Smart cities and Tech Evolution - XXIV Service Infrastructure - Enablers

General reference scheme to decouple the connectivity network from the service network providing access to network resources. Credit: ETSI-NFV-ISG

A Service Infrastructure today is heavily relying on ICT, be it health care, or financial services or logistics or whatever.  Hence, it makes sense to start looking at service infrastructures for digital services. These rely on the telecommunication infrastructure.

The telecommunication world from the very beginning has been vertically integrated. The Telcos layed out the infrastructure (cables, switches, transmission equipment) provided the telephone to the “subscriber” and all associated services.

30 years ago this started to change with the possibility for a subscriber to buy his own terminal from a third party and use that terminal to run a service (like fax or voice messaging). It was the very first example, in telecommunications, of what is now referred to as “over the top” meaning that services are delivered over the top of a connectivity infrastructure owned by someone else. Most of the services we use today in telecommunications are OTP. Think about the apps in your smart phones: how many have beed provided by your telecom operator?

The first example of a service infrastructure, in telecommunications, came with Skype and other OTP providing Voice over IP. This provision required a real infrastructure to manage (at least) the autentication and the billing. 
 Almost at the same time the Telecom Operators to improve service delivery (make it faster) and save on infrastructure cost started to look at ways to separate the connectivity infrastructure from the services. 

This is leading to a profound change in the connectivity service as well, with a stronger separation between the connectivity infrastructure and the connectivity services. On the one hand this is pushed by Telecom Operators that are interested in decreasing the cost of the physical infrastructure by “re-using” its various components in a more flexible way (thus decreasing the CAPEX required for new investment to upgrade the infrastructure); on the other hand the possibility of a third party to allocate network resources from the edges of the network makes possibile the delivery of new (or better) services to his clients.

This is the goal of SDN and NFV. EIT Digital is working in this area to foster service innovation and support SMEs in creating innovation.

Interestingly, 5G will provide a much greter flexibility to access network resources and part of it will be leveraging on SDN and NFV. It won’t become reality before the end of this decade but it is surely work in progress.

The interest from a Municipality point of view is that part of the resources that can be used in the deployment and management of services can be provided by the Municipality itself (like citizens’ authentication, access to city data …). This requires a new set of skills that is today, normally, not available in a Municipality but this should be part of the transition towards a smarter and smarter city.

Indeed, a city should become a platform to offer capabilities that decrease the barrier to enter the service arena and that, at the same time, can enforce some basic requirements, like privacy and security.

What is also important is that this platform is open, to accommodate and reuse services developed in other cities. There is a huge investment planned worldwide for cities to get smarter, measured in trillion of $. A major part of that investment is not replicable (like creating new physical infrastructures or bettering the present ones) but even being able to reuse a minor part of the investment made in the area of service development would mean a significant decrease in cost for a Municipality. Not just that. By reusing, and readapting services developed in another city one can make them better creating a virtuous cycle where all cities benefit.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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