The Internet of Things is everywhere, with sensors and communication technologies embedded in all the materials of daily life. Today, the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT) is also everywhere: it is has become one of the most widely-discussed concepts of the digital age, driving major changes across industries from marketing to renewable energy. The total number of IoT connections is predicted to increase four-fold by 2020. As the IoT mentality gains momentum, cities are finding innovative ways to take advantage of the increasingly networked physical world.

Cities are expected to spend $41 trillion on IoT technologies in the next 20 years. In the pursuit of smarter, more responsive city services, local governments have partnered with startups and major technology companies to begin experimenting with IoT across all dimensions of urban life.

Government support for IoT

National leaders are beginning to gauge the importance of IoT to economic development, safety, and sustainability. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron has promoted the broad implementation of IoT in the public sector by dedicating $122 million to fund research for the development of IoT applications. The European Union is also hoping to extend the use of IoT, funding research directed at developing new IoT systems for the public good. In the US, the White House supported IoT discoveries through the Smart America Challenge, which brought together government officials, academia, and private industry to explore the potential for smarter and more responsive infrastructure.   


While IoT offers unparalleled opportunities to enhance efficiency, improve public safety, and support development, it also presents several important challenges that cities will have to negotiate in order to realize these benefits.

Design and analysis together: Cities already have lots of data in their existing systems—the challenge is often that they lack the skills or the technology to use it. In order to make the Internet of Things valuable, cities must ensure that the data-gathering systems are designed together with analytics: the data that is collected should be easily understood and to put to use by the governments that collect it. In addition to enhancing the systems for data collection and analysis, governments must also focus on recruiting tech-savvy leaders who can envision and implement cutting-edge systems.

Privacy and security: Cities must take seriously their role in ensuring the privacy and security of citizen data. Unless citizens trust their governments to ensure privacy, it will become increasingly difficult for cities to get this data at all. Defense from cyberattacks is also a growing concern, particularly with regards to critical infrastructure—hacking smart meters can cost millions, but a more malicious intruder could compromise safety for residents. In order to successfully implement IoT, cities should make privacy and security a top priority.

With smart and forward-looking leadership, IoT has the potential to create a revolution in city planning and management. By embracing the potential of IoT, governments can improve service delivery, increase sustainability, and make their cities safer and more livable places for all residents.