How Big Data is Helping Build Smart Cities


The Internet of Things and big data resources are helping cities get smarter and run more efficiently.

The concept of smart cities has been gaining popularity lately, and many cities are being added to the list. These cities are seen as the cities of the future, with lesser waste, lesser pollution and fewer problems. These cities are also designed to save large amounts of energy in order to help solve power crises. So, if it is truly possible, the concept does sound amazing. However, it seems that the concept hasn’t been largely implemented as of yet, due to various reasons.

However, the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data resources can help significantly to convert a normal city into a smart city. Through proper integration with software and hardware, these resources can speed things up. Still, this isn’t as easy as it may seem.

Big Data & IoT Changing a City Into a Smart City

There are several cities in the world that are considered smart because they have achieved certain parameters such as traffic and environment management. For example, London is considered a smart city because of open data and technology. Nice in France is doing well in environment and agency cohesion.

However, one of the major success stories of smart city conversion is the story of the city of Songdo, which is located in South Korea. It is located about seven miles from the Incheon Airport and only 40 miles from Seoul, which means that it has a really eminent location. The city has only 1500 acres of land and 40% of it is open.

The mission of the government to build Songdo into a smart and well-connected city started in 2000, i.e. many years before the initial concept of smart cities came into being. It was estimated that $35 billion would be needed to accomplish this. Today, Songdo is mere inches away from achieving its goal and becoming one of the smartest cities in the world. Cisco, who has collaborated in this mission, has ensured that the whole city will be well connected with broadband connections with advanced optical fibers. The city is estimated to have 65,000 residents and nearly 300,000 people who travel there daily. Some other facilities that the city will boast are:

  • The garbage containers will have a special card-based interface, and they will work only when chip cards are used to access them. They will generate data which will help Cisco and the planners to effectively determine the disposal pattern and suggest solutions. They have also planned that the sole method of garbage disposal will be the use of individual modules which will transport the waste to the treatment plants by sucking it from the containers. From there, the garbage will be treated and then used in energy production. Thus, the role of air-polluting garbage trucks will be eliminated.
  • Every car will have RFID tags on them, which will help in the effective management of traffic. These RFID tags will send data to the central monitoring unit, which will analyze it and try to improve the traffic system. People can also receive public transport updates on their smartphones at all times.
  • Smart street lamps controlled by a central power grid can adjust their brightness according to the number of people in the area. This will allow the city to save energy by switching off some lamps in the places where low population concentration is detected.
  • Data mining will enhance security procedures. Children will have special bracelets which will track their precise location in cases of emergencies.

The Importance of Big Data in a Smart City

Many examples of big data and IoT use in a smart city are evident with the example of Songdo. Some other reasons for the importance of big data in the making of a smart city include:

  • Many issues with parking can be eliminated. The sensors in the parking lot would determine the best place for the vehicle.
  • The issue of pollution can be dealt with. Sensors, which will be equipped in future roads, will send data, which will be used to control traffic and emission from vehicles. This will be done with the help of a central computer, which will inform the traffic police, who in time would divert the traffic to low-congestion areas, thus lowering emission concentrations.
  • Lesser energy consumption will be possible, due to which the Earth will become and remain cleaner and greener. In Bristol, a project is underway to connect the city by a special IoT network which will have significantly less energy consumption and will be even stronger than a normal Wi-Fi connection.

Progress of Deployment of the Smart City Concept

The system of development used in Songdo is now being used all over the world to create smart cities. According to this system, the government just needs to collaborate with a software company. The government can provide the resources, while the technology provider will work toward implementing the concept. Many such companies are collaborating with various governments to improve various aspects of their cities like the garbage disposal, crime management, energy provisions and transportation. An example of such change is that of Glasgow, where the government has offered to collaborate with a technology provider and provide a funding of £24 million for the improvement of the city.

Some Challenges to the Concept

Many criticize the idea of a collaboration of IoT and the concept of smart cities. Some even think that the concept of a smart city is a sci-fi fantasy and would never really be possible. Other than these, the concept still has some major challenges:

  • Confidentiality is one of the major challenges to be overcome. Companies will have to apply strict security measures in order to prevent data theft and to ensure the security and privacy of the citizens living in the city. There is no solution to the problem right now, but authorities need to develop data collection standards, principles and values. Deterrent methods need to be put in place to prevent or deal with possible confidentiality violations. Already there have been many instances of data violations and snooping around the world. The authorities need to learn from these breaches before getting too carried away with the concept of a smart city and its benefits.
  • Money is another major obstacle. It is easy to surmise that if the cost was about $35 billion for Songdo back in 2000, then the cost for present full-scale development will be substantially more than that. Some countries may not have the resources to deploy it.
  • Many issues may surface in those countries which are developing, like various social issues. Due to the high cost, the distance between the rich and the poor may widen, and could lead to various socioeconomic problems.


The smart city concept is not a very new concept, but the contribution of big data in the making of smart cities is enormous. Big-data-based applications are opening new dimensions in the smart city concept. So the proper use of big data can revolutionize the smart city projects. However, this concept has been developed and modified in many ways to suit the people living in it. Though there are some major issues with this concept, it is still a plausible concept, though it may take some time to be deployed on a widespread scale.


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Kaushik Pal
Technology writer

Kaushik is a technical architect and software consultant with over 23 years of experience in software analysis, development, architecture, design, testing and training. He has an interest in new technologies and areas of innovation. He focuses on web architecture, web technologies, Java/J2EE, open source software, WebRTC, big data and semantic technologies. He has demonstrated expertise in requirements analysis, architectural design and implementation, technical use cases and software development. His experience has covered various industries such as insurance, banking, airlines, shipping, document management and product development, etc. He has worked on a wide range of technologies ranging from large scale (IBM…