Smartening up Our Cities – Lessons from Large Public Venues


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JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – FOR years many of our cities have promised to embrace the digital technologies that we’ve become so accustomed to, transforming from your run of the mill concrete jungles to fully-fledged smart cities. But despite these promises, most still lag in providing some of what have largely been deemed the bare basics of digital infrastructure, such as city-wide wireless connectivity.

At Aruba, we’ve seen our partners who operate large public venues (LPVs) undergo rapid transformations in the past few years to provide their visitors with truly smart experiences. And we believe a lot of the lessons they’ve gone through are transferrable.

In a simplified way, LPVs can be seen to operate much like small cities – catering to the needs of tens of thousands of visitors, helping them navigate their way round, connecting their journeys and delivering an experience tailored to their preferences, while also providing public safety and business continuity. With this in mind, we’ve picked out a selection of the top LPV innovations that we think would be good jumping-off points for cities to consider in their smart transformations.

Delivering optimised digital experiences at the Edge

The sprawling nature of cities, as well as the growing expectation that Wi-Fi coverage should be consistent no matter the location, means that we’re rapidly outgrowing what concentrated data centres can offer.

Instead, we’re now inching ever closer to the edge of the network – meaning that our data centres are gradually moving to the locations where data is created by end-users. This swing towards the Edge has in part been driven by the need to harness data from newer devices using 5G, IoT or AI to create real-time connected experiences. In fact, according to Gartner, by 2025 75% of our data will need to be processed, analysed, and acted upon at the Edge.

Cities must make sure their network infrastructure is as mobile as their residents. And while creating networks that facilitate hundreds of thousands of users is no small feat, with the use of strategically placed access points – both indoors and outdoors – cities can help deliver a consistent always-on experience.

Location, location, location services

Another lesson cities can learn from LPVs is how to improve the resident or visitor experience through the power of location services. Whether in sports stadiums or music venues, location services have long been used by LPVs to deliver enhanced fan experiences and are only getting more sophisticated with time.

During the pandemic, location services within LPVs became as much about safety as they did experience – with businesses needing to track visitors for contact tracing purposes, but also using them within apps to enable a more contactless experience i.e. allowing customers to order food or drinks directly to their tables.

Even prior to the pandemic, Aruba has worked with various customers to provide services like these – for example, Bilboa who we partner with – for instance, we were engaged by Bilboa in 2018 to help it become the smartest and most connected city in Spain.

Using Aruba BLE (Bluetooth beacon tracking) beacons positioned in strategic locations, the city has been able to enhance the engagement of its citizens through location-aware mobile apps. A total of 180 of these beacons were installed in bus shelters around the city, for example, enabling citizens to easily access the information they need.

In present day, whether they’re citizens or tourists – everyone can connect throughout the city. Bilbao is now blanketed in connectivity in every public building, museum, the football stadium, park, and public square. With more than 1,500 access points throughout the city, users are never more than 300 meters away from a Wi-Fi connection.

Don’t leave employees behind

Focusing on the experience of citizens and tourists is great, but what about those working behind the scenes? One of the key lessons from the pandemic is that the employee experience is just important as any customer or user. And by employees we mean both general staff and specifically the IT team.

With digitisation at the top of every organization’s agenda, IT staff are in high demand, and job satisfaction is therefore a vital benchmark. Highly skilled engineers do not want to be performing tedious tasks – not only is this a waste of their time and resources but it also lowers their job satisfaction.

With smart cities, there is also a need to make staff mobile – enabling them to take to the streets so they can better serve the public. Having an omnipresent network allows employees to maintain their connection to the network while roaming around public buildings and the wider city – making them more effective and efficient.

Accommodating different user types

Of course, enabling different experiences for a variety of network users also brings with it security implications. As with a city, LPVs frequently find themselves host to a wide spectrum of user groups including fans, businesses and staff – each of whom will have slightly different bandwidth requirements and who will need slightly different access to the network. Using an LPV example, in the case of Belgium-based zoo and botanical garden Pairi Daiza, visitors need to be able to post pictures to social media, while event organizers need to accommodate streaming by business users. Here, having a central network and policy management tool becomes vital to enable cities to create policies and apply them in real-time, to efficiently manage how users and devices connect and what they can access.

Lessons for the future

As expectations of connectivity grow exponentially, our cities, much like so many other areas of our lives, must innovate to keep up. Although on a smaller scale, LPVs offer a host of lessons to learn from and can provide cities with a useful blueprint to meeting these new demands as they strive to deliver the digital experiences both visitors and residents crave.

NB: Mandy Duncan is Aruba Country Manager – South Africa at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

– CAJ News

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