Cities all strive toward a few goals. They want to increase the quality of life for citizens and visitors, they want a way to better engage their people, they want data to drive better decisions, and they ultimately want to save the city budget.

Recently, more and more cities have been deploying advanced technology such as IoT, big data, and augmented reality. This is all in an effort to become ‘smarter’ in a multitude of areas, such as government, transportation, public safety, education and healthcare. But to achieve this requires a lot of work and commitment. Changes have to be made to the city hardware infrastructure. Automation needs to be established for municipal facilities. Digital services need provisioning and citizens need to be engaged during the process.

This is where Wi-Fi plays a key role. Offering city-wide public Wi-Fi helps create new possibilities, not just to improve the livelihood of citizens and visitors, but for cities as well. A magnitude of benefits can be enjoyed by the city, from promoting attractions to gathering analytics, and here’s how public Wi-Fi can make cities smarter.

Making lives easier

In an already ‘always connected’ world, being able to provide people with a fast, easy-to-use Wi-Fi connection is comparable to supplying fresh water – the public needs internet. However, in a connected city, you’re likely to find more than one public Wi-Fi network, so it’s more important than ever before that citizens and visitors aren’t constantly hounded by requests for public Wi-Fi logins. Wi-Fi providers should move to a federated network offering before these cities become established, so the public is able to access any Wi-Fi network, using one authenticated, federated identity across several devices.

Owning unique, digital identities will enable citizens and visitors alike to access public services by using the same digital identity. For example, a commuter spending too much time each week searching for a parking space in a busy city center will be a problem of the past, as sensors on-board vehicles will be able to connect to sensors based around the vicinity and alert drivers of unoccupied parking spaces. With Wi-Fi enabling citizens to access real-time maps, this one solution alone will eliminate the rush-hour stress faced by many.

Promote city attractions

City officials should take advantage of the omnipresent Wi-Fi by promoting local businesses and events via the public Wi-Fi’s welcome portal. Whether it’s a first-time user signing up, or a long-standing Wi-Fi consumer, they’ll all be directed to a welcome screen which can be used to publicize the city’s latest exhibitions, or highlight where the local museums and places of interest are located.

For members of the public out and about in the city, promotional messages can be used to boost the city’s economy and increase how much visitors spend. Theatres that still have tickets for an upcoming performance can use presence-triggered messages to passersby offering discounted prices. Similarly, restaurants and hotels with tables and rooms to fill that evening can promote their availability – targeting new connections to the local Wi-Fi, with the aim of catching tourists, or simply emailing those digital identities that have previously connected to local dining establishments.

Improving the quality of life

Ubiquitous, city-wide Wi-Fi is very much about convenience. For example, it’s essential for smart cities to monitor what’s going on in the city to provide a better quality of life. This can be done by collecting data from devices and integrating real-time monitoring systems. Having this information can help cities make better decisions when trying to improve the efficiency of how the city runs. For example, transport authorities can use data to predict commuter wait times and subsequently pass this data on to stations scheduling train departures, making an overall improvement to traffic effectiveness.

City officials can monitor car parks and streets via the sophisticated presence and location analytics integrated into the public Wi-Fi to alert drivers when entering busy areas to help them avoid congestion.

Beyond monitoring traffic and keeping the city from grinding to a halt, it’s also possible to use location analytics to decipher busy public areas. These analytics would certainly come in handy to improve real-time responses from the city. If a public gathering steadily increased in numbers – the data could alert local police stations and officers in the vicinity to ensure close monitoring of the area.

Boosting tourism

For tourists, a strong Wi-Fi network in a public space is a valuable commodity for public service providers. Local businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries can take over the public Wi-Fi’s welcome portal to promote their latest offers for things like car rentals and tourist attractions. Similarly, hotels can boost brand loyalty by offering reduced stays for visitors coming back to the city, using triggered alerts when the user connects to the Wi-Fi.

It’s the ability to send out alerts to travelers arriving to a central transport hub – about the location of the nearest tourist center or public restrooms, and directing to interactive displays or kiosks that enhance visitor experiences in local areas – that makes public Wi-Fi an essential element of making cities smart.