Smart cities: bringing science fiction to Swindon’s high street

By Anita Jaynes on 5 December, 2020

Post sponsored by CityFibre

How many times have you sat in your car, rain tapping at the window, condensation building on the windscreen, staring at an ominous red traffic light far off in the distance, wondering if the traffic jam will ever end?

It’s something that virtually all of us have experienced and the evidence backs it up. Last year the UK economy as a whole lost £8 billion due to staff being stuck in traffic jams – that’s a whopping 178 hours per driver[i].

Yet it’s not only motorists who are feeling the impact. Commuters on public transport and pedestrians share a symbiotic relationship with the traffic around them. It’s a challenge that is only going to grow and it is why local authorities have already begun to think about how technology can provide a solution. 

You may have heard of Smart Cities as a concept, but for many it remains frustratingly vague. Simply put, it’s about combining technology and information to improve lives and services. Think of Swindon as a massive orchestra, and instead of different instruments, you would have various sensors. From traffic lights and post boxes, to sensors built into lampposts, bridges and pavements – all of them connected, and all of them working in symphony. 

It’s likely that, in the very near future, you could see smart technology become ubiquitous in Swindon. In our homes right now many of us have voice-activated devices, lightbulbs intelligent enough to switch off when people leave the room, and almost all of us are tethered to our smartphone. In time we will start to see a similar proliferation of smart devices in our local communities. 

The reasons for doing so are compelling. With an increased amount of smart city technology on our streets, analysts believe it could reduce fatalities, either by accidents or through crime, by 8-10%[ii]. In a city of five million people, that saves 300 lives each year. 

However, smart devices are not just about reacting to what the data is showing, it’s about being predictive as well and putting in place measures that will have a range of benefits. 

For all of this to work, data has to be shared effectively. If we are suddenly going to be ramping up the number of data cities are producing and capturing, we need to make sure the infrastructure is in place to handle it. 

This is where future proof full fibre networks are coming into play. These networks – like the one CityFibre is building across Swindon – are capable of dealing with vast amounts of data. Full fibre is currently available to around 16 per cent of premises across the UK. For the most part, the country is reliant on legacy networks built on copper dating back decades. 

It is here where the UK is falling behind as the rest of continental Europe, which is way ahead in establishing full fibre networks. But this is changing and most within the telecoms industry are working toward rolling out a full fibre network to the UK by 2025. 

When that happens, Britain will go from digital laggard to leader and Swindon will be able to further embrace smart city technology because it will have a network capable of handling the massive amount of data it needs to work. 

There is a long way to go, but the case for building smarter cities is compelling. While installing the devices needed and laying the essential infrastructure required will be a challenge, a smarter Swindon will drive benefits for everyone. 

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