

The growing rate of migration from rural to urban areas is also creating a host of difficult challenges for municipalities and urban planners. Now more than ever there is rising traffic congestion, carbon emissions, poor air quality, urban waste management and a growing strain on utilities, putting an urgent emphasis on creating more smart cities that can cater to huge volumes of people.

Technology and data are the foundation of smart cities, which can improve the standard of living through optimal usage of resources. Modern technology platforms like IoT power smart cities. These platforms use information and communication technologies to address growing urbanisation and sustainability challenges. The ability to source data from multiple sources to derive information and knowledge is central to smart cities — much like India’s Integrated Command and Control Centres in cities like Bengaluru, New Delhi and Ahmedabad. For smart city planners, IoT is a top priority.

In the interim budget 2024-25, $12 billion was allocated towards smart cities, with the emphasis on investing in IoT technologies.

Innovative use of IoT

Smart street lighting, traffic, and water management are well-established use cases of IoT in different stages of their deployment in the various Indian smart cities. The success of various smart street lighting projects is leading to an uptick in planned deployments, with smart street lighting as one area where IoT is having a major impact.

According to the  Global Smart Street Lighting & Smart Cities: Market Forecast (2020-2029) Volume VI, more than one in four streetlights globally have been converted to LEDs. Under the Indian government’s Smart Street Lighting National Program, over 1.03 crore smart LED streetlights have been installed till date, enabling an estimated energy savings of 6.97 billion kWh per year with an avoided peak demand of 1,161 MW and an estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction of 4.80 million tCO2 annually.

As the deployments of smart streetlights increase in India, the benefits continue to become more evident. For example, the smart street lighting system in Pune has resulted in 30-35% energy savings. Similarly, New Delhi is planning to install 90,000 smart street lights. This is helping dramatically reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions across various cities.

This is inspiring more IoT adopters to look at street lighting as the entry point for wider IoT development and investment. According to Wi-SUN’s 2022 ‘The Journey to IoT Maturity’ report, almost three-quarters (72%) of IoT adopters are ‘very likely’ or ‘definitely’ planning to deploy the technology for street lighting, up from 61% in our initial IoT study back in 2017.

Security and privacy

While IoT offers numerous benefits to smart cities, it also brings several core issues. Moreover, these challenges need to be addressed at the earliest. Security and privacy of data acquired by IoT devices is among the top concerns for various municipalities working on a PPP model. Data breaches and unauthorised access are possible as a result of the growing collection and sharing of sensitive and personal information. For example, the cyberattack on the Pimpri-Chinchwad smart city project is a reminder of the need for robust security measures.

Local governments and companies must adopt strong data security measures, such as security at the design level, encryptions and secure storage to address this and guarantee that data is kept safe and secure. Wireless mesh networks supports multiple connections to provide stronger protection and reliability. During a cyberattack, if one node is down or compromised, the connection remains unaffected due to the mesh network. In addition, the technologies adopted must go by a Zero Trust architecture that requires continuous authentication assuring data security and privacy.

Fast connectivity and interoperability

IoT sensors need fast connectivity to transfer a large amount of data that they collect. Connectivity and networking are some of the prominent challenges that smart cities face.
India’s urban areas often face connectivity issues due to poor network infrastructure and bandwidth limitations. This can hinder the deployment and functioning of IoT devices and sensors. With wireless mesh technology, the connectivity issue is effectively addressed.

Cities are primarily constructed of metal and concrete, and any networking technology must be able to transmit effectively in these conditions. Wireless mesh networks for smart cities have multiple paths from the device to the border router, connecting the mesh to other networks and are designed to work around steel and concrete, allowing cities to collect data from virtually anywhere. Additionally, it can support tens of thousands of sensors. This is important because cities are dense and require networking technologies that can be easily expanded.

Currently, most of the world’s operations run on a 4G LTE network and very few countries have adopted 5G networks. Smart cities have billions of connected devices with massive volumes of data being transmitted in real time. The transmission is possible with a 5G network, but this involves installing cell towers every 200 metres, which would be a long and tedious process.

Another challenge is the sheer volume of data generated by sensors. It impedes the ability to efficiently access, analyse, and gain insights from the data collected. To address these challenges, adaptive solutions are required. Field area networks with wireless mesh technology are proven smart city technology with compatible devices that are extensively deployed. It is particularly well suited to dense urban network applications and it is easy to commission and maintain.

India’s Smart City Mission is a step in the right direction considering the growing population in cities and the need to minimise the impact associated with expanding cities. Moreover, the integration of IoT in smart cities can generate data that can help leverage solutions customised to the needs and challenges of a particular city and its population.

The challenges associated with the network, privacy, standards and funding, can be tackled at the earliest with cities choosing the right technologies that help them grow and flourish in a sustainable and technologically forward manner.


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