Here’s what bugs me about IoT and ‘Smart Cities’

If you follow the tech news right now it’s hard to get around constant mention of IoT and Smart Cities. As a Wi-Fi entrepreneur and marketing veteran, here’s what bugs be about it: I can’t find a single real case.

And by ‘real case’ I mean something – anything, however small – that’s generating profit on commercial terms. Or even something that substantially promises to do so in the relatively near future. If you know of any, please tell me. On the other hand, ‘Smart Cities’ is now going the political route in a big way. If smart cities are gonna happen, it looks like tax payers will have to pay.

The closest we probably get to something in the Smart City / IoT space right now that works and is promising is startup Veniam’s transport network in Porto, Portugal. I still don’t know the details of the technology, but there’s real innovation happening – and if they can get it to work in Porto, it will probably work in a lot of cities. Transport is a big vertical.

The other case that (I think) I like is NYC’s LinkNYC – now backed by Google. It looks like a brilliant idea and is supposed to be ads-funded (eventually) and profitable (eventually). There’s some cool innovation involved in that as well. I like that. I hope it works out.

Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of cities claiming to be ‘smart’. The City of Barcelona is one – as is the City of San Jose. The City of Barcelona is certainly doing something and has deployed hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots based on city (and EU) funding, supported by some carriers and some big vendors. There are others too – but these projects are run by taxpayer (and vendor) money. The WBA has even started an advisory board for this.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with using government funds to run connectivity projects for public benefit. A great example is Project Isizwe in South Africa (a non-profit) – they’re connecting thousands of Africans for free and it’s making a difference to a lot of people.

But here’s the difference: Project Isizwe is real and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Most of the rest of the Smart City talk out there – excuse my cynicism here – looks like it’s intended to get politicians to jump on the Smart City bandwagon so as to pay for the show  whatever the show might be.

To end on a positive note:

Here are a couple of things (possibly the only things) that I like in IoT: The first (don’t laugh!!) is Amazon’s $5 attachable buttons for ordering stuff from your home. That’s IoT that someone might actually buy. The second is this – Samsara– started by two of the guys who founded (and left) Meraki. They’re doing Wi-Fi enabled sensors and they’re pretty smart guys, I’d say. And rich. They deserve it. They did something real.


  1. […] – and there’s not shortage of events and organisations jumping on that bandwagon. I’ve written about why all of this bugs me here. But here’s the […]

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