The Platform


Cities and municipalities are not planning for the future.

Smart cities are taking too long to materialize and provide real solutions to the 21st-century workplace. There has been talk of moving forward in many cities, but municipalities showing real pragmatic applications adding value, are far and few between.

All politicians from mayors to governors must have a better grasp of these concepts. We are well beyond buses and trains bringing in commuters for regional economic development. We need to reverse the focus and ask, “How do we extend the city out to the rest of the region electronically and cut out the transportation costs of commuting?”

Part of the problem is, instead of having seasoned professionals in infrastructure and broadband connectivity looking at building more resilient networks for both power and network connectivity, many cities are assigning the tasks of creating new approaches and applications to interns, grad students, academics, and politically connected glad handlers who don’t know the difference between their waistband and wireless broadband. Most have never worked in the real world of engineering or software development.

They do not have basic or advanced skill sets when it comes to understanding, let alone implementing, complex networks and mission-critical infrastructure. They have no clue as to what is important and instead focus on whimsical terms like “digital inclusion,” “digital equity,” and other “feel good” terms which have no impact on what needs to be engineered and built out to bring high-speed connectivity with resilient and redundant power backing it up to an end-user. In effect, they are digital hucksters, the snake-oil salesmen of technology.

Developing lame and “feel good” applications having no real value cannot be viewed as a high priority for transforming a city into a working platform for 21st-century commerce for all socio-economic levels. These giddy endeavors are a colossal waste of money.

Most cities are on a downward spiral, and they cannot afford to be sold applications that do little to impact the economic viability of a downtown, neighborhood, or region.

Another real dilemma regions must address is the work-from-home workforce which has become a permanent fixture in many companies. People have no urgency to go back to work and commute into a city on a daily basis. They have decided “working from home” is where they want to stay. With some cities seeing soaring crime rates, the resistance to commuting is even higher.

This changes the design concepts needed to develop a smart city and as discussed earlier in the year, we need to look at building smart regions where connectivity can be accessed by the individual, not just in a downtown area or a suburban office park.

In effect, we need to concentrate on building the GigaHood. Discussing this shift with Tom Satala, a former Bell System technical support executive, he said this capability needs to flow down to the neighborhoods, not just the office high rises.

Just as a MicroGrid is viewed as a better source of power for a specific area, a GigaHood brings resilient broadband services down to the individuals in their homes. Not megabit services from a street-based server, but gigabit services that can handle any video demand someone working from home might have. They can secure high-paying, work-from-home jobs and continue to stay at home.

Creating a smart city focus, but having it extend out to the region giving even more flexibility to every worker, no matter where they are physically located, is the real pragmatic definition of “digital equity.” The design and engineering concepts are totally different, but the economic impact down to the individual, no matter where they live, would be the same. Sounds like “digital inclusion” – again, no matter where the individual is working from.

The GigaHood. Coming to your neighborhood soon? We need to get more politicians attuned to these new ideas.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.