December 26, 2021

Recommendations on Making Smart Cities and IoT a Reality in Latin America

In response to the previous post about Latin America's mobile economy including the projected growth of the region's Internet of Things (IoT) market, a reader shared a link to a report entitled Making smart cities and IoT a reality in Latin America: a quick guide for decision-makers. Noting that IoT "brings about an enormous opportunity for Latin America," the report, which was produced by the GSMA, a UK-based organization that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, predicts that "IoT solutions will innovate across a great variety of industries, such as energy, healthcare and transportation. They will combine communication networks and existing 'off-line' services increasing productivity, diminishing waste and improving citizens' wellbeing."

In addition, the report, which is available in English and espaƱol, explains that "[i]f governments and policymakers in Latin America want to realize the full benefits of the IoT and help close the technology gap between the region and developed countries they should take action, they should:
  • "Resist the temptation to consider IoT services as traditional telecom services. Legacy regulation – that is, regulations established long before the IoT became a reality to deal with traditional voice and data services, will be most often irrelevant, will unnecessarily stifle IoT innovation, slow down take up and ultimately damage consumer and business in the region
  • "Facilitate a cross-regulator, cross- department dialogue and strategy across the various government administrations. For example, utility and telecom regulators should define and work together on how to promote smart meters; Transport and Communication ministries should define together how communication networks will serve roads; Smart city planners from different towns should work together to define best practice and work on common standards."

On designing a comprehensive IoT policy, the GSMA recommends that policymakers "build a 3-step plan consisting of scoping the country's needs and potentials, estimating the positive impact on different economic areas and IoT verticals, and then designing and implementing specific actions to enable such growth." As for governments serving as demand enablers, the report suggests that "where possible, migrate towards utilizing IoT-enabled solution for public services – from utilities to urban mobility and healthcare." Developing public-private partnerships (PPPs) "and seeking/offering various sources of funding can be an important step to secure this goal."

Lastly, with respect to privacy, security, and standardization, the GSMA presents four recommends on how "governments should resist the temptation to create specific rules and national standards for IoT":
  • A general data protection law that applies horizontally to all industries and services – not just IoT – is an important measure to secure trust in the IoT and guarantee consistent levels of protection for users.
  • On what concerns security, it is important that governments support industry-led best practices and standards, which are constantly evolving to overcome threats, making it quicker and more cost-effective to adapt than rigid national standards.
  • Governments should also note the myriad of efforts already being pursued by industry-led standards, and their importance for interoperability of services at the national and international levels – therefore, creating national standards would likely be counterproductive.
  • A flexible and reliable governance structure. At the city level, it is important that mayors create a flexible governance model with an independent leader (such as a Chief Information Officer, CIO). For municipal services, mayors should always prefer scalable and interoperable solutions to avoid vendor lock-in. Finally, mayors should consider adopting open data policies to foster a data-enabled economy that could be easily used by citizens, NGOs and commercial entities. As well as providing one-stop access to a city's information, sharing data would support communication and analysis, more transparent and efficient policymaking, and create value by catalyzing the development of innovative apps and services.

As a topic of regular discussion on this forum, I remain optimistic by the benefits IoT and smart cities will bring to people in industrialize and emerging markets alike. International standards and best practices, however, must be in place to maximize the benefits of such innovation. I hope this report serves as a useful tool for policymakers in Latin America and emerging markets worldwide.
Do you agree with the recommendations on how to make smart cities and IoT a reality in Latin America? What would you add?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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