Committed to connecting the world


Smart sustainable cities

​​​​​​​​​​​Smart Cities


Challenges and solutions

Smart sustainable cities need a telecommunication infrastructure that is stable [2] , secure [3], reliable [4] and interoperable [5] to support an enormous volume of ICT-based applications and services.

Recent developments in the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and smart grids and meters are driving and supporting the development of smart sustainable cities throughout the world.

IoT—referring to the network of rapidly growing computing devices with built-in sensors and software to connect with each other and share data—enables billions of devices and objects equipped with smart sensors to connect with each other, collect real-time information and send this data, via wireless communication, to centralized control systems. These, in turn, manage traffic, reduce energy usage and improve a wide range of urban operations and services.

AI allows extremely large data sets to be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, which are used to inform and enhance municipal decision-making.

Smart grids—referring to electricity supply networks that use digital communication technology to detect and react to local changes in usage—help to optimize energy use in cities. Smart meters and sensors, equipped with Internet Protocol addresses, can communicate information about the end-users´ energy use to the energy supplier, giving end-users more control over their consumption.

While 3G and 4G networks used by mobile phones today pose a number of problems in supporting the range of services required for smart sustainable cities applications, the development of 5G, referring to the fifth generation of mobile technologies, has the potential to reliably connect devices to the Internet and other devices, transport data much more quickly and process a high volume of data with minimal delay.​

ITU’s contribution to smart sustainable cities

ITU is working to improve the reliability, security and interoperability of ICT infrastructure needed for smart sustainable cities, while at the same time advocating for the use of ICTs to reduce the consumption of energy and enhance services and quality of life for city dwellers.

Setting standards

ITU and members within the ITU-T Study Group 20, which is dedicated to IoTs, smart cities and communities, have been developing international standards that establish technical criteria, processes and practices to enable a coordinated development of IoT technologies for smart sustainable cities. Most recently, the study group has been working on topics including AI, blockchain, machine-to-machine communication and Big Data aspects of IoT.

ITU and members within the ITU Focus Group on Data Processing and Management are working on the development of international standards that allow the IoT ecosystem to be fully inclusive, interoperable and capable of making full use of the data generated by the devices feeding into the system. This is to mitigate the risk of data ´silos´ emerging in different industry sectors.

ITU has also recently developed standards ensuring the security of networks in urban areas.

ITU's work on standards for 5G systems, which will help make smart sustainable cities a reality, is also underway.

ITU standards outline how smart grids can help build more controllable and efficient energy systems.

The ITU Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities has identified standardized frameworks needed to support the integration of ICT services in smart cities and key trends in urban smart water management.

Global collaboration and advocacy

In 2016, ITU and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) launched the global platform "United for Smart Sustainable Cities " (U4SSC) to advocate for public policy and to encourage the use of ICTs to facilitate and ease the transition to smart sustainable cities. The platform is now supported by 14 other United Nations bodies. The U4SSC has developed a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) for s mart sustainable cities, allowing cities to set goals, collect data and measure progress in five major areas: the use of ICTs; physical infrastructure; social inclusion and equity of access to services; quality of life; and environmental sustainability. More than 50 cities worldwide, including Bizerte, Dubai, Kairouan, Maldonado, Manizales, Montevideo, Moscow, Pully, Rimini, Singapore, Valencia and Wuxi, are already implementing these KPIs.

Below are just a few examples showing how ICTs are helping to build smart sustainable cities:

[1] This definition was provided by the ITU and UNECE in 2015.
[2] Network stability allows everyone to communicate, access data and share information reliably, as needed.
[3] Network security is an over-arching term that describes the policies and procedures implemented by a network administrator to avoid unauthorized access, exploitation or modification of the network and its resources.
[4] Reliability is an attribute of any computer-related component that consistently performs according to its specifications.
[5] Interoperability refers to the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information.

Last update: February 2019