In the first part of our smart cities series, we explored the different types of smart services respondents expect and utilise in modern urban planning. However, what are the key technologies behind today’s smart cities? This article will provide insights into these technologies, highlight the challenges surrounding them, and discuss the steps businesses can take to leverage these solutions effectively in smart cities.

What technologies are key to smart cities in the UK?

Smart services, be they smart mobility, transport, or energy, are powered by smart technologies. These are the underlying advanced tools and systems, such as IoT devices, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, or data analytics, that enable the creation and operation of smart services. 

Smart cities can leverage these technologies to enhance the quality of life for citizens and foster sustainable growth. Our next question is: which key technologies are shaping the evolution of smart cities, and how can businesses harness their potential to create urban environments that are smarter and more connected?

To explore this, we surveyed 1,058 adults living in UK cities to understand more about the technology they believe is necessary to fulfil their expectations of smart living. The full methodology can be seen at the end of the article.

AI, 5G, and IoT: which technologies drive smart cities?

In the pursuit of sustainability, accessibility, safety, and convenience, the role of progressive technologies can be crucial in achieving efficient and interconnected smart cities. 

These cities are also part of modern digital transformation. Urban areas, communities, and businesses may be reinventing themselves and their practices to adjust to the digital era. Citizens may expect smarter services and cities with the proper technological infrastructures.

We asked our survey respondents to state the technologies they already have or want to have in their cities, and found that 5G was one of the most widely available one (54%). We will also analyse other popular technologies in the following sections.

 Which smart city technologies are available in UK smart cities

Artificial Intelligence can make cities smarter

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools can cover a broad scope of features, and can be considered a key tool in the development of sustainable smart cities. 42% of survey respondents said that AI technologies were already available in their cities, with 39% saying that they would like to have this technology in their smart cities. 

This technology involves the use of intelligent machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. There are numerous ways that businesses can harness AI. In smart cities, AI and predictive analytics can be used to analyse vast amounts of data to provide actionable insights. In addition, chatbots and generative AI tools can also improve communication and help boost innovation while facilitating smoother interactions between city services, businesses, and residents.

How can AI technology help businesses in smart cities? 

AI technology in smart cities can help city administrators control traffic and pollution risks, among other tasks. Some of the help this technology provides can also be leveraged by businesses. Here are three ways AI can help both cities and businesses simultaneously: 

1. Predictive maintenance: AI technology can work to analyse images of roads, vehicles, or stock, and deliver automated updates when these appear to be damaged or in need of reparations. When synced with maintenance management software, businesses and cities can know when and where repairs need to be made and deal with these issues on time, saving costs and improving safety.  

2. Citizen and customer engagement: AI tools can improve communication channels with citizens and customers in various ways. Chatbots can deliver 24/7 instant support for queries, guide users through processes, and leverage data, trends, and feedback to deliver personalised recommendations for services and events. AI can also break language barriers by providing translations in real-time, which can be helpful for businesses operating in different countries.

3. Energy and waste management: for both smart cities and businesses, efficient energy and waste management can minimise operational costs and reduce the environmental impact. Smart cities can benefit from AI systems to analyse energy consumption patterns and optimise energy usage across their infrastructure. Similarly, some such systems can also monitor waste generation and enable predictive maintenance as well as identify efficient collection routes.

Internet of Things (IoT) tech is an established part of a smart city ecosystem

IoT technology refers to the network of interconnected devices and sensors that can collect and exchange data. In smart cities, businesses can use IoT devices to gather and monitor data on various aspects like air quality, temperature, traffic, and waste management. This data can help companies streamline operations, offer personalised services, and improve resource management. For example, some councils are considering IoT-connected smart bins that monitor bin usage. 

In light of this, we asked our survey respondents what they thought of IoT tools in their cities. IoT tools are available in cities according to 37% of respondents, with the respondents from London citing they have IoT facilities the most (45%). Additionally, 40% of respondents wanted their cities to have this technology.

How important is IoT in smart cities, and how can businesses leverage the technology?

With the UK launching a £40 million fund to drive local IoT and 5G innovation, Internet of Things tech can be considered an established component of the smart city ecosystem. It goes hand in hand with 5G, AI, machine learning, and biometrics in collecting and leveraging data to improve services. 

Some smart devices —like smart TVs— are already present in many homes, and businesses can connect devices such as sensors, tablets, or phones to the internet to communicate with one another and the end user over the internet. This can drive greater efficiencies and provide solutions to potential problems, such as in connected vehicles that can send data back to a manufacturer about vehicle diagnostics.

The vast amounts of data (known as big data) that are collected by these devices are stored in the cloud and can be analysed to spot trends or improve business efficiency. Offices today can adapt to allow more flexible working patterns. For example,  people can now hot-desk and bring their own devices into work. There are other ways offices can benefit from IoT, such as:

  • Incorporating motion sensors to make lights only come on when someone is in the room
  • Using cloud-based booking systems for meeting rooms
  • Adjusting individual room temperature if a room is being used
  • Providing authorised access to certain buildings with smart cameras and locks
  • Facilitating product traceability throughout a logistics chain
  • Providing digital wearables like smart watches that monitor physical activity

With these technologies, it is paramount to ensure that security measures are effective before implementation, as is offering appropriate staff training. IoT environments that integrate multiple devices require security in every layer, from ensuring secure PIN codes on mobile phones to setting up multi-factor authentication in office devices.

Biometrics can help with security but must be used cautiously

35% of respondents said that their city was using biometric technology, with another 36% stating that they would like such technology to be available in their cities. 

Biometrics involve using unique or behavioural characteristics, like fingerprints or facial recognition, for identification and authentication. In smart cities, businesses can utilise biometrics for secure access control or payment authentication. However, businesses must take care to explain to customers what biometric information they collect and how the data will be used in compliance with GDPR.

Lack of data protection and increased surveillance concerns are challenges to smart city development

Implementing smart city services and technologies can be complicated. The three main challenges highlighted by our survey respondents were the lack of data protection (62%), increased surveillance (49%), and dematerialisation or loss of human touch (42%).

Smart cities require the usage of a lot of data. This data can come from various sources, such as biometric data, geolocation data, medical data, or consumption habits, to name a few. Convincing consumers and citizens that their data is being collected in a responsible and legal manner can be crucial. When asked to name concerns about how their data can be misused, the main issues survey respondents were quite or extremely concerned about were:

UK citizens' concerns about personal information misuse

While we have already addressed the importance of smart security, smart cities should not solely rely on technology to monitor citizen behaviour. While 33% of respondents completely trusted technology with their safety, a majority (51%) said they trusted it but still felt that human intervention was critical. 

Furthermore, how can companies respect data privacy and help citizens feel at ease about the use of their information?

How can companies encourage consumers to share personal information and protect their data?

The concept of smart cities implies active citizen participation. A combined total of 72% of survey respondents were either moderately or very willing to share real-time information about smart city services. Moreover, 58% were also willing to provide feedback via surveys to contribute to smart city development. But how do citizens feel about sharing personal information?

When asked to identify the entities they would be most willing to share their personal information with for the development of smart cities, only 14% of respondents chose private companies. Additionally, lack of regulation and data privacy policies were identified as the biggest barriers to developing smart cities, as noted by 45% of respondents.

Businesses should protect any personal information gathered to build trust with their customers. We asked our survey respondents what steps they felt companies should take to safeguard their personal information, and here are some tips for businesses based on what we found:

Steps to ensure data protection for consumers
  • Limit personal data sharing with other companies: businesses should safeguard personal data and obtain explicit user consent before sharing their data with other companies. 
  • Invest more in cybersecurity: with over half of respondents wanting companies to allocate more resources to robust cybersecurity measures, businesses should invest in data encryption tools, network security, and security awareness training programmes to reduce vulnerabilities against potential breaches.
  • Insist on transparency around data processing: businesses should openly communicate how they collect, use, and store personal data. This includes the purpose of this data collection, who has access to it, and how long it will be retained. Explaining the objective of data collection can make a big difference, as about three-quarters of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that they would be happy to share personal information if it meant better, more efficient, sustainable, accessible, or personalised services in their city.

Businesses should safeguard privacy and inclusivity for smart city development

Part of the UK's smart city evolution may hinge on innovation, sustainability, government action, data-driven choices, citizen engagement, and local business involvement. 

Nearly half of our survey respondents wanted access to free training resources to learn how to use digital tools they may encounter in smart cities. If smart services require the use of apps, they also want them to be free or affordable. For businesses in particular, these results show that it can also help to have a user-friendly website. This can be done by focusing on user experience when building their websites, and guaranteeing that there are channels that enable interactions between consumers and brands, in case they need assistance related to their digital channels. 

Citizens desire smarter cities with aligned services like payments, security, energy, and transport, focusing on sustainability and better living. 5G, AI, IoT, and biometrics shape smart cities, but addressing data privacy concerns is crucial. Businesses can leverage these technologies to improve their customer engagement or manage their waste or monitor and adjust their energy consumption via devices. 

To foster trust and encourage data-sharing, businesses should focus on cybersecurity, minimal data collection and sharing, and transparent data processing. This can increase citizens’ willingness to share information, boosting the potential for smarter, sustainable urban development.

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To collect this data, Capterra interviewed 1058 UK citizens in xxx 2023. The candidates had to fulfill the following criteria:

  • UK resident 
  • Between the ages of 18 and 65
  • Live in an urban area with at least 50,000 inhabitants
  • Must have understood and correctly identified what smart cities were after being shown a definition
  • Respondents were provided with the following definition:

A smart city is a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies. This technology allows the sharing of information to improve the quality of citizen welfare, the quality of government services, and business opportunities.