IoT Blog
IoT Blog

IoT for Smart Cities: The End Game and the Three Factors that Will Get Us There

by Remy Marcotorchino, Director of Marketing, Industrial & Infrastructure
The growing need for cities around the world to do more with less is a common theme that has emerged from conferences such as Lightfair, SiL and SWAN Forum this year. 

City managers are looking for ways to turn their key assets into service delivery platforms that improve the lives of their citizens and help make their communities safer and cleaner in the process.

We see a lot of point applications and solutions leveraging the power of IoT, such as connected streetlights, smart parking, smart waste management, smart transit, or smart water systems. These are all great places to start, and they often provide immediate, tangible benefits that are gaining traction with city CIOs globally.

For example, smart parking solutions are proven to reduce traffic congestion and CO2 emissions, and connected street lighting reduces city electric bills, saving money that cities can invest elsewhere.  Smart water systems can predictively pinpoint leaks within the water network, and target repairs to prevent lead contamination. All of these technologies are available today, globally, for developed and emerging regions alike to benefit from.

Often invisible, these technologies help our lives run more smoothly and remove inconveniences. But where this story gets really interesting is when we look beyond just point applications. What if cities could make all these applications work together and actually interoperate on an integrated basis? That’s the future for Smart Cities and where the true value lies.

To get there, city planners and technology providers must follow these three concepts:


More than in any other IoT deployment, openness is key to the Smart Cities of the future. Short-term, it enables a dramatic reduction in deployment and operation costs, by means of sharing and reusing a common infrastructure and field equipment (communication equipment, sensors, interfaces, etc.). Mid-term, it guarantees investment sustainability by avoiding vendor lock-in and encouraging competition. Longer term, third party access to open data will enable new business models and use cases, spurring more innovation.


Smart cities will rely on diverse connectivity technologies supporting diverse use cases. There is no one size fits all.

Cities need to base their device to cloud approach on adopted industry standards along the IoT stack. For example, avoiding proprietary communication technologies and betting on global standards is a way to leverage economies of scale and future proof deployments. Cities will be able to rely on this infrastructure being here for the long term. Think of communication standards such as cellular and 3GPP or even WiFi and 802.11.

Finally, cities need to consider industry protocol standards that are lightweight and proven for distributed and constrained environments. MQTT, COAP or LWM2M are examples of such protocols that can be leveraged across the smart city fields and rely on IP communication.

Security & Privacy

Information security is widely defined as the “triad” of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability of that information. So Smart City planners should strongly reflect on how to ensure these three aspects.

Comprehensive end-to-end security across the entire IoT stack is critical to reduce vulnerabilities. Technologies that enable secure over-the-air data transmissions, as well also software upgrades to millions of deployed devices will be important.

Confidentiality and integrity of data are often achieved through open standards, such as TLS or DTLS, which are widely deployed in security-heavy industries like banking and finance.

Availability of information on the other hand is often achieved through the redundancy of distributed systems that comprise the infrastructure. As I mentioned before, a trigger for new business models is centered on availability because it provides the ability to share data among different stakeholders in a controlled manner. As such, it is often at odds with confidentiality. Also, using widely adopted standards that allow for an easy delegation of credentials, such as OAuth, is a key element.

Privacy is ensured through a combination of technical and legal tools that allow stakeholders to make information about themselves selectively available to outside parties. At a technical level, privacy is often associated at first with confidentiality (which ensures that information remains private). But beyond confidentiality, additional tools must be available to allow stakeholders to make information available in a controlled way. Delegated authorization mechanisms, such as the OAuth standard, have been developed to allow precisely this.

City CIOs around the world are looking into the Smart City model to enhance the lives of their citizens and find new revenue streams leveraging their assets. Sierra Wireless is a key enabler of this vision, working alongside city planners and global OEMs. Check out some of our initiatives and vision in this arena here, and see why connected street lights are central to a broader smart city vision in this on-demand webinar.