Cisco bets on connected communities

June 16th, 2010 | by Aaron Tan

Networking giant Cisco Systems unveiled its vision of smart, connected cities of the future during a media event at the Shanghai World Expo today.

In a showcase of interest to urban planners striving to build sustainable and environmentally friendly cities, Cisco demonstrated several network enabled applications in areas such as health care, security and transportation.

Telemedicine, for instance, allows patients to measure blood oxygen levels and send that information to their doctors while urban transportation management systems allow city officials and transportation service providers to monitor real time traffic conditions and divert traffic if necessary.

Underpinning these technologies are ubiquitous smart networks and data centers that process and serve up critical information in real time.

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, noted that while the company is proud to be network plumber, it wants to play a key role in changing how education and healthcare services are delivered in connected communities.

It makes perfect sense for Cisco to increasingly focus on data centers and industry segments such as transportation, real estate, utilities, education, education, health care and security to drive its core networking business.

In doing so, Cisco is pitting itself as a systems integrator offering consultancy services to businesses and governments on what it takes to build smart cities, with support from an ecosystem of partners including telecoms operators and property developers.

For a start, Cisco announced that it is working with Vietnamese property developer M&C Corporation to implement suitable applications from its Smart+Communities portfolio at the Saigon M&C Tower in Ho Chi Minh City.

Said Lee Chian Toh, general director of Cisco in Vietnam: “Over the next five years, over 700 million people will be added to the world’s cities, and by 2050, at least 100 cities will be inhabited by more than a million residents.

“The cities of the 21st century will be defined by Internet access and broadband, with the ability to connect virtually anything to the network: cars, hospitals, buildings, home appliances and schools,” he added.

Chambers underscored the importance of the network as the fabric that enables not just data, voice and video applications. “Two years ago, I said [the network] is not just about collaboration – it’s the window to change health care and job creation whether it’s in China today or in the U.S,” Chambers said.

In South Korea, Cisco has placed its bet on Songdo, a new city to be built on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land. Billed as the green sustainable city, it will be completed by 2015 and will emit only a third of greenhouse gases currently generated by cities of its size.

Each apartment home in Songdo is also expected to come with a telepresence unit that provides high-definition real time video conferencing for residents to gain access to government, education and healthcare services.

Flagship future cities may be a sign of things to come, but more just than laying network pipes, poor cities and rural townships need to put in place education and health care reforms to empower communities and avoid creating a digital divide.

“Giving somebody a high speed road to their house and then give him a bike to ride on it isn’t fair – you got to give him access to health care and education,” Chambers said.

“This is a case of building technology architecture and bringing about government and process change at the same time – this is what we’re attempting to do.”

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