Cisco has just signed up to what sounds like a bizarre and confusing thing: It’ll be a partner in developing a whole “smart city” in Korea. Weird. But if you think about it, with networks connecting up everything, it may be a model for where you’ll live in the future.
We’re talking about Incheon, in South Korea. It’s going to transform the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) into a “high-tech, globally competitive and environmentally sustainable smart connected city” which sounds terrifically grand. Yet the ultimate goal, to “support continued innovation in Korea” is even loftier–while being perfectly believable, given the amount of high-tech innovation and manufacturing Korea already fosters.
But what of Cisco’s role in all this? The clue is in the phrase “smart connected city” and the goal for IFEZ to be a “regional center for innovation, healthcare, education and society.” This implies that many systems, businesses and social services in the city will be networked in some way, to improve efficiency as well as information sharing, which is perfectly aligned with Cisco’s expertise. There’s also talk of wonders like “video-enabled homes” and the green aspects of the tech, which should be made possible through more efficient energy usage, aided by smart meters and what not.
Cisco’s also going to be funding venture-backed startups, which is one route for the tech giant to recoup some of the investment costs IFEZ will incur. But it’s really in its plans to “develop globally replicable Smart+Connected Community business models and technologies” in a new research center in Songdo, Incheon, that we see Cisco’s greater strategy revealed. Cities in Europe or the U.S. are unlikely to take the sort of technical and financial gamble that Incheon, and the Korean authorities, are prepared to make–and this turns a huge community into an experimental work-out for Cisco. When it’s got its tech and strategies nicely optimized for the citizens of IFEZ, it’ll be able to leverage its learning to sell similar “smart city” solutions to the States and Europe, when we eventually catch up to the Korean development pace. And while we probably shouldn’t be expecting Jetsons-like tech advances to come out of this experiment, the kind of fully-integrated future digital-living solutions envisaged by Microsoft in its Vision of 2019 would certainly benefit from some smart city tech.