Smart cities are not easy fixes for struggling businesses

Smart cities are a good buzzword for any business, as the term evokes optimism for future investment, and the possibilities of future technologies. Yet, there’s the real risk that businesses could latch onto the idea of a ‘smart city’ in an attempt to get the go ahead on projects that would otherwise be laughed out of the boardroom.

Nokia has been suffering in the last decade, as a result of not successfully predicting future trends in desired technologies, notoriously rejecting the concept of the smartphone in its infancy. Since then, it has lost a lot of ground to Huawei, as both it and its traditional networking infrastructure rival Ericsson have struggled to counter Huawei’s advance.

However, Nokia has recently shown much interest in the cultivation and future development of the smart city. Its WING and IMPACT platforms are at the forefront of its IoT strategy, under which smart cities are housed – but most businesses need to take a very long look at the practicalities of operating inside cities – where carryout work is disruptive, and where habits are very entrenched.

One of the leading concepts it has pushed is the possible development of transport networks in order to make everyone’s interaction with the spaces they engage with more cohesive and pleasant overall – which sounds like nothing but a positive. The concept of smart parking has been pushed by Nokia and seems, on the surface, to be a rather valid and actually useful way to improve driving in urban areas, as it would notify the user of the nearest available parking spot.

Yet human selfishness has apparently not been conceptualised. Driving past rows of free parking spaces because someone has booked it and will be parking there in seven minutes time is something that is never going to happen in a densely populated area – the system has to be able to accommodate those not following the rules, and a huge number of variables. The cost of such a scheme and the amount of data shared, covering where users are at any given time, is also a detrimental factor as data protection and the use of citizens’ data has been under much scrutiny in recent media.

With regard to smart cities, Nokia has also spoken out about aiding the implementation of green energy systems. This is a good way to boost popularity with the public, painting it in a favourable light, but not necessarily investors as it is costly. Yet the practicality of such a ‘scheme’ for want of a better word is questionable. Green schemes are all the rage, and it appeals to the kinder hearted citizen, who feels their city would benefit from such implementations, yet the cost and the actual efficiency of these plans, which Nokia has been rather hush-hush about, is often avoided or simply not spoken about publicly.

Nokia has spoken about engaging with the rising trend of developing smart cities as a whole, which is a totally unreasonable objective – as there is no such thing as a smart city. There have been many positive steps to transform cities into becoming smart cities, but to actually achieve this you would need to knock a city down and start again. You can make a city smarter, but you will never achieve 100% penetration in this regard. The entire city will never be completely smart.

Instead such companies should focus on a specific sector of the “smart city,” which they legitimately could achieve drastic transformation in, with clear targets and plans. Working with other companies, they could indeed improve cloud networks and provide rapid 5G networking for every citizen. Improving transport networks seems like a rash if not redundant move for a company such as Nokia as, while it will have some experience with traffic predicting algorithms, the actual implementation of physical countermeasures is rather alien.

Nokia is branching out, not just in terms of what it plans to invest in, but what the company itself is focussed on. Nokia faced a tough time during the rise of Apple and Samsung in the mobile industry and as a result have been forced to diversify – infamously selling off the handset division to Microsoft. Consequently, Nokia has struggled, and has taken many steps in reshaping how the company functions. Managed Services account for one third of Nokia’s revenue, but are being overshadowed by Huawei, and as such they are now focussing its attention on IoT services that will, hopefully, turn things around dramatically.

Nokia is attempting to create cross-border IoT networks and operators. For companies looking to enter the smart city realm, small successful projects, laying the foundation for larger ones, are far more likely to bolster faith from consumers and investors, than putting all of one’s eggs in a basket that may

fail miserably as a result of naïve ambition.

Nokia has been pushing for integration with service providers, to help to guide them to better understand how cloud-based data management can be implicated and used to turn a profit, yet how this will benefit the company in the long term is dubious. Forming partnerships with companies like AT&T is all well and good in the short term, but with the rate that the digital landscape and the speed at which cloud-based data storage and management is changing both realistically and legally, it is hard to predict where the company will stand even in a few years’ time. 5G is pinned as potential salvation, but it could be the complete undoing of the likes of Nokia.