Smart Grid Goes Video Conferencing: Smart Cities to Provide Telepresence

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cisco-telepresenceThe creation of a smart grid of energy producers, distributors and consumers will undoubtedly be at the center of a sustainable future. Similarly using information and communications technology (ICT) to extend the benefits of urban living to outlying areas will become a much larger business opportunity.

Cisco is one company envisioning that the same principles of sustainability that will reshape the power grid will also be applied to essential services including health care, education, and municipal services.

IBM, AT&T, GE and Siemens also have designs on capturing a share of this market.

Being sustainable and smart is interchangeable, which is defined as economic, environmental and social sustainability, according to Anil Menon, VP of Cisco’s Globalisation Center in Bangalore, India. During a discussion of the company’s Smart and Connected Communities initiative, Menon outlined a future where people don’t have to travel into city centers to receive medical care or access public services. With sufficient bandwidth, people in suburbs or villages can interact via video conferencing (Cisco its technology “Telepresence”) and receive high quality service.

It’s true that video conferencing has been eroding the need for in-person meetings for years; Telepresence technology takes it to a higher level by enhancing the video and audio quality and streamlining the sharing of data. Menon said that Telepresence centers would likely be established around airports, which are usually away from downtown and easier to access, and could eliminate traffic. He said that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has found that operating Telepresence centers at airports can be more profitable than running local routes.

Building mini-cities around airports seems like an odd location given the noise and air quality issues. Adding public and corporate centers to existing suburbs makes sense, and could eliminate some of the highway traffic going to downtown. Companies might find it much more cost effective to rent a few hours at a Telepresence center in the suburbs for meetings rather than providing additional office space downtown and requiring employees to drive in every day. In the future the carbon reductions alone could make utilizing satellite locations economical.

In addition to getting people connected, smart and sustainable business connects devices to each other, such as collecting data from water meters, traffic cameras, and medical equipment. IP-enabling devices will create billions of dollars in opportunities for sustainable business service providers. Menon said “Completely new things will be created if everything is connected to everything.”

It is much easier to make buildings, equipment and roads smart and sustainable if you’re starting from scratch rather than upgrading the built environment, and that means developing nations. Africa, India, Indonesia and the Middle East are key targets for Cisco, which is taking a global view with its technology development rather than launching things in the U.S. first.

Rethinking the way cities and suburbs are built and how municipal services interact with the public is a radical idea for most corporate leaders as well as the public. While the energy and building industries aren’t used to innovating at the rate of IT and communications companies, government leaders and politicians will be even tougher to convince. It will take at least a generation before the smart and sustainable attitude takes hold, so rather than an immediate expansion, it will be sustained growth for years to come.

Appearing courtesy of Matter Network.

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