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For smarter cities, telcos and cities need to communicate better.

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Vodafone works with 80 per cent of the world’s car manufacturers on connected vehicles and towards automated cars: in Europe about 20 million cars are connected to its network. It is also involved in other elements of mobility, like Mobike’s cycle-sharing and car-sharing services, like Zipcar.

Stefano Gestaut, CEO, Vodafone IoT, talks to Annie Turner about telecoms and smart cities, how well they understand each other – or not – and the key role of telecom infrastructure in smart cities.

AT: Is it difficult to negotiate with cities? What’s your experience?

SG: I feel that a lot of authorities within cities don’t understand what communication service providers (CSPs) can offer them, and I’m not sure how well CSPs understand what cities need.

AT: What is holding the development of smart cities back?

SG: The second consideration is that there isn’t really [any] money in this and, frankly, when you start talking to the politicians, not all of them understand it.

There isn’t really [any] money in this and, frankly, when you start talking to the politicians, not all of them understand it.

There’s also a generational thing. It’s not a coincidence that the most advanced countries from these perspectives are where you have a very young generation of leaders, such as in Estonia and Lithuania, but also look at the emerging markets.

This is where you have young not only populations, but younger leadership and politicians. I think it’s a lot easier because you have people who don’t need to [have it] explained [to them] why building something smart is better.

The question remains where is the money for this? Because these projects require money.

AT: Where have you seen success in Europe?

SG: Spain has had a lot European Union money and we’re doing [projects with] a few medium- to small-sized cities, of 40,000 to 50,000 people, spending public money to make the cities better. And we’re doing some really cool projects, like waste management.

We connect the garbage cabinet with the trucks that pick [garbage] up to optimise the route so you know when it’s full. Waste management is a big application, but a very straightforward one.

The second one is lighting. You don’t need all the lights all at the same time; you adjust them based on where people and cars are.

The third one is the area of safety and security [which] has to do with cameras to check on [crowds], for possible applications like enabling the police to recognise people.

There are things happening, but not at a big scale.

AT: Spain is a high on the FTTH (fibre to the home) penetration table in Europe, having made immense progress in the last few years. Is that all part of the same progressive thinking?

SG: It is part of that thinking. Some countries in Europe have taken it more seriously because they understood. Ten years ago [broadband] was a nice way of getting a few votes but there wasn’t a sense that this was critical to drive business for the next 20 years of the country.

Now I think everybody has understood that digital infrastructure is critical for digitising the country and making it future-proof.

By now I think everybody has understood – even the more the old-style politicians – that the digital infrastructure – no matter if it’s FTTH or IoT or 5G – is critical for digitising the country and making it future-proof, while not forgetting enabling citizens to surf the web well.

Look at the three Baltic republics, which are super-small, but they are ten times more advanced for public administration services: it’s all digitised. They are really going fast, along with some of the Nordic countries.

Another is Poland; compare it to places like Italy, or the UK. It is going faster. We need to ask ourselves the question in some countries, of whether we have taken on the challenge enough.

I think Germany pretty much understands that 5G is key for their future because it is going to affect the manufacturing system that the country is based on.

It is a bit scattered and you’re right, countries are going at different speeds, but things are going to pick up I’m pretty sure, everywhere.

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