Wi-Fi is the Fourth Utility in a Connected City

By Simon Vaughan, CCO, GlobalReach Technology

In smart cities, we work with countries and major cities across the globe, including Malaysia, New York City, Philadelphia, Newark, London, and Hawaii, to provide connectivity for a variety of transport and smart city Wi-Fi services.  


Our software is an enabler of managed connectivity whether it’s frictionless by using Passpoint or creating engagement using captive portals.  In almost every smart city deployment, we are connecting people and things to something else. In a connected city, Wi-Fi is seen as the fourth utility.


We’ve been working with the State of Selangor in Malaysia now for close to five years, providing a Wi-Fi network that enables smart city services and IoT connectivity to modernise and transform local public utilities, transport, and communications. The state government surveyed citizens to understand the value of the free services it offered. The top three results were water, free public Wi-Fi and free buses.  As a result of that survey, it was resolved to put Wi-Fi on the buses, to demonstrate how important city-wide connectivity is for citizens. It’s why I believe that the link with transport hubs is really important to emphasise, as people want to stay connected as they move about.


The smart city business model:  How to make it sustainable?


In every connected city discussion, we’ll talk about monetisation. Yes, someone has to pay for the service at the end of the day. Yet in our conversations the world over, we hear how governments and councils are looking at new ways to bring traditional services into the digital age, in many cases using Wi-Fi for this update, enabling better productivity and efficiency, which are valuable in themselves. 


As part of a group of companies, providing connectivity across several vertical industries, our vision is to connect the connected traveller wherever they are. Business models are different in each market.  In aviation, for example, it’s very straightforward. As one of the few industries where consumers still pay for Wi-Fi, travellers simply get their credit card out or use their loyalty points to pay for the convenience of connectivity at 35,000 feet.


In cities, where Wi-Fi is largely free, we are looking at use cases like social inclusion, and local governments are looking to spend their budgets in different ways to make that happen. As a result of the lockdown, both workers and students have been house-bound and municipal bodies are looking at funding Wi-Fi to keep these people connected to education, welfare, information, and services that matter.


In another use case in New York City, our street-level Wi-Fi service provides resident-based connectivity, but our platform is also used to manage data offload for a major US carrier. Due to the nature of its migration to 4 and 5G, it simply needs to add more network capacity to give its customers better connectivity in Manhattan.


We’re the bridge between the need and the network.  That carrier needs extra capacity and finds it better to offload its cellular traffic onto Wi-Fi.  In terms of the business model, we charge for making that service happen, and the city makes money by selling its spare capacity. 


In every case, the business model will change depending on the partners involved, but it will always involve a discussion about data.  Data is now worth a fortune and it’s the responsibility of everyone involved in connected cities to handle the data with integrity. This still means that it can be used in very profitable ways to enhance services and to give better support to customers and the devices that use the network.


Talk to GlobalReach about connectivity for your smart city.