5G City: the population explosion and managing urban growth

By Alex Sinclair, CTO, GSMA

According to the World Bank, by 2050 nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in cities representing extremely rapid urban growth. Naturally, this raises questions around how we manage this explosion in the urban population?

The speed of change and the volume of people will cause challenges for city planners and politicians. Traffic congestion, environmental pollution, and complex issues around public security are just the start. Fortunately, the latest generation of advanced information technologies can add digital
intelligence to urban governance, and, in the process, help build truly smart cities.

Chief amongst these is 5G, which is currently experiencing rapid adoption around the globe and can deliver significant benefits in five key areas: safety and security, environmental protection, operational efficiency, smart management, and habitability.

The digital transformation of our cities

5G collects and shares data at speed whilst efficiently managing volume. This is ideal for creating an urban ecosystem that better manages disasters and accidents, moves towards a cleaner environment, is increasingly intelligent and reactive, and fosters economic prosperity, health, and welfare. One example is using 5G connectivity to support applications across public transport networks. Smart buses detect driver fatigue, coordinate with traffic signals to prioritise public transport, and monitor the congestion level of passengers. It can also leverage the cloud to automate security for metros and subways by supporting face recognition for gate permissions.

A cleaner environment

Emergency services and police forces can also benefit from 5G, which can cut response times during an emergency. The technology’s real-time data collection can control drones at an incident and transmit information from infrared thermal sensors to fire crews.

And we can live in cleaner cities, too, as 5G-based tools can monitor waste and pollution as part of a coordinated urban management system. It can measure emissions from factories and vehicles in real-time and deploy autonomous vessels to clean waterways of debris and waste.

Community benefits

There are also benefits for individuals and communities, such as monitoring the spread of diseases and delivering interactive entertainment, bespoke news, and personalised information. 5G can also support the technologies used to monitor building access and associated security systems, along with occupancy levels and parking availability, all as part of a collaborative ‘urban brain’.

Bringing it all together

Bringing the 5G City to life will require an investment in the right infrastructure – an agile combination of public and private networks. It also involves the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) to assign and automatically configure network resources to meet traffic and performance requirements.

Making this all a reality – safely, securely, accurately, and reliably – is now possible; however, specific technologies are required for 5G-enabled smart cities to meet their potential:

  • Private use of public networks: Using Non-Public Network (NPN), network slicing, 5G LAN, and other technologies, it is critical to reserve resources and isolate services from public cellular networks. This will ensure the capacity and security required for these essential services.
  • Efficient coverage technologies: The deployment of small and microcells, both outside and indoors, are needed to achieve the high-performance coverage without blind spots required for many advanced applications.
  • Low delay and high reliability: Deploy networks configured with ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC), edge computing, and dual connection to reduce end-to-end network delay and improve disaster tolerance in the network.
  • Fast high-definition positioning: Both 5G and satellite positioning technology, such as GNSS, are essential to meet the requirements of critical communication and autonomous vehicles.
  • Secure group communication: The introduction of group management, broadcast/multicast, and other capabilities necessary for integration between 5G and the legacy trunk communication to ensure the safety of critical communications.

5G can support the urban management systems and tools required to turn the vision of a smart city into a reality. And with our urban environment on the brink of a massive population explosion, investment in tomorrow’s digital infrastructure needs to happen today.