How 5G Infrastructure Accelerates Smart City Projects

Ron Lowman

May 04, 2021 / 5 min read

Thanks to the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and fast communication networks, cities are getting smarter in how they operate, deliver services, and support residents and businesses. The continued deployment of 5G networks, with their substantial increases in speed, bandwidth, and data throughput, will only serve to accelerate the development of smart cities throughout the world. In this blog post, I’ll take a look at how smart many cities have already become and what we can expect to see on the horizon as 5G networks get rolled out.

In Singapore, a vision called Smart Nation aims to collect data from throughout the city-state via sensors that are linked to aggregation boxes, making it easier for the appropriate agencies to conduct analysis and deliver services accordingly. Dubai is in the midst of a multi-year plan to digitize all government services, covering areas including transportation, electricity, infrastructure, and communications. Oslo is deploying sensors widely in its buildings to control lighting, heating, and cooling—a part of the Norwegian capital’s goal to reduce emissions by as much as 95% by 2030. These cities are among the many that are leading the charge to become smart cities.

Smart City and Communication Network

Enhancing Quality of Life with the IoT

While some cities are fully embracing technologies to bring more widespread efficiency, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits, still many others are incorporating IoT technologies in certain areas to enhance specific functions. Indeed, a city’s transformation into a smart city will be a continuous process, and there are distinct areas that will benefit from this metamorphosis:

  • Public safety: Smart streetlighting not only facilitates energy efficiency, but the data collected by the sensors supports police department investigations. Cities stand to become safer as emerging solutions like next-generation 911 and predictive policing become more widely deployed.
  • Traffic management: Some cities are using intelligent traffic signal control systems to optimize traffic flows based on real-time traffic data. More widespread use of these systems can help reduce congestion and perhaps prevent collisions.
  • Healthcare: Wearable devices are providing patients and their healthcare providers with the insights that continuous monitoring brings. Looking ahead, the combination of wearable sensors and virtual agents could further enhance the ability to provide personalized care remotely.
  • Logistics: Robotic warehousing systems are making the picking and packing process more efficient. In the future, digital mapping technologies could streamline last-mile deliveries and, perhaps, drones or autonomous vehicles will make the drop-offs.
  • Utilities: Many utilities are already using smart meters that let them remotely monitor residential and business energy usage. With smart grid technologies, power companies can accurately, and in real time, anticipate load demands. Armed with this insight, they can ask large electricity users to reduce their usage during these peak periods and help other customers optimize their energy use.

High Speed, Low Latency, and Edge Analytics

The fifth generation of cellular technology for network communications, 5G delivers up to 100x the speed and 10x less latency than the preceding 4G technology. Theoretical speeds for 5G downlinks can go up to 20 Gbps and for uplinks, speeds can reach up to 10 Gbps (with real-world speeds of up to 100 Mbps for downloading and up to 50 Mbps for uploading). Under ideal conditions, latency in connecting to the network from a device typically clocks in at 4 milliseconds, though some critical applications can achieve latency as low as 1 millisecond. International Data Corporation (IDC) projects that the number of 5G connections will increase from approximately 10 million in 2019 to 1.01 billion in 2023. By enabling many more simultaneous connections to IoT devices, 5G technology will be a powerful force for smart cities.

While 5G technology solves some of the bandwidth and latency challenges of deploying smart city capabilities, other difficulties remain. One of the most important is security, and the focus towards this will depend on each given application. At what point does the public infrastructure think that security is a big enough deal? How valuable is the data involved? Will people care if it is stolen? Whether the application is in the domain of public safety, healthcare, or logistics will likely influence how much attention is paid to security. Silicon chips integrated with root of trust and public/private keys with random number generation technologies are widely available for IoT designs. And we’re starting to see more movement in this area, with organizations like PCI-SIG adopting security into high-speed interface standards used to connect to remote radio heads and baseband radio (PCI Express® 5.0 features integrity and data encryption cryptographic features). But there’s certainly room for more, as an entire root of trust from design through implementation is required to safeguard smart city applications.

Network infrastructure is another area that cities will have to address. The concept of private wireless networks is becoming more important, as these networks provide the highly reliable, low-latency connectivity that mission-critical applications demand. The combination of 5G and edge computing can prove to be a resilient mix for real-time decision-making—even autonomously when you consider the impact of AI. Edge analytics paves the way for wide deployment of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) systems in autonomous cars, more proactive public safety measures, more efficient waste management and fleet management, and better resource conservation.

Powering Smart Cities from Silicon to Software

At the heart of all of these innovative applications are complex semiconductors and sophisticated software. Because the design and verification of the chips is more complicated, as is the development of the software, having a portfolio of electronic design automation (EDA), IP, and software integrity solutions is essential. Synopsys provides solutions that can help you build advanced chipsets, along with telecommunication and network infrastructure that meet 5G speed, bandwidth, data throughput, and security requirements. For example:


The transition to a smart city will be a gradual one as municipalities account for legacy systems and processes. The evolution of utility meters as they progressed from units individually read by people to units equipped with wireless technologies that can be read remotely offers an example of how the progression might go for cities. Small innovations are happening continually. Over time, these innovations, along with increased deployment of 5G networks, will make a bigger impact toward improving operational efficiencies, energy usage, and overall quality of life in cities around the world.

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