Do we need ‘quick wins’ to build public support for smart cities? Or is it the IoT sector’s job (quietly and invisibly) to provide better, safer, greener lives for today’s smart citizens? Should we be winning hearts and minds with dazzling services, or silently enhancing the quality of life? Jeremy Cowan gets some surprising answers from Francesca Serravalle, Colt’s emerging technologies director, and Magnus Melander, founder of Sweden-based IoT Alliance, SMSE and tech hub THINGS. Plus sport takes over from space programmes as a top tech-driver. And <<SHOCK NEWS>> Bill Gates may have backed a winner in electric-powered aviation!
Jeremy Cowan 0:05
Hi and welcome to the latest Trending Tech Podcast brought to you by IoT Now, VanillaPlus and The Evolving Enterprise. I’m Jeremy Cowan and it’s great to have you here for the latest, well, sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted look at digital transformation for enterprises.
Now, if you’ve attended a live IoT conference in Europe in the last few years – I mean, back when live events were still a thing – today’s first guest is probably no stranger to you. Magnus Melander speaks with authority on many aspects of IoT, but always with a particular understanding of what’s happening in his native Sweden and across Scandinavia. Since 2014, he’s been running his Swedish IoT Alliance, SMSE, and the deep tech hub called Things which he co-founded. Magnus advises small and large organisations, and he’s held senior positions in general management, sales, marketing, public, analyst and developer relations, service and support business development, and venture capital. I could probably add to that. So, over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of introducing him on stage in several countries, and he brings energy to everything he speaks on. Today that topic is smart cities. Magnus, it’s great to have you here.
Magnus Melander 1:33
Thank you, Jeremy. It’s great to be back again, almost seeing you, like. (Laughter)
Jeremy Cowan 1:38
The last time we spoke, I think you were in the sunny south of France, which just made me re-examine my life choices. Where are you today?
Magnus Melander 1:45
I’m in sunny Cannes in France.
Jeremy Cowan 1:48
Very nice! Now I’m also delighted to welcome our next speaker, Francesca Serravalle, who is director of emerging technologies at London-based Colt Technology Services. Colt provides network and voice connectivity to businesses in Europe, Asia and the US. Francesca has more than 15 years telecoms experience in portfolio strategy, marketing, product management and business development. And she’s currently responsible for bringing end-to-end, multi-partner plans to market, monetising telco cloud solutions and delivering the digital agenda of city authorities. I guess that’s smart cities.
Do you see what we did there? It’s almost like we planned this.
Francesca, a very warm welcome to you, too.
Francesca Serravalle 2:44
Thank you. Thanks for the introduction. I’m very happy to be here.
Jeremy Cowan 2:48
Great to have you. And today we find you somewhere in Italy, I think.
Francesca Serravalle 2:52
Yes, the south of Italy. Forty degrees and I’m just boiling hot.
Jeremy Cowan 2:57
(Laughter) How wonderful. Okay, so the podcast has the same format as usual. We’ll start with a quick analysis of some key news stories our guests have brought us, then I want to talk to both of them about all aspects of smart cities, including technology, business, and the user experience. And when all of that’ covered, in What The Tech will take a sideways look at some of the stories that made us raise an eyebrow. Great, let’s start with the headlines. Magnus, I’m going to come to you first. I think you have a smart city solution to share with us. What can you tell us?
Magnus Melander 3:32
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about what to bring with me today that was special. And there is this fantastic little company in Sweden, very international, they have 12 or 13 nationalities in the team, started 2015. And they are there to bring the autonomous society forward. That’s what they do. Now they do 3D computer vision solutions. And they’ve been involved in very sophisticated autonomous cars projects, and so forth. But they took all the technology and they put it into a normal smartphone. And they went to start to a city, in Stockholm actually. And they showed them that just by putting those phones in taxis or trash cars or whatever and have them run around they can read with their eyes, so to speak, exactly what’s going on. They can track traffic signs, traffic patterns, potholes, everything.
They just map out the whole city, automatically, and they utilise the simple technology of an old smart connection, they don’t even have to be a new one. You know, they can find one in the office, in the drawer or something. So, I love that thing. And now they have done that for several cities and they expanded this in many countries, and so forth. It’s a wonderful little application.
Jeremy Cowan 4:49
I love the recycling aspect of that. That’s a really interesting angle.
Magnus Melander 4:54
Yeah, what’s the chicken and the egg? I don’t know. But when you look at it now it’s a great picture. Actually, they say that when they go to cities, they have a lot of old smartphones in the drawers. So maybe that’s a bigger thing. There’s a lot of money in behind this. I mean, the potholes themselves, they kill cars for an amazing amount of money.
One thing that I never thought about was traffic signs. People don’t really know if they’re removed or not, that could be very dangerous. So, by scanning these continuously in real time, they can immediately see if something is missing, has fallen down, or if there is a bush in front of one of them. So, it is a very handy tool for a city planner or city operator.
Jeremy Cowan 5:33
And how widely is this in use? You mentioned that it’s gone to other cities now.
Magnus Melander 5:37
Yeah. As I remember, they have five or six cities going, they also work with the traffic authorities in Sweden.
Jeremy Cowan 5:46
Is it all Swedish cities, or is it going abroad?
Magnus Melander 5:49
No, they are abroad already. That’s the because the team is completely International.
Jeremy Cowan 5:54
And what kind of competition is there for Univrses?
Magnus Melander 5:57
I really don’t know. I haven’t seen it. I know about specific projects. They’ve been following cars and there are other projects that have been utilising cars that are already out there. But it’s more about route planning and those kinds of things. So, I haven’t seen this. This is edge computing in a smartphone, which is insanely complicated and complex. So, I think it’s very hard to find somebody doing similar things.
Jeremy Cowan 6:26
If people want to find out more about this, where can they go for more details?
Magnus Melander 6:30
Oh, yeah, the website. It’s called https://univrses.com .
Jeremy Cowan 6:36
Okay, thank you.
Magnus Melander 6:39
If they can’t find it, they can call you and you can call me.
Jeremy Cowan 6:42
(Laughter) Yeah, absolutely. That’s what we’re here for. Thanks, Magnus.
Francesca, which tech story have you noticed recently?
Francesca Serravalle 6:49
Yes, I would like to talk about some recent announcements of MNOs (mobile network operators) announcing the launch of 5G Standalone deployments. And the reason why I think it’s an important point to mention is because it’s only through Standalone 5G we can enable novelties. 5G is the key for both smart city and smart enterprise.
So, as you know, most of the MNOs have started their 5G launch with a non-standalone solution where you have a 5G RAN attached on a 4G core, mainly to really launch some eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband) services. But they know that to enable innovative IoT services a 5G core is essential. And why is that? It’s because we need the concept of network slicing, where we rely on virtualisation to create an end-to-end logic and virtual network which is on the RAN, the transport and the core domain. 5G core introduced programmability so that an enterprise can set some policies and rules to have the whole network live, according to their SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and to their IoT services. It introduced intelligent operation where we can rely on telemetry and AI (artificial intelligence) to enable a pure self-organised network.
5G core is pure cloud-native. And it enables all the distributed architecture which is key to respond on the flexible deployment depending on the specific SLA. And I think this is important because, you know, otherwise MNOs are going to miss their train for addressing the needs of the enterprise. Obviously, the enterprises now have alternatives, and the alternative is 5G private networks. They can buy their own spectrum, thanks to innovative spectrum polices. And they can really choose some cloud native 5G RAN, 5G core, and create their own software stack, 5G software stack based on some specific deployment challenge.
Colt is working with the 5G provider networks vendors very closely because our networks, their intelligence is very edge-centric. So, we can use our edge proposition, both customer network edge, to host a 5G broadband network and to really become an enabler of digital transformation for enterprises. We already have a few incubation activities, what we co-innovate with our customers and our partners to enable, for example, smart buildings and smart office of the future.
Jeremy Cowan 9:40
So that incubation phase, is that something that you can describe in any more detail. I guess these must be commercially-sensitive a little bit, but what sort of stage are you at and how long will this incubation phase last?
Francesca Serravalle 9:55
I think when it comes to 5G for enterprise, we have to realise two things. I just want to explain why we needed incubation. We have to realise that (in) most of the cases for the enterprise, they still don’t know the business case. They understand the capability of 5G, but the business case is not clear. Most of these cases involve a broad partner ecosystem, both from technology-wise, as well as from GTM. And that’s because any end-to-end digital services, they span all the ICT infrastructure. So you have the ICT, the connectivity, the platform, the application. So, we need to work with a broader partner ecosystem, and then through incubation, enable technical, operational and business synergy. So far, we have created, we have deployed a 5G private network on our customer premises, it’s fully integrated and supported on our edge. And so we have finalised the technical synergy and the technical details. We need to go one step farther to prove the business case of this specific use case, but also in order to scale operational synergies is also very important.
Jeremy Cowan 11:10
It’s interesting to hear you mention the learning process for the MNOs. I saw yesterday that there’s a new report from ABI Research saying traditional telcos are restructuring their enterprise operations and creating whole new business units to deliver tailor-made private 5G networks for industries and for enterprises. Carriers that they mentioned included AT&T, Telefonica, Verizon, Vodafone, but we’re also seeing vendors like Ericsson and Nokia, reorganising. Do you see that trend accelerating?
Francesca Serravalle 11:50
Yes, I do. I mean, if you think most of the telcos started their transformation process, years back. At Colt we started our multi-year transformation in 2016, where we have digitalised our network towards eMMB. Then we have transformed our operation through automation and AI, we have transformed our service infrastructure through marketplace, to clarify the experience so that enterprises can consume connectivity network services, on-demand through a portal.
The next is transforming the business model, as you mentioned. And for that you need edge, 5G, intelligent connectivity, and working with a broader partner ecosystem. And we can see that there is a lot of momentum across the industry through innovative partner programmes and incubation activity.
Jeremy Cowan 12:46
Well, thank you. I really appreciate the operator view on that. It’s very interesting to see how this is going. I want to talk now a little bit more about the detail of smart cities. Because if there’s one aspect of IoT, that really gets headlines in the mainstream media, it’s probably smart cities, maybe connected cars, but smart cities is one of them. Yet a startling percentage of the public still don’t seem to know what they are. And that’s one problem. At IoT Now, we’re often hearing about exciting, new smart city plans. But, if I’m honest, we don’t always get the answer to the question, how do you make solutions that are valuable to users and profitable to providers? So, I expect we’ll come to that.
Francesca, if the IoT sector, and everyone else associated with smart cities are going to win the public over, we’re going to need some quick wins to prove the value of smart cities to the public. What do you think those quick win solutions might be?
Francesca Serravalle 13:54
Yeah, I think, first of all, we’re seeing so many use cases. I mean, IoT is being deployed at massive scales to really create a digital twin of the cities. And, you know, we are sensing everything now; we’re sensing the energy, the air quality, the light, the crowds, people movements, car movements. We are sensing everything, but in order to make sense of this data, then this is where the value of the smart city platform comes in; that it can ingest all of those added data and make sense, extrapolating intelligence and then delivering social value to the public through some specific use case. Now, there are many use cases that can plug into the smart city platform. When in the past I have worked with some city authorities and the use cases that were been tasked were smart buildings because there was a strong focus on making those. buildings – as you know, most of the city authorities, they also own many buildings across the cities – and they want to make it more efficient in line with their green agenda as well. So, this was one key use case, enabling sustainable and green buildings.
Then, of course, smart car parking is the other one making the experience of a driver more smoother. As well as when it comes to smart mobility, what I have seen the main use case that has been delivered so far, it’s quite a simple one where you basically overlay a different GIS layer, which includes, for example, the traffic flow. You can create some traffic template and then based on that, optimise the parameters of traffic lights, again, to make the experience of a driver smoother and reduce the commute of the driver.
I think another important use case that we’re going to see is the public safety. Video analytics is one of the key technologies; I think it will skyrocket in the next in the next few years, and blue agents (emergency services) are leveraging video analytics for example, to do face recognition for crime detection, object recognition, crowd management as well. Another important aspect to the blue light agencies, they’re trying to use a smart city platform to enable better collaboration across for example, the police, the ambulance and other blue light agencies to really enable a more integrated event management and respond better saving more lives.
I think at some times we’re not talking about business KPIs (key performance indicators), but we’re talking about enhancing the quality of life. They are two things, it’s very difficult to show the value prop of a smart city platform, both to the public, but also to the city authorities as well, because they may expect that they deploy a smart city platform. And then they might need less people in their operations centres to do things. Their main KPI is not economic KPIs, it’s not operational efficiency, it’s better quality of life. This may actually cost you more at the beginning, until you start to plug in more use cases. And the more use cases you plug in the more efficiency you need, the more the more quality of life you deliver to the public.
Jeremy Cowan 17:56
Magnus, can I come to you? Because Francesca has rightly pointed out the integration of these things. This was something that’s been really concerning me. In the past, when I’ve scratched the surface of many so called smart city developments they actually turned out to be point solutions. They weren’t multiple integrated applications. They might have been heading in that direction, but they hadn’t got there. Is this changing now, do you think?
Magnus Melander 18:23
Yeah, that’s a very good question, Jeremy. I hope it’s changing, let’s put it that way. But I’m not sure. Because I really think that the question whether citizens like smart cities or not is not really relevant. Because in my experience, people, whatever you look at healthcare or whatever, I mean, they want to be well taken care of when they get sick, they don’t want to stay in long lines, they don’t want things to be too expensive. I mean, those are the things that really, people care about. And it’s the same for a city; they want the city to be safe, they want the city to be easy to travel in, they want to, you know, not pay too high fees on parking, or whatever. All those things are what people are concerned about. They are not concerned about how we achieve that. But the only way to achieve that in a city is by, like Francesca said, to build a good platform, a scalable platform, just to have data and communication in between different subsystems, and all those kinds of things that are really boring and hard to explain to people. But the same goes for hospitals. Now there is a new cure for this little disease, and it cost 50 billion to bring to the table but, you know, I don’t care really because I just want there to be good healthcare.
I think the core values of IoT, that I once agreed with myself on, still are a good starting point. It brings safety and security, it brings sustainability, and it brings efficiency. Those are the things that matter, whatever you do, if it’s industries or infrastructure, or cities or homes; it’s always the same. And if you if you do well, if you implement well on those, users or citizens or whoever we talked about, they will see a difference, hopefully. I think we are far away down the road there, actually, we are far away. There’s a lot of good systems coming along in cities and so forth.
Jeremy Cowan 20:19
That’s encouraging. Francesca, coming back to you. From an outsider’s viewpoint, my first question is, who in most cases, is the primary customer? Is it central government? Is it regional, city authorities? Is it the utility sometimes or an aggregation of enterprises? Who in most cases do you think is the primary customer for the smart cities?
Francesca Serravalle 20:44
From a service provider point of view, and I’m talking according to my past experience, those are city authorities, and they normally have their own operation centre. And this is the first use case that they normally deliver through a smart city platform. And that’s why it then becomes more an operationally efficient story rather than, you know, enabling more safety and security. But yes, those are city authorities. And in some cases, that their own operational centre.
Jeremy Cowan 21:27
Thank you. And Magnus, looking at the aspects of the work of those authorities, what in your experience are the most common problems that are being faced in delivering these smart city platforms and smart city combined solutions?
Magnus Melander 21:44
Well, I really think unfortunately, it’s a very boring answer. I think it’s always cost. Pick smart lamp posts. That was a big thing, you know, 10 years ago. There were fantastic solutions for it, and everybody wanted it. And it was obviously a good thing for society with less energy consumption, and all of that, and smart lamps that will show only on when you’re there and all those kind of things. But when you talk to cities about it, they say, who are going to pay for this? This is a huge thing to change all the lamp poles in a city. So, I think money and on top of that, obviously, like all big changes, people and processes are always the two big problems. It means education, knowledge, taking risks, all those kinds of things are in the way of progress.
Jeremy Cowan 22:39
Francesca, do you have anything to add to what Magnus says about the still worryingly high prevalence of cost problems?
Francesca Serravalle 22:50
No, really, I think it’s spot on. I agree. One thing that I want to add is about the question you asked me before; yes, it’s city authorities. And that’s why we are going to see smaller city, struggling more on enabling the business case of a smart city platform. And what is going to happen is that either you have bigger cities that are going then to enable also smart city as a services business model offering their platform, the usage of the platform to neighbouring smaller and smaller cities. Or we’re going to see also some service providers willing to really enable a smart city, other services for a smaller city.
Jeremy Cowan 23:35
Magnus, we obviously have to have regulations in place to make this all work. Do you think that in most cases, the regulations are starting to be in place? Or are we still a long way off having those ready?
Magnus Melander 23:51
Well, I guess that differs a lot. Even within countries, it differs a lot what kind of regulations are in our book. I think the other issue that normally people don’t talk about when we talk about smart cities is there are probably hundreds and thousands of cities that are really small. Just as they have a completely different situation, we have to have them fixed as well. So, it’s not just Tokyo, Los Angeles or London that we have to sort out. You have to sort out those called small places. They have to have clean water and good energy and all the things have to work there as well.
Yeah, it’s a tough question to try to see this as a market because I think it’s really different. Also it depends on where they start from, what’s the starting point? Like when I work with manufacturing companies, large corporates, and they get into technology and what they can do and they find something of interest to test. They in many cases figure out immediately that they don’t have the backend, ready to take care of the outcome of that solution. So, imagine how a small city, let’s say in England, or Italy, how ready are they to take care of all the data that we create from all smart devices and things that we put out there? I think it’s very complicated, actually.
Jeremy Cowan 25:09
And is that your experience as well, Francesca? I mean, this must be a nightmarishly difficult thing for a small city.
Francesca Serravalle 25:17
Yeah. Yes, totally. Very difficult. I mean, already the business case is hard for bigger cities. Can you imagine for a smaller city? They’re going to rely, you know, on some innovative business models that other city authorities or service providers will come up with?
Jeremy Cowan 25:35
And what sort of timeframe do you think we are talking about then, for this to filter beyond the big cities to smaller cities so that more people see this as a reality in their life? Francesca first, what do you think is the timeframe we should be expecting for that to reach smaller cities?
Francesca Serravalle 25:53
I think it really depends on the country as well. Because, for example, if I remember correctly, Spain, was a different story because they received lots of money from the EU to try and improve the technical feasibility of some smart city use case. So, you had the bigger city as well as the smaller city or Lisbon or others, really not needing to worry about the business case, because they got some funding from EU from some innovation programme.
The experience that I had in the UK was different. Because they were they started with the business case, but the business case wouldn’t work, because we were really working on a few use cases plugged in a smart city platform, which is supposed to work as a brain for the entire city. So, I think I have to say that it depends, it depends on the country.
Jeremy Cowan 27:06
Magnus, is there anything you’d add on that?
Magnus Melander 27:08
Yeah, as you probably know, Jeremy, I prefer to talk about good cities, and the whole idea of digging where you stand in whatever you do. I like that approach a lot. If you are a small city, if you have to start with that, with the budget you have, the issues we have, but you also have smaller volumes of things. So, in many cases, solutions could be different and actually much faster and cheaper.
I can tell you, we have a summer house in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, there’s a tiny, tiny little city, they now have smart waste containers. So, they come and take it away to empty it, there’s an IoT solution That would never happen in Stockholm, and it will never work in Stockholm I guess So, I think there is a solution for small cities, you have to dig where you stand and use the resources you have, and then it will probably go. Nationally, we just have to ensure that we have a decent kind of standard across when it comes to you know, water, clean water, fire, police, you know, those kind of things have to be taken care of nationwide, so maybe in the EU and so forth. But the other things I think that consumers more will be presented to can probably be done in other ways, and maybe even better in smaller cities.
Jeremy Cowan 28:31
Yeah. Well, I love that, I’ve learned a lot from this chat here, and not least of all the phrase, “Dig where you stand”. I think that’s a very appropriate way of approaching it.
Okay, we’ve reached the lighter section of the podcast called What The Tech, where we share something tech-based that either made us smile or just made us mad. Magnus, what’s amazed or amused you?
Magnus Melander 28:53
I actually smile a lot. I ran over it just the other day, an article which relates to a Swedish start-up called Heart Aerospace. And they are just two years old, and they developed an electrical regional aircraft. They just got an order of 200 aircraft from United Airlines and Mesa Air, which is just unbelievable. And they believe they can have it operational in 2026.
Jeremy Cowan 29:10
Magnus Melander 29:13
That really amazes me and makes me happy. On top of that, it’s interesting because as far as I know, this regional aircraft that you’re going to have pretty soon, are first among the electrical ones, they will also use airports which are closer to the cities. So that will probably change the whole development where we put airports outside of the cities, because we small, short distances, we want them to be in the cities and their sound is not very high, and they don’t pollute a lot, and so forth. I think that’s a very, very positive news and Bill Gates invested in this, in this company as well, which is quite, it’s a good start, you know!
Jeremy Cowan 30:06
Yeah, that’s something of an indicator. That’s really interesting and it integrates nicely with the sort of the smarter cities approach that we’ve all been talking about. Francesca, what’s amused you, or amazed you?
Francesca Serravalle 30:18
Yes, I was reading an article about the Olympics in Tokyo and it made me smile how we have also digitised sport. Players nowadays and back in Tokyo, they are wearing all sorts of smart things, smart watch, smart T-shirt. And so many data are gathered from them, and whether to really have a glimpse of their performance, which a coach could, for example, use it to plan future training. Or maybe it can be used for a judge to make a call on a ball on the line, for example. And it’s not only the players, but even the spectators now they can access a 4K video with multi-points coverage. They can have a better experience, an augmented experience where they can overlay some digital information in real time, from the real scene. And even more, I think, the advance the Olympics have made is safer through the use of facial recognition. And that was important too, because the event is not fully centralised but it started at the main location. So using Face Recognition are totally for making the place safer, but also for access control. It’s very important. So yeah, that made me smile.
Jeremy Cowan 31:49
I love that.
Magnus Melander 31:50
I have a comment on that I when I read your article, Francesca, I came to think that sports has actually taken over the role of space. Because in the past when we got all new technologies in space, from space projects, and then we brought a lot of it into normal lives. And this is now what happens with sports.
Jeremy Cowan 32:10
It’s fascinating. I read about the Trackman application, this solution with interest. And I gather It’s also used in golf practice to measure ball rotation for non-professional golfers like me. I mentioned this to my son, who unfortunately beats me every time I play, and he reckons it’s gonna take a lot more than Trackman to iron out my faults. But, hey, I’m always hopeful. (Laughter)
Anyway, I think we need to look up on that. And certainly the Olympics has shown this to have a real value.
Time’s up. I can’t thank you enough. Let me finish by saying a really big thanks first to Colt’s Francesca Serravalle for all your expertise.
Francesca Serravalle 32:58
Thanks to you, Jeremy. I’m very happy with a very insightful discussion. I loved it.
Jeremy Cowan 33:04
It has been interesting and fun. It’s been great to have you here. How can people find you to learn more about what you’ve told us?
Francesca Serravalle 33:11
Oh, LinkedIn is fine. I normally check LinkedIn messages. So, yeah.
Jeremy Cowan 33:17
It’s a good way. And special thanks, too, to Magnus Melander of THINGS. It’s been great to catch up with you Magnus.
Magnus Melander 33:24
It has been spectacular, Jeremy. It’s actually one of the better moments in my Cannes stay this time. I enjoyed this a lot. I hope I’ll see you soon again, in real life preferably.
Jeremy Cowan 33:34
I look forward to it and we won’t have to just bump elbows. So how can our listeners reach you, Magnus if they want to find out more about what you’re doing?
Magnus Melander 33:42
LinkedIn is the easiest way, of course.
Jeremy Cowan 33:45
Well, thank you too, Ladies and gentlemen, for joining us around the world. You can subscribe to the Trending Tech Podcast wherever you found us. And at the risk of sounding like a stuck vinyl, go on, be a hero, give us a 5-star rating. Tell everyone how much you’ve enjoyed it, because it’s making a massive difference to our ranking when people look for new podcast.
Until next time, keep safe. Keep checking www.IoT-Now.com , www.TheEE.ai and www.VanillaPlus.com where you’ll find smart city and other news and interviews. And join us again soon for another Trending Tech Podcast looking at enterprise digital transformation. Bye for now!