Home >Specials >Tech@work >Smart cities to soon become a reality in India

Consider these scenarios: an office that’s walking distance from home. A completely Wi-Fi enabled city. A smart card for cashless transactions that is also capable of facial recognition and acts as a key to enter your building with advanced security systems. The same smart card also allows you to operate the electrical equipment at home through motion sensor technology. All this with a promise of 30% savings on electricity and water costs.

These features may appear to be somewhat futuristic, but are likely to become a reality in India in less than a decade, as the smart city concept takes hold.

A smart city is one that completely runs on technology—be it for electricity, water, sanitation and recycling, ensuring 24/7 water supply, traffic and transport systems that use data analytics to provide efficient solutions to ease commuting, automated building security and surveillance systems, requiring minimal human intervention, and Wi-Fi-powered open spaces and houses that ensure always-on, high-speed connectivity.

The first-of-its-kind partially completed smart city project in Mumbai, which is expected to be completed in 2025, is Palava city by the Lodha Group. It will span 4,000 acres, and cost 14,000 crore.

For Palava, the Lodha Group has a franchisee agreement with Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd for 24-hour electricity supply; solar panels will power street lights. It has a tie-up with General Electric Co. (GE) for 100% water recycling, and automated water metering and billing to ensure transparency and zero water loss. It will run a fleet of CNG buses within Palava city and connect people to nearby Dombivali station and Navi Mumbai. The Lodha World School will offer all established Indian and international syllabi. And the Lodha Group is in talks with hospitals as well as several commercial establishments and multi-brand retail giants to set up shop in Palava. It has the potential to create 350,000 jobs by 2025.

Information technology accounts for only 5% of the total project cost, says Shaishav Dharia, development director (Palava) at Lodha Group, adding: “The Lodha Group has also set up Palava City Management Association with citizens as members to deal with day-to-day issues, as well as a 311 grievance helpline number and 911 emergency helpline number for citizens, and a mobile app. Palava’s smart technology also extends to 500 surveillance cameras that capture real-time data and in future will support facial recognition for entry and have panic alarms every 200 metres. A smart card given to all Palava citizens will allow cashless transactions at retail centres, access to bus service, public Wi-Fi within Palava’s premises, building and commercial points entry, and information access from the Palava experience centre."

The opportunity is huge for technology companies to cash in on. R. Chandrashekhar, president of software association body Nasscom, says, “Smart cities are a tremendous test bed for completely wired up habitation where from the outset all systems and services, and people are brought online—a fertile ground for companies to innovate and create new products and services, which can potentially be taken to other parts of the world. It is especially relevant at a time when entry barriers for solution providers, product developers and IT creators are much lower than ever before."

Some companies, like Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, are already looking to tap into the potential. In its annual report in May, Reliance Jio said it was working on providing fibre-to-the-home to 900 cities and towns across India, which will be powered by 4G broadband speeds.

For established cities, setting up smart technology in areas like water, power and transport takes longer as these cities were not built keeping technology advancement in mind. But greenfield cities coming up in and around metros—like Palava in Mumbai, the ones in Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, Dholera in Gujarat, Shengda and Dighi in Maharashtra—have great potential as smart cities, as technology can go hand-in-hand with building the city.

Global tech giants view smart cities as an important source of revenue.

Angshik Chaudhuri, executive director (smart plus connected communities) at Cisco Systems Inc., says, “The sectors where Cisco is focusing on for smart video and data analytics solutions are education, healthcare, energy and transportation. ICT (information and communications technology) savings in these sectors could go up to 25% by using these smart solutions."

Among the smart projects Cisco is working on is the 1,500km-long Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. In Haryana, it is working on a project to connect all police stations in the state with an open source database—this will be made into an operative system across all the states in India gradually, says Chaudhuri. “We are also heavily engaged in smart city projects coming up in Kerala, in Greater Hyderabad and Greater Bangalore," he adds.

Schneider Electric SA, a global leader in energy management, is also working on several smart projects in India. Prakash Chandraker, managing director and vice-president (energy business) at Schneider Electric India, says, “Since our solutions are sustainable, work on open architecture and are modular, cost savings are around 30% in energy, 15% reduction in water losses, 20% reduction in travel time and traffic delay—and much more."

A global industrial Internet consortium was formed two months ago comprising Intel Corp., AT&T Inc., Cisco, GE and IBM Corp. The consortium is a not-for-profit organization with open membership and is working towards supporting a common architecture for devices to talk to each other, thereby creating efficiency and cost savings from shared knowledge.

Chaudhuri of Cisco says, “Currently, there are 450-600 million people in the middle class in India. This means that if we are unable to provide a smart retail solution that is less than $5 per month or 200-400 a month, same cost or not 15% more than current telephone bill, then the solution is a failure. However, costs have to be also measured by increase in productivity and efficiency, as smart solutions become a part of everyday life."

Swaraj Dhanjal contributed to this story.

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