Innovative ICT makes cities safer and smarter

May 4th, 2015, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


Li Peng, President of Huawei Eastern and South Africa region

Li Peng, president of Huawei Eastern and South Africa region.

The acceleration of global urbanisation and the proliferation of the internet will drive the convergence of ICT and urban infrastructure – so said Li Peng, Huawei Eastern and  South African president at the opening of the Huawei Safe City Africa Summit 2015 held in Cape Town on 28 April. He said that countries worldwide are actively formulating plans for the development of safe and smarter cities by  seizing the  new opportunities generated by integrating various technology elements in one converged system and eliminating silos created in public surveillance and security systems.

Focussing on broadband delivery which is one of the most important building blocks in creating a safe city, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, the minister of telecommunications and postal services, in his keynote address said that failure is not an option for our developing nations as it will marginalise us from the global information society that drives the prosperity of contemporary nations. He referred to  2030 Vision – part of the National Development Plan – that positions telecommunications services, particularly ubiquitous broadband at the centre of the development of an inclusive information society that will propel South Africa’s economic growth and human progress.

He said that during the current financial year government will finalise South Africa’s comprehensive ICT Policy Review. He said he had received a report from the panel of experts that were soliciting inputs on the ICT Review from South Africans. Among numerous useful recommendations South Africans have suggested that we may no longer afford the duplication of ICT infrastructure only in major cities, but we must utilise full capacity of the current infrastructure by adopting an open access network policy and promote investment in underserved areas. “We received input that we must develop a rapid deployment policy to remove bottlenecks by municipal authorities in the roll-out of broadband services. We have been advised we must consider moving away from competition in infrastructure to competition in service. As we build these safe city networks we must assure and instil confidence in our people that they are safe and secure from abuse by the criminals and terrorists.”

Richard Chase, chairman of the Global Security Alliance said that successful safe city programmes built on public-private partnership have the greater chance of being successful if driven by sound planning that first must define the problems and then match the right manageable solutions for the long term.

While video surveillance cameras are being installed in many suburbs and city centres in South Africa the effectiveness in crime prevention is marginal. As one of the speakers at the summit, Jennifer Bilissent, analyst at Forrester said, the fact that there are cameras present may be a deterrent but a much more integrated approach is needed. While someone in a control room is watching the images, if something untoward is detected, the operator still needs to make a call to the appropriate authority to act on the information.

At a media briefing Eman Liu, president of Huawei Enterprise Eastern and South Africa Region said that the creation of a safe city can only be achieved by making a city smarter, and that we need to create a connected world where communication and surveillance systems must be converged. He cited the example of the company’s experience in Ghana where three emergency numbers were in operation, each one operating in its own silo. “Today the country operates one converged command centre with all services integrated under one roof and having the ability to respond to any emergency call, swiftly and with the right response.”

Various other speakers at the conference emphasised the importance to converging all safety and security systems into one command centre. Serious consideration should be given to include social media as with the right intuitive software much intelligence can become available. Other sensors such smell and smoke detectors should be considered.

Working towards a smart city and a safe city it is not financially possible to change every system with new equipment but is it is possible to go the virtualisation route by converging all the input into virtualised machines in a central command centre.

From the discussion at the summit it became clear that technology is at a level where with an innovative approach creating a smart city to evolve into a safe city is not pie in the sky, it is certainly doable. But we must first breakdown the silos between the various safety and security agencies and start working together.

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