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This is what makes a Smart City smart

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Upgrading a city’s physical infrastructure is one way of making it smart, but it is a short fix says WAYNE HULL, MD for Accenture Digital SA, who believes a smart city needs to tap into networks like the IoT and 5G.

An increasing number of major African metros are beginning to outgrow themselves. Ageing populations, increasing urban density, resource issues and mobility constraints – these are among the primary issues faced by urban areas.

Upgrading or adding to physical infrastructure is possible, but urban adjustment is notoriously slow, and cities’ budgets are increasingly tight. To cope with the demands they’ll face tomorrow, cities need to find ways of making the most of what they’ve got today.

By optimising the flow of everything from traffic to electricity and information around a city, urban life can become far easier, with the potential for cost savings through reduced waste.

Intelligent digital-physical interfaces have the potential to enable new opportunities for resource maximisation, efficiency gains and an enhanced quality of life for end users – in this case, the citizens of major metro areas.

The challenges faced by today’s metros are multifaceted. On one hand, metros are faced with increasing demands for accountability and transparency by citizens and activist groups. On the other, cities face the task of better serving citizens against a backdrop of sub-optimal and fragmented legacy systems, siloed data stores and budgetary, resource and skills constraints.

It’s a confluence that has given rise to the ‘smart city’ concept. In a smart city, digital-physical interfaces, sensors, smart software and Internet of Things-centred technologies work together to enhance and streamline how the city runs. By tapping into and analysing multiple networks of real-time information – covering everything from traffic flow to parking and electricity usage – smart city technologies are focused on one thing: optimising available resources.

IoT, 5G and a new network paradigm

Unlike current mobile networks which employ ‘large-cell’ technology – with macro cell towers, each of which services a large area – smart city networks require an inverse type of architecture: a dense lattice of small cells (data processing devices and sensors) spread throughout the city, fitted anywhere from utility poles to buildings’ basements, and which run 5G technology.

Within 5G networks, the emphasis shifts from media consumption to mobility, and from increased bandwidth to reduced latency. Further changes come in the form of the integration of network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined network (SDN) capabilities within the network itself, allowing for the move from always-on coverage to instant service instantiation as and when needed.

Future 5G networks will host a variety of service types. Those falling under massive machine-type communication (mMTC), for example, include applications such as telemetry, meters, public lighting systems and security devices.cleardot.gif

Further examples of mMTC solutions include the management of vehicle traffic and electrical grids, with the possibility for substantial savings through reductions in energy use, traffic congestion and fuel. Smart public lighting concepts, for example, automatically dim public lighting when no pedestrians or vehicles are near, conserving power, while still keeping a neighbourhood safe.

Still further mMTC applications include sensors designed to detect leaks in water mains, with such ultra-low power devices allowing sensors to run for many years without needing battery replacement.

A second service type, critical machine type communication, includes applications such as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, autonomous vehicles and public transport. Smart city technologies have the ability to improve public transport systems, for example, by reducing wait times, optimising utilisation and – with information from traffic flow sensors – allowing for dynamic routing. More broadly, smart cities have the potential to reduce traffic congestion overall, through smart traffic management systems.

Smart cities and the city ‘OS’

Co-innovation and co-creation are likely to play key roles in the development of smart city technologies, the combination of which can be thought of as a city operating system, or city OS. To enable the necessary changes, however, thinking must move from evolutionary – improving on services and applications enabled by current mobile networks – to revolutionary, employing new approaches directed toward new entirely new use cases.

From citizens’ perspectives, living in a smart city means the potential for anything from access to a more efficient public transport system to enhanced safety and security. For municipalities, benefits centre around improved citizen outcomes, the ability to engage in predictive maintenance, better use of data and more efficient resource use, meaning cost savings for many cash-strapped metros.

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Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall

Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics

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Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.

Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.

Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.

Key report findings include:

  • The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
  • But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
  • Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.

“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”

Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”

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New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones

Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.

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Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.

Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides. 

But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world 

In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.

Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.

Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.

Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.

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